Virtual Homebuying Is on The Rise, But There Are 5 Things You Should Know Before Making an Offer
Moment of truth: Would you commit to making monthly payments on something you’ve never seen in person…for roughly the next 30 years? If the thought alone made you hard swallow, you’re not alone. But for 29 percent of millennials, the answer is yeah, sure, why not? After all, we’re used to buying all kinds of things online, seeing it in person only when it arrives on our doorstep. So, for many, especially amid a pandemic, the thought of virtual homebuying is all too appealing: You can see photos of a home, tour it via video chat with a realtor, then decide whether it’s worth making an offer. No traveling necessary, and—given how quickly homes are flying off the market right now—you can make decisions faster, boosting your chances of actually being the one to score that cottage you keep stalking on Trulia.
If you’re thinking about buying a home without visiting it first (or as the industry calls it, “sight-unseen”)—which may be the most feasible option, if you’re making a cross-country move, for example—there are a few things you can do to get the most honest, thorough look at the space. Here are five key considerations that can help separate the hidden gems from the money pits.
1. Request a floor plan in advance
Following along on a shaky cell phone video tour of a house can be disorienting. Did that kitchen lead directly into the bathroom? Is there a washing machine in the middle of the dining room? (Yes, dear reader, these are two actual examples from tours I’ve done.) To make it easier to follow along and visualize the space, ask your realtor if there’s a floor plan you can be sent ahead of time, suggests Andrea Collins, VP Marketing at home insurance company Hippo.
2. Ask to start the tour as soon as your realtor gets out of their car
Most tours start the moment the real estate agent opens the front door, but Collins recommends starting the video much earlier than that. “You’ll be able to take into account any street noise and other neighborhood aspects,” she explains. “Inside the home, take note of street noise that can be heard from indoors, floors creaking or heavy echoes and unusual odors.” It’s easy to get so caught up in the visuals—or talking nonstop to your realtor—that you miss those auditory clues you’d normally get from an in-person showing.
3. Zoom in on the appliances
During a virtual tour, it’s easy to get caught up in aesthetics and forget to really inspect the utilities. A real estate agent who’s well-versed in virtual tours will often flag these things, but just to be safe, it’s good to make sure you get a close look at every appliance that will be coming with the house, as well as the furnace, water heater and other utilities.
“Ask about the age of home appliances like dishwashers and washing machines, which saw heavier use during the pandemic lockdown,” Collins says. (While you’re at it, this is also a good time to ask about the age and condition of the roof. If your agent doesn’t know those answers, see if they can find out and get back to you before making an offer.)
4. Check for smart devices
A Ring Doorbell or Nest thermostat doesn’t just look cool—it could save you money down the road. A smart thermostat, for example, can help use energy more efficiently, saving you money on home insurance. To that end, it’s worth asking about any other major home improvements, like a new roof, fence, fire hydrant nearby or smoke detectors. Insurance companies can provide you with discounts or credits on your insurance, reducing that overall cost by up to 25 percent, Collins says.
5. Open the curtains
If the curtains and blinds are shut, ask your agent to open them. Not only do you want to see how much natural light the room gets, but you want to get a good look at the view from each window. Keeping them closed is often a red flag, signaling that whatever’s on the other side of the window isn’t too pretty, warns Realtor.com.
While you’re at it, you might want to ask the agent to walk around the house, showing you what surrounds the home on all four sides. (Google Street View will also give you a sense of the neighborhood, though that imagery can be a bit dated.) Your dream home may be next door to a landfill, and if that’s the case, you probably want to know before throwing down an offer.