How to Buy a House Sight Unseen

Whether you’ve accepted a new job offer across the country or you’re a military family ready to return home from overseas, there may come a time when you’re faced with buying a house unseen.

Believe it or not, purchasing a home without viewing it in person is more common than you might think— especially these days when digital technology helps with the process. In fact, a 2018 poll by Redfin, 20 percent of homebuyers surveyed said they made an offer on a home sight unseen.

If you find yourself in this situation and you’re worried about the particulars of how to buy a house from afar, we’ve got you covered. Here are some tips from others who have done it successfully.

Hire an agent with knowledge of the area and experienced with long-distance clientele

Buying a house unseen forces you to place a lot of trust in others. Your agent will be your eyes and ears, so they should be ingrained in the community and have deep market knowledge.

Have walkthroughs via FaceTime or your technology of choice

Technology is key to buying a house from a distance. Many sellers offer online walkthroughs and photos to give you a sense of whether a home is worth a closer look. Some agents will record a guided tour and share it with you. Use these tools to help you rule out properties that aren’t a good match. Once you have a list of homes you’re interested in, ask your agent to book some showings and join them using FaceTime, Zoom, or a similar application. This will give you a sense of the flow of the house and allow you to ask questions as you go along.

Scope out the area with online tools

Online tools like Google Earth can be an invaluable when buying a house unseen. Simply enter the address, check out the neighborhood at an aerial view, and zoom in when you want to see details. Other helpful online resources include Walk Score, AreaVibes for crime rates, and Neighborhood Scout.

Ask for measurements

Real estate photographers often use wide-angle lenses, making small rooms appear spacious. Your agent can help you take measurements to determine how big a room really is and whether your furniture (and family) will fit.

Go big on inspections

A no-brainer when it comes to how to buy a house is to schedule inspections. In the case of buying from afar, you should also opt for any specialized home inspections for things like pests, roofing, electrical, or plumbing. If you do find a major issue during the inspection process, you can use this information to negotiate, or choose to walk away.

Making a sight-unseen offer on a home has its risks and rewards. If you can’t book a tour quickly on a newly listed home, you may beat your competitors to the punch. On the other hand, you could have regrets down the road if you discover problems you may have noticed in person.