Although every home purchase is a leap of faith, a sight-unseen transaction comes with its own sense of risk. Here’s how to help clients come out on top.

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Sometimes great reward comes with a bit of risk. After all, what’s the real estate process without some adventure?

Buying a house sight unseen offers both a cost-savings advantage and some challenges. After so many years in real estate, we both have navigated ample transactions where the buyers were jumping in without seeing the property, especially during the pandemic through social media DMs.

So, let’s take a look at what it means to buy sight unseen, why it can be beneficial and how to educate clients on the risks it poses.

When and why to buy a home sight unseen

There are a few different reasons buyers may consider buying a house without touring it in person:

  • they might be buying from out of state
  • be on an urgent timeline or
  • experiencing high competition in the marketplace.

When the market is moving so fast — as it has been the last couple of years — buyers may choose to buy sight unseen in order to move fast, beat the competition and meet tight deadlines.

The pandemic also catalyzed an increased number of homes bought sight unseen as people organized their moves while trying to avoid sickness and make a big life transition quickly. This strategy has advantages but, at the same time, it may not be the best option as it does present some risk and uncertainty (as if purchasing a home isn’t already emotional enough).

The pros of buying without seeing

Is seeing always believing? Some buyers say no, and are ready to believe sight unseen. This fearless mindset comes with some advantages.

One of the biggest benefits of buying sight unseen is cost savings — not only by avoiding a bidding war but also on possible travel costs as well, especially if you are buying out of state.

Buyers can also save on time by bypassing the in-person tours, open house hours and exploring the neighborhood by having an agent doing it for them virtually. It can be an efficient, streamlined option that takes a lot of the driving, discussions and perusing out of the picture.

This is where the role of the agent as an advisor is paramount. It is an agent’s job to showcase the lifestyle, an honest opinion of the home, the perks of the neighborhood, how it fits into the client’s lifestyle and so much more. Not to mention, technology has made buying sight unseen much easier, given the quality of video, photos and virtual tours.

The cons of buying sight unseen

Here’s the biggest challenge of purchasing a home without touring it in person: Sometimes pictures and virtual tours just can’t match the sense of the house you get when you have boots on the ground. Going the virtual route can save time, but you do miss out on what an in-person tour delivers — a sense of the home’s ambiance, essence, neighborhood and overall vibe.

There are a few ways to combat this obstacle. If the potential buyer knows someone who lives nearby other than you as the real estate agent, whether it be a friend or family member, ask them to walk through the house as well.

Placing a home inspection contingency in the offer will also bring some reassurance, ensuring you get a trained pair of eyes on the space and negotiate any needed repairs before sealing the deal. However, not all sellers are open to contingencies. Make sure to ask questions, leverage 3-D tours and live video and act as a trustworthy guide for your long-distance buyer. 

Do what feels right to you

Every buyer and circumstance is different. In the end, your buyer will have to trust their gut. They will also have to trust in your expertise as a real estate advisor, listen to their own instincts and weigh the pros and cons.

No matter what, there is always some risk involved in making the biggest purchase of a lifetime and that will always feel like a leap of faith in some regard. Help your buyer gauge if they’re ready — emotionally, financially, logistically — to take a true dive into their next home and follow their intuition.

James Harris is a director at The Agency in Los Angeles. Connect with him on Instagram. David Parnes is a director at The Agency in Los Angeles. Connect with him on Instagram

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