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In recent years, an unprecedented number of luxury buyers have been willing to place offers on high-end properties without ever setting foot in them. In a competitive market, this can be a major advantage — yet for every purchaser willing to buy sight unseen, there are many who hesitate and risk losing their dream home to someone else.
“In today’s market, most homes are flying off the shelves within days of being listed,” says Lowell Ackerman, Associate Real Estate Broker at Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty. “Buyers only have a short window, which means a simple weekend out of town means potentially losing their dream home.”
Hillary Ryan, Real Estate Associate with Sotheby’s International Realty – St. Helena Brokerage, agrees that the high-demand, low-inventory marketplace puts disproportionate pressure on remote clients. “If the buyer happens to be traveling or resides elsewhere, it may be necessary to write an offer before physically seeing the property.”
Ryan and Ackerman describe four of the most common concerns their clients express when it comes to buying sight unseen — as well as methods for setting their minds at ease.
1. The photos undersell — or oversell — the home
“The biggest misgiving I’ve noticed is that clients are worried the home is nicer in the pictures and appears less bright or less big in person,” notes Ackerman.
To resolve these fears, Ryan advises her clients to put in an offer if they think they might love the property, and if the offer is accepted, to view it fully before the deal closes. “We recommend at least one in-person visit during due diligence to help ease concerns,” she says.
“Should we proceed with an acceptable offer, I always reassure the buyer that an inspection will confirm any issues prior to signing a contract,” adds Ackerman.
2. Buying “yard unseen” is a hurdle
At a time when buyers are placing a premium on outdoor space, buying sight unseen creates additional uncertainty when the listing photos or videos don’t do justice to the property’s acreage. “It’s difficult to visualize the scale of the backyard,” says Ryan. “It can also be challenging to show the proximity of other houses and the sense of privacy.”
Ackerman’s solution is to take the client on an extended virtual walkthrough. “Once outside, I walk them through the yard, along the adjacent street, and around the block so they get the full sense of location — which for many buyers is a huge factor in their decision,” he explains.
“It often comes down to several FaceTime calls and ongoing communication,” says Ryan. “It’s imperative to have a deep understanding of what they want in a home so we can advise in all circumstances.”
3. Knowing your new neighborhood
It’s not just the yard, the street, or the block that buyers want to know about before they bid on a property. They want to know about the whole community. “If the buyer is out of state, they often worry that the area won’t be what they expected,” says Ackerman.
Ryan addresses this issue by educating her buyers extensively before making an offer on a property. “I want every client to feel fully informed,” she says. “The importance of educating them about a property and the surrounding area is especially high for those who purchase sight unseen.”
4. Clients think they’ll never have the winning bid
In order to successfully bid on a home they’ve never seen in person, perhaps the biggest obstacle clients must overcome is their own self-doubt.
“I think that because of the level of competition, many buyers automatically think they’ll get outbid and won’t even want to try,” says Ackerman. “It’s so important to be in the game no matter how competitive the market is.”
How to evolve the virtual open house experience
How can you help buyers build confidence and make the most of virtual viewings? Ackerman has a suggestion. “I set up a showing on FaceTime, and I do a very detailed walkthrough of the home, pointing out every single detail from floor to ceiling,” he says. “At the same time, I have a partner filming me as I conduct this tour, so the buyer has both an in-person walkthrough with me and a walkthrough video they can play over and over again.”
And as Ryan notes, buying sight unseen has become a reality that both luxury buyers and sellers are willing to accept. “Video interactions are now a common part of daily life for many people,” she explains. “Certain buyers are adjusting to these new circumstances.”
Agents should acknowledge that bidding sight unseen can be a long shot. Sellers may be less enthusiastic to accept such offers due to the fact the buyers haven’t been to the property in person and may back out before signing the contract. By being honest with clients, agents can help them see that they have nothing to lose by submitting an offer — and potentially everything to gain.