How to buy a home virtually (really!)
November 20, 2020
Technology has come a long way in recent years. As a real estate professional, I like to think we as an industry have had something to do with it. A lot of brokers are pretty fond of our phones, our apps, and doing as much business online as possible. But has technology come far enough to allow consumers to buy a home virtually?
In today’s article, we wanted to address whether buying a home entirely online is possible, practicable, and feasible for the average consumer. We will address some areas for concern and ways to protect yourself if you plan to take the plunge into homeownership without ever setting foot in your dream home.
Can you even buy a home virtually?
Let’s start with the most obvious question: is it even possible to buy a home online?
The answer is yes! Absolutely.
In today’s fast-moving market and through the course of the pandemic, this is becoming a better option for many people. Some buyers may need to continue their home search while traveling (or quarantined) in order to avoid missing good opportunities. Others are relocating to new markets (or fleeing their larger, more crowded cities). Some retirees choose to move to more retirement-friendly states. And some may just be too high risk to look at homes in person.
Actually, even before this year, there was one particular type of person who really loved buying houses online: real estate investors. For years, sites like auction.com have allowed investors to purchase homes, sight unseen, entirely through the internet (or even from a mobile app).
The downside of such sites is that they are intended only for investors. That means you’ll likely need to bring a large amount of cash just to bid on a home. Further, you may have trouble securing financing. Additionally, buying a home virtually through an auction site means losing a lot of protections afforded by typical purchase contracts.
But other options have become more practical and accessible for regular, everyday consumers.
Is buying a home online practical?
The answer here is that it depends.
Buying a home virtually can be difficult. But as a real estate professional, I would argue it’s no more difficult than buying a home normally.
A few things do make it tricky:
- Buying a home sight unseen can be unsettling.
- You will have little opportunity to see the area surrounding the home.
- It can be more difficult to ‘feel’ a space through video or photos only.
- Your real estate professional may not notice the same things you would notice.
But these issues can be addressed.
How do you buy a home remotely?
The first step is going to be choosing the right real estate professional.
A good real estate professional will be able to address the limitations of technology and help you overcome them. Virtual showings have different requirements compared with live ones.
For example, your agent should be able to tell you:
- How’s the noise level in the home?
- About how high are the ceilings?
- Are any appliances making strange noises?
- How does it smell? Are there any strange odors?
Your agent should also periodically check his or her video stream to ensure what you’re seeing is accurate to real life. Perhaps there are strange marks on the walls that don’t show up on video.
It’s important that your agent have the proper technology to provide enough detail, as well. An outdated phone over a slow mobile network will simply not get you a clear enough visual.
It is, of course, also an excellent idea to supplement live showings with virtual tours, such as those provided by Matterport technology. These are 3D virtual walkthroughs that let you see nearly every angle of a home as well as a full virtual floorplan.
Depending on the market you’re looking in, however, these may not be widely available. You can ask your agent to show you only homes that provide this level of detail. Alternately, you may ask them to record a video walkthrough (which will have better quality than streamed video) and then do a virtual live showing later.
Side note: If you are selling your home right now, ask your real estate professional what they will do to accommodate consumers who are shopping for homes virtually. A lack of strategy is a disservice to you.
That’s where we come to our final question.
Is buying a home virtually feasible for the average consumer?
Unfortunately, the answer tends to be no. Few real estate professionals are truly equipped and prepared to assist buyers with the virtual home buying process.
Additionally, if you are inexperienced with the home buying process, this may be too much to take on.
But we will say that we have successfully sold a home to a client who lives out-of-state. Altogether, we accommodated him with virtual showings over Zoom (including a walkthrough of the neighborhood), attending inspections and other visits to the property on his behalf, and working with the title company to arrange a remote closing.
Should you choose to buy a home virtually, make sure you choose the right real estate agent (and other professionals) to accommodate you. Further, make sure they can accommodate you for the full process – not just for showings. In some states, for example, closing may cause issues. Be sure to ask these questions ahead of time.
Finally, you’ll want to ensure any professional you work with has excellent communication skills. It is simply impossible to do this successfully if you cannot expect timely and thorough communication.
Have you tried to buy a home online? Let us know in the comments how it went! Are you interested in learning more about the process? Feel free to reach out!