Buying a Home Sight Unseen: 4 Things You Should Know
March 5, 2018 | Phil Aitken
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In most cases, home buying usually goes in a six-step order: decide on a budget, find a lender, hire a realtor, make a list of must-haves, look at properties, make an offer, purchase mortgage, close.  In other circumstances, shoppers are willing to purchase properties sight unseen.  For example, Marcia recently sold her home and is scheduled to close at the end of the month.  She was planning to travel out of state on Friday to purchase a new home.  Plans have now changed as Marcia has to have emergency knee surgery and is expected to be immobile for the next few weeks.  The surgeon has instructed Marcia not to travel.  Marcia is now in the unique, less than idyllic position of having to purchase a home sight unseen.  

Should you find yourself, like Marcia, in such a situation, The Aitken Home Team suggests you consider four factors when purchasing a home sight unseen:

Bank Owned:

As you shop via the worldwide web for your next humble abode, remember that property descriptions using words such as "distressed", "foreclosure" or "bank owned" are usually indicative of damage or poor condition.  Such properties usually need to be sold quickly and banks do not negotiate their listing prices as they are attempting to make up for payments the previous owner failed to make in a timely fashion.  The longer their properties sit on the market, the more money they lose, so they are not generally in the mood to negotiate.  

Competition:

It is easy to get somewhat sidetracked in looking for the next best deal when shopping from home.  Investors and "flippers" are also looking for those same deals.  Be aware that you could have some competition and a lot of work to do on such deals.  The difference between "them" and you is that most investors/flippers are well-practiced at such real estate endeavors and have factored in costs such as: purchase price, potential profit, renovations, carrying costs, mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance and utilities.  If you have already sold your home and are still occupying your now former residence, it is likely that you are paying the new owner a daily rent fee.  Don't forget to calculate this into your costs as well.  In addition, most of these "flippable" properties do not provide an opportunity for even your realtor to view prior to purchase.  This can be risky business for the inexperienced buyer.  

Wholesalers are on the hunt for bargains, too, and act as middlemen for investors.  Wholesalers look for bargains which they can easily mark up after closing and resell to investors.  Wholesalers move fast because they do not deal with the renovation process and want to make the most money in the fastest way possible.  They generally  have a buyer lined up before they sign on the dotted line.  

Also, inventory is still extremely limited in some parts of the country and homes are often sold before "for sale" signs hit America's front yards.  Your biggest competition will be other buyers and you will need to act fast, but not foolishly.  If you have a relative or friend who resides in the area where you are hoping to purchase, consider asking them to check out properties for you and whether they would be willing to act as your power of attorney.  Power of attorney enables someone else to sign on your behalf in the event that you would like to make an offer or cannot attend your closing.  This is becoming more popular as our country is more transient than ever before.  Your realtor can act as your power of attorney as well.  

Related: "The Builder's Warranty: Know Before You Purchase"

Risks:

Purchasing a home sight unseen is risky business.  Listing photos do not reflect structural issues, plumbing problems, and faulty electrical wiring.  While virtually any home can be made presentable via clever staging, problems are easily hidden.  Most foreclosures are properties suffer the wrath of their previous owners for various reasons and usually require thousands of dollars worth of repairs.  In addition, you are unable to see the surrounding neighborhood, condition of the yard, determine whether you will be purchasing in a high-traffic area and experience potentially loud, disruptive noises.  In the end, a walk through your prospective new home and around the grounds is the only accurate way to determine if the property is right for you.  

Protect Yourself:
Contingency Clauses are one of the best means of buyer protection when purchasing a home sight unseen.  
Depending on how the contingency is worded, the buyer can:
  • Approve the inspection report and move forward with the deal
  • Disapprove the report and back out of the deal
  • Request additional time for further inspections
  • Request repairs or concessions
  • A walkthrough contingency allows you one final visit to the property prior to signing closing documents to ensure all is in order.  
The Bottom Line
Of course there are special situations where buyers must purchase properties sight unseen out of sheer necessity.  Regardless of the reason, such a purchase is risky and can involve expensive repairs and the possibility of having to find a place to stay while such repairs are performed. You might discover that the new zip code is less than desirable and the environment is unpleasantly noisy.  The best way to limit risk factors is buy working closely with an experienced real estate agent worthy of your trust and including contingency clauses in your purchase offer.  

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For more information, contact The Aitken Home Team today!

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