6 Tips for Buying a House Sight Unseen

By Kevin Brouillard · July 19, 2023 · 6 minute read

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6 Tips for Buying a House Sight Unseen

Whether relocating for a new job or competing in a seller’s market, many buyers need to move quickly. When time is of the essence, some may make an offer on a home without touring it in person.

Although this sounds complex, it’s nothing new, and the practice saw a resurgence during the COVID-19 pandemic: In 2020, 63% of homebuyers made an offer to buy sight unseen, Redfin reported.

Thinking about buying a house sight unseen? Here are six tips for navigating risk in the remote real estate market.

1. Get Preapproved for a Home Loan

Before making an offer, prospective buyers can do some front-end work to expedite the purchase process if they need financing. Becoming pre-qualified for a home loan is a quick first step to get an estimate of how large a mortgage a buyer would likely qualify for. This helps house hunters focus their search on homes they can reasonably expect to obtain financing for.

Lenders determine prequalification according to basic financial information, such as income, debt, and assets. Often buyers simply self-report their finances at this stage.

Then there’s mortgage preapproval, a much deeper dive into qualifying for a mortgage. Becoming preapproved often requires bank statements, proof of assets, and a look at credit history.

When buying a house sight unseen, especially in a hot market, getting preapproved can reasonably assure sellers that buyers can get financing for the amount they’ve offered.

In a superheated market, with bidding wars, cash offers, and skipped inspections, some agents suggest going through full underwriting, with only the appraisal left in order to close the deal.

If you’re buying a vacation home or investment property, you’ll be evaluated by lenders in a similar fashion to your first home loan.

💡 Quick Tip: You deserve a more zen mortgage loan. When you buy a home, SoFi offers a guarantee that your loan will close on time. Backed by a $5,000 credit.‡

2. Research the Neighborhood

Whether you’re looking to buy in your favorite vacation destination or have never set foot in the area, there are resources available to better inform your search.

While listings can do a good job of capturing a house in its best light, they do not give buyers the full picture of the property’s curb appeal and neighborhood. To get the lay of the land, Google Maps and Google Earth are easy tools for exploring the property and neighborhood via street view and satellite imagery. Walk Score is useful to determine a home’s proximity to amenities like grocery stores, restaurants, and coffee shops.

Other apps can give insight into community characteristics and local happenings. NeighborhoodScout provides localized information on crime, school rankings, and real estate prices. Another option is Nextdoor, which lets users connect with neighbors, local businesses, and other resources.

A look at housing market trends in select cities can help you home in popular neighborhoods, home prices, demographics, and more.

3. Find a Trusted Real Estate Agent

Once you’ve taken care of financing and focused your search geographically, finding a reputable real estate agent can help take the guesswork out of buying a house sight unseen.

Since you won’t be able to tour the house in person, a buyer’s agent can act as your eyes and ears on the ground. Without their assistance, the sight-unseen house cost could rise significantly, thanks to unforeseen repairs and upgrades.

Finding a real estate agent who is familiar with the area can be advantageous for evaluating sight-unseen house prices. Their experience in the local market makes it easier to find comparable listings and weigh options.

When interviewing potential agents, you can ask if they’ve helped clients buy sight unseen before. Because your relationship will be virtual leading up to inspection or move-in day, it’s important to consider communication skills and style.

4. Take a Virtual Tour

Starting with online listing photos and virtual walk-throughs is helpful to determine if a house is worth a closer look. What’s more, photo editing and wide-angle shots can misrepresent a space, so organizing a guided virtual tour with a friend, relative, or real estate agent onsite may serve a buyer well.

Using FaceTime, Zoom, or similar video chat apps can let buyers ask questions in real-time and get a more intimate sense of the property. Seeing the space firsthand (albeit virtually) may give a more realistic impression than measurements and square footage alone can convey.

💡 Quick Tip: If you refinance your mortgage and shorten your loan term, you could save a substantial amount in interest over the lifetime of the loan.

5. Touch Base After the Inspection, If You Have One

A home inspection is common with most real estate transactions.

A home inspector examines a house’s physical and interior structure, as well as major systems like plumbing, HVAC, and electrical. The resulting inspection report highlights any visible problems, necessary repairs, and potential risks.

When buying a house sight unseen, it can be beneficial to have your real estate agent attend and video call to walk you through any notable issues that arise.

A home inspection contingency in an offer generally allows buyers to pull out of the purchase if major issues are found. It may also be possible to negotiate with the seller to have repairs addressed or costs deducted from the purchase price.

In a supercharged market, buyers may choose to waive the home inspection contingency to improve their candidacy in a multiple-offer situation. Those who take this path may still be able to arrange a pre-offer home inspection. The results won’t be negotiable or permit backing out without losing the deposit.

Waiving the home inspection is a risk that may be best reserved for buyers with sufficient cash for repairs.

6. Arrange a Virtual Closing

If you have to buy sight unseen and can’t attend the closing in person, there are options for closing remotely, depending on the state and lender.

Certain documents, such as the deed and affidavit of title, need to be notarized to finalize the home purchase. Remote online notarization allows buyers to sign closing documents with an electronic signature and allows all parties to meet virtually.

The process is authorized in most states, but certain documents, including promissory notes, may need to be signed in person. Also, be sure to check if your state requires a lawyer to be physically present at the closing.

Lenders will usually need an appraisal of the property to finalize a home loan. This process can be arranged from afar or coordinated through your real estate agent.

At a virtual closing, closing costs can be paid electronically with a bank-to-bank or wire transfer.

Giving your lender, real estate agent, and the title company ample notice that you intend to close virtually can help seal the deal without a hitch.

The Takeaway

Do people put offers on homes without seeing them? Some do, yes. Having your mortgage financing in order, working with a knowledgeable real estate agent, and doing virtual research can be helpful when buying a house sight unseen.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.

SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.

Photo credit: iStock/MicroStockHub

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*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

SoFi On-Time Close Guarantee: If all conditions of the Guarantee are met, and your loan does not close on or before the closing date on your purchase contract accepted by SoFi, and the delay is due to SoFi, SoFi will give you a credit toward closing costs or additional expenses caused by the delay in closing of up to $10,000.^ The following terms and conditions apply. This Guarantee is available only for loan applications submitted after 04/01/2024. Please discuss terms of this Guarantee with your loan officer. The mortgage must be a purchase transaction that is approved and funded by SoFi. This Guarantee does not apply to loans to purchase bank-owned properties or short-sale transactions. To qualify for the Guarantee, you must: (1) Sign up for access to SoFi’s online portal and upload all requested documents, (2) Submit documents requested by SoFi within 5 business days of the initial request and all additional doc requests within 2 business days (3) Submit an executed purchase contract on an eligible property with the closing date at least 25 calendar days from the receipt of executed Intent to Proceed and receipt of credit card deposit for an appraisal (30 days for VA loans; 40 days for Jumbo loans), (4) Lock your loan rate and satisfy all loan requirements and conditions at least 5 business days prior to your closing date as confirmed with your loan officer, and (5) Pay for and schedule an appraisal within 48 hours of the appraiser first contacting you by phone or email. This Guarantee will not be paid if any delays to closing are attributable to: a) the borrower(s), a third party, the seller or any other factors outside of SoFi control; b) if the information provided by the borrower(s) on the loan application could not be verified or was inaccurate or insufficient; c) attempting to fulfill federal/state regulatory requirements and/or agency guidelines; d) or the closing date is missed due to acts of God outside the control of SoFi. SoFi may change or terminate this offer at any time without notice to you. *To redeem the Guarantee if conditions met, see documentation provided by loan officer.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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