Do You Need to See a House Before You Buy It? Maybe Not.

In 2020, I helped a Rye family sell their home to a couple moving to the area from California. They toured the home virtually and the purchase was completed with the couple never having had to set foot in the house. 

Purchasing a home sight unseen is a trend on the rise nationally. Nearly two-thirds of people who purchased a home last year made an offer on a property they hadn’t seen in person, according to recent research by Redfin. That figure is up 32 percent from the previous year. 

What I’m seeing in Westchester and Rye is that purchasing a home sight-unseen is happening out of necessity. This trend is on the rise among all buyers because of several factors: low inventory of homes, which promotes bidding wars; COVID travel restrictions or pandemic-induced health concerns; and people are becoming more comfortable with technology enabling virtual walk-throughs. Not seeing a home prior to purchase used to be more common among international buyers, investors, or the ultra-wealthy, when an agent might handle the purchase to preserve the anonymity of the buyer.

Is buying a home sight unseen a good idea for you? It might be  — but the key is to be working with a seasoned real estate professional to guide you every step of the way.

How it works 

Traditionally, prospective home buyers will tour a house, get a feel for space, measure rooms, assess appliances, fixtures, and the neighborhood. Sight-unseen means that the buyer has looked at photos and videos online. Additionally, they may have had a live video walk through with their agent.

Working with a professional real estate agent is critical. An experienced local agent will be someone the buyer has engaged through the process, starting with the video tour. The agent will serve as the objective “eyes,” look for areas of concern, and identify any issues upfront. She will also help with due diligence, including researching the property, facilitating the offer process, and securing and reviewing the home inspection. If you have the help of an experienced real estate agent, the process can go off without a hitch.

Pros and cons of buying a home sight-unseen

The pros? As a buyer, you won’t sweat the small stuff. Loose door handles or peeling paint won’t become deal breakers because you tend to focus is on the bigger picture. But, buyers should work with their agent to ensure there are no big-ticket “surprises” not revealed on the virtual tour. A possible con is a lack of understanding the neighborhood vibe: the external noise, style of the other homes, and other intangibles. 

Purchasing a home is likely the biggest financial transaction you’ll ever make. If you are a nervous first-time homebuyer, sight unseen may not be a good idea. However, if you’re a buyer in this hot, competitive market who has lost out on other homes; you are comfortable doing online research; and you are working with an experienced, local agent who can help you feel confident about the home’s location and value, sight unseen may work well for you. 

Whether buying in person or sight-unseen, purchasing a home can be a long, draining, and emotional process.  Your agent will be there to guide you, support you and manage every detail — big and small — throughout the process. 

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