What does it smell like? Is there traffic noise? How to buy a house without being seen

Last fall, when planning to move from North Carolina to Stillwater, Oklahoma, for a new job that would begin in January, Andreza Conti Patara and her husband, Marcelo Patara, decided to buy a home, but the couple wanted to avoid air travel because of COVID-19, and buyers were acquiring Stillwater homes shortly after they went on the market, leaving no time to drive and see new listings.

So they searched online for neighborhoods, hired a real estate agent, and bought a four-bedroom, two-story home without being seen. “I heard so many people say, ‘You’re crazy. How are you going to do that? ‘”, Conti Patara recalls. Bidding without seeing a home in person isn’t the ideal way to buy a home, but it can be done, and today’s technology – including 3D video tours and video calling apps – makes it easier. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of home buyers in 2020 made at least one offer on a property without visiting it first, according to a survey of 1,900 home buyers commissioned by Redfin, RDFN, -3.90% a real estate broker . About 10% of tour requests with Redfin agents were for video tours in January this year, compared to less than 1% in early 2020. “Invisible sight” covers a spectrum. Some buyers make an offer without seeing the home in person, but then attend a home inspection before the sale closes. Others don’t set foot in the house until the final walkthrough or even after closing.

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“How high are the ceilings? Will my table fit in the kitchen? How far is the master bedroom from the living room? ”

No prior home buying experience is required to buy a home unseen, but it can make navigating the process less intimidating. Having some personal connections in the area where you are looking for a home can also help. Here’s how to make it work. Be especially careful when choosing a real estate agent “You need to be a good fit with that broker who will be your boots on the ground,” says Jackson Bladgen, an agent at Sotheby’s International Realty in Santa Fe, New Mexico. To find the right agent: Get references. Ask someone in your area for recommendations. Conti Patara asked his future colleagues at Oklahoma State University and they pointed him to Century 21 real estate agent Jennifer Misener. The couple toured the houses virtually with Misener and inquired about schools for their two children, ages 9 and 7. Also read: ‘Potential Buyers Will Face New Challenges’: Home prices are rising at a dizzying pace, but some economists say it may not last. on the phone all the time, ”says Conti Patara. “She knew what we were looking for.” Check Your Experience As an invisible buyer, you’ll be at a disadvantage when bidding, especially in a tight market, says Christopher Arienti, owner of Re / Max Executive Realty in Franklin. , Massachusetts. Sellers and their sales agents may worry that a buyer who has not seen the home in person is more likely to walk away from the sale than one who has visited the property. A successful agent with extensive experience in the local area will have earned the trust of other brokers, and that will go a long way toward getting listing agents to take their offering seriously, says Mino McLean, an agent at Island Sotheby’s International Realty in Maui. Interviewing Agents Good communication with an agent is essential, especially when doing long-distance business. How responsive is the agent? Does the agent’s communication style match yours? Are you someone who will focus on the elements of a home that matter most to you? “There has to be a high level of trust,” says Misener. “You shouldn’t worry about the agent you’re working with.” Understand that technology cannot do everything. Research the area online, use Google GOOGL, + 1.35% Earth and Google Maps to view neighborhoods, and take advantage of virtual video tours to view homes. Then use a phone app to have a video call with your agent at home. The agent can take you on a visual and audio tour, zooming in on details, opening closets and cabinets, showing views from windows, and narrating the entire home and around the property. “But no matter how good the technology you have, it’s hard to have the feeling of being at home until you’re at it,” says Arienti. So you will have to probe deeply to make up for not being there. These are some of the things that deserve special attention. Dimensions and size “You may have what appears to be a wide space through the camera lens, but it doesn’t look that spacious in person,” says Bladgen. To help shoppers get a sense of space, she walks around the room with them on video calls. Mark Trenka, a Century 21 agent in Denver, suggests getting a copy of a blueprint and asking lots of questions. How high are the ceilings? Will my table fit in the kitchen? How far is the master bedroom from the living room? Lighting Trenka takes videos at various times of the day to show the houses in different lights. When does the sun hit the back deck? Is the kitchen illuminated by the sun in the morning or at night? Related: Mortgage rates have skyrocketed in recent months, adding $ 33,000 on average to a 30-year loan.While living in California, Julie and Mike Hawthorne made an offer on a Denver-area home that was not seen in 2019, and then attended the inspection. They had met Trenka and surveyed the neighborhoods in person on a couple of previous trips, but family circumstances prevented them from traveling when a suitable house appeared on the market. Trenka’s many videos and his meticulous explanations helped them feel comfortable. “He went there, I don’t know how many times, and he filmed the house day and night,” says Julie Hawthorne. “I walked into (inspection) and it was exactly how he said it was and how it made him feel. It felt like home. ” It sounds and smells Laura and Jim Murray of Bend, Oregon, had always wanted to buy a vacation home in Hawaii, but COVID-19 restrictions prevented them from traveling when their dream property became available on Maui in May 2020. The photos They captured the lush landscaping and interiors and exteriors of the property’s three buildings – a renovated one-bedroom home, a one-bedroom cabin, and a small study – but couldn’t tell the whole story. His agent, Sam Utley of Island Sotheby’s International Realty, described the floral scents and recorded the sound of traffic on a nearby avenue. “The hardest thing to convey was the noise from the road,” says Laura Murray. But the descriptions and recordings gave them a good idea. Get more “boots on the ground” Don’t just rely on your real estate agent. Get others involved. Friends and Family If you have friends or family in the area, have them tour the house with the agent, says Laurin LaLima, agent for Century 21 in Morganville, NJ. When a Florida customer wanted to buy a home in New Jersey in 2020 but was unable to travel due to the pandemic, the buyer’s sister took the video tours with LaLima and attended the inspection. LaLima could give information, but the sister knew the tastes of the buyer. The client saw the house on the final tour before closing and said it was even better than expected. Murray says having relatives on Maui made buying a home unseen much less overwhelming than it would have been otherwise. “They were able to get there and they sent us photos,” he says. Also, her husband, Jim, is originally from Maui and they were familiar with the area from previous visits. The sale closed in June 2020 and he did not see the property in person until July. She loved him. “I had a hard time falling asleep that night because I was so excited,” she says. The Home Inspector A home inspection is important. By bidding in today’s tight housing market, some buyers give up the right to back out or negotiate repairs after a home inspection. That is risky with any home purchase. Even if you take that risk, consider conducting a home inspection to understand the condition of the property and what will be required to fix any problems. As the buyer, you will choose the inspector and pay for the inspection. Ask for references and look for one with experience and excellent communication skills. If you cannot attend the inspection in person, make a video call with the inspector during the exam. Take a look: I’d like to buy a house in a warm place near the beach for $ 350,000. Where should I retire? Conti Patara and her husband virtually attended the home inspection and negotiated with the seller to make the repairs. The family entered the property and met their real estate agent, Misener, in person for the first time an hour before signing the closing documents in January. “Everything was ready, and it was exactly how she had described it,” says Conti Patara. Barbara Marquand writes for NerdWallet. Email: bmarquand@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @barbaramarquand.