We live in an age where most home buyers leverage online tools. Even before the “C” word arrived (COVID), home buyers were touring homes from the comfort of their couches via virtual and 3D tours. However, COVID did influence the sight unseen buying trend for city folk drawn to more affordable housing options far from the madding crowd.
Today, the convenience of not visiting a home has an appeal in certain scenarios. Does this mean we’re entering a new age where people buy property without ever stepping foot in the home in real life (IRL)? Probably not. However, depending on your situation, it’s still an option that can help.
Here we explore the idea of buying a home sight unseen, the pros and cons, when it might help, and how to avoid risks when taking this route.
What Tools Help Buy Sans Seeing Homes IRL?
There are a few tools to help you purchase a home without a visit in person, including:
Virtual and 3D self-guided tours
Video tours have been around since 1994 but didn’t pick up steam in the real estate industry until the early 2000s. Edgy agents were excited to offer a new way to show off properties, allowing buyers’ agents and their clients to virtually walk the homes to decide if it was worth touring the home in person. Today, the self-guided virtual tour is the primary tool buyers use when looking to purchase sight unseen. 3D technology provides next-level interactions, perfect for buyers when house hunting from out of town.
- 3D tours create a more realistic experience
- An excellent tool to decide what homes are worth considering
- A time-saving tool for busy buyers
- Ideal when buying a home in a different town/province
- You don’t experience the home firsthand
- No true sense of the home
- Hard to grasp the actual size of rooms
- No sense of how the home flows
- Can’t pass the smell test for things like cigarette smoke, pet smells, mould, mustiness, etc.
- If you don’t know the neighbourhood or haven’t been there in several years (neighbourhoods change so quickly in Toronto!), you don’t get an accurate read on its vibe
Interactive floor plans
The floor plan makes it easier for home buyers to zero in on specific areas of the home when taking 3D tours. They also offer a better feel for the flow of a home. For example, when viewing virtual tours consisting of still shots of each room, the floor plan allows buyers to see where the bathrooms are in relation to other rooms, spot awkward positioning of things like windows, doors, or stairs, and understand the layout.
- Provides a more comprehensive overview of the home’s layout
- You can click on specific rooms during a 3D virtual tour as opposed to “click stepping” your way through the halls and rooms to reach a specific point
- Not helpful without a home visit or virtual tour to see the actual rooms and space
Facetime guided tours with your agent
When working with an agent, Facetime guided tours allow agents to walk you through the home in real-time via live chat. This is the best of both worlds, allowing you to enjoy the convenience of a virtual tour and benefit from the experience of an agent walking you from room to room, zooming in on specific features at your request, and answering questions as you tour the home.
- Provides all the benefits of a virtual tour
- Includes the expertise of your real estate agent
- Allows you to do things like open closets and kitchen cupboards, test the taps, flush the toilet, etc.
- Your real estate agent can talk about the feel of the home, natural light, spaciousness, potential issues, etc.
- Includes a pass or fail on the smell test
- You don’t experience the home firsthand
iBuying is more popular in the U.S. but is gaining traction in Canada. iBuyers view homes online and interact directly with sellers, supposedly saving time, money, and stress. However, although this seems convenient, it does present even more challenges when buying sight unseen, as you don’t have an agent to prevent you from buying a home with serious issues. So, this is a high-risk tool we wouldn’t recommend. Although iBuying is perceived to offer potential cost savings for buyers through commission, the truth is that a seller will likely sell for market value, so it’s far more likely that they’re the ones enjoying the savings, not you. If you ask us, iBuying is far riskier than buying sight unseen with an agent who’s got your back.
- Can be an option for investors buying out of town properties
- Saves on costs for investors/home buyers
- Skewed toward the sellers’ best interests
- Very high risk without someone representing your best interests
- Any savings from the commission are outweighed by potential risks, including a higher risk of paying more than you would with the advice of a qualified real estate agent
Planning to buy a home in Toronto? Read these articles next:
- 10 Signs a Home is “The One”
- Have Toronto Homes Become More Affordable?
- New Homes vs. Resale: Which Builds Equity Faster?
Why Buy a Home Sight Unseen?
Although we would advise buyers to avoid buying a property without seeing it in real life, there are a few reasons you might decide to do so anyway:
- You’re away: When you’re really psyched about a property but are away on business, vacation, or at your cottage for the summer and can’t get into town to view it, buying sight unseen is an option. If you don’t want to miss the opportunity to be first in the door ready to make an offer, we can walk you through the property and ensure everything checks out.
- You’re moving to a new location: Moving to a new location is another reason to buy sight unseen. Even if you’re just a few hours away, if your schedule makes it impossible to drive back and forth every time a worthwhile property hits the market, waiting could put you at risk of missing the opportunity to put in an offer. We can spot the best properties and arrange a Facetime tour sans the travel.
- First to offer: In a very competitive market, you might have experienced losing out to other buyers one too many times. If you’re antsy, you might decide to do the virtual or Facetime tour and get your offer in before you miss another opportunity.
- You’re an investor: You might not be as concerned about the “feels” of a home if you’re an investor. The virtual tour is ideal for investors who are too busy to see the house in real life or who live out of town.
In all the above scenarios, the safest bet is to go with an agent who knows the area like the back of their hand. Like us, for example! Agents can check out the properties for you and then walk you through the home via a live chat.
Tips for Buying Sight Unseen
There are a few things you can do to make a sight unseen home purchase go smoothly:
Enlist a knowledgeable real estate agent
We hate to sound overly self-promoting, but you need an agent who knows the area and can ensure the home is a safe purchase suited to your needs. We will perform due diligence and provide valuable advice to protect you against an unwise decision.
Due your due diligence
Research online reviews about real estate agents specializing in the neighbourhood. Interview them and determine how long they’ve been working in the area, read testimonials on their website, and speak to them via chat to feel them out. Also, research the neighbourhood using Google Maps to virtually walk the street to see how the homes look and what’s nearby. Ideally, if you don’t know the area, your agent can create a video or, better yet, take you on a live tour to show you how the other houses on the street look, where the closest TTC connections are, exciting amenities, etc.
Read more about due diligence in real estate in this blog right here.
Understand sight-unseen challenges.
Find out what steps, such as digital document signing, can be handled virtually. Also, make sure you understand the implications of buying a home without seeing it, including:
- Seller hesitancy to accept sight unseen offers
- Higher risk of disappointment when you finally see the home
- Not having an in-person tour to ensure you are 100% confident it is the right home for you
- Not being present for the final inspection before closing
- Issues with the area not holding up to expectations
Enlist a friend or family member
Having someone do the home tours in person for you is an excellent way to reduce risk. Someone you trust and who “gets you” will look out for you and help you find your dream home. By looping you in via Facetime, you can “be there” and check out the things that matter most to you. Also, have them help out with things like taking measurements, doing the final walk-through, etc.
Before starting your buying journey, find a great Toronto Realtor® to work with. Read this article to find the best Toronto real estate agent for you.
Ask extra questions – a lot
Think about what you would do if you were touring the home in person. Then make a list of questions to deal with the things you can’t do via a virtual tour, such as:
- How is the curb appeal?
- How spacious are the closets?
- Do the kitchen cabinets and drawers open and close properly?
- Do the cabinets appear custom, or is there a DIY paint job covering up ugly wood?
- How does the house smell?
- Do the taps run well?
- Does the toilet flush without any scary things happening?
- What are the views from the windows?
- Is the house overly creaky?
- Does the property appear secure?
- What is the noise level of traffic and local sounds?
- How do the neighbours’ homes look?
- Are there trees on the street?
- Is there anything off-putting, such as the street being very busy, major construction that could take a few years to complete, nearby train tracks on a major route, being downwind of a stinky factory, etc.?
- How do the appliances look?
- What condition are the floors in?
- Is the property well maintained, such as the roof appearing sound, the backyard, and front yard appearing cared for, no broken windows or peeling paint, etc.?
- In a condo:
- Can you hear the neighbours walking above, their music, talking, etc.?
- Is the building well maintained?
- Does it smell and look clean?
- Are the elevators operating safely and arriving quickly?
- Is there a concierge/security in the lobby?
- Are the amenities in good condition?
- Do the residents seem shady (we’re thinking about buildings known for having a lot of short-term rental units, for example)?
- Are areas like parking and stairwells well-lit and secure?
Don’t waive contingencies
As a sight-unseen buyer, you’re already at a disadvantage. We advise avoiding waiving contingencies that put you at further risk, such as a home inspection. You don’t want to end up buying a money pit with significant issues, such as a leaky roof, damaged foundation, plumbing issues, etc.
Ensure the inspector is experienced and that any recommended repairs have a follow-up inspection. Also, if possible, have someone you trust present at the inspection to ask questions on your behalf.
Although buying a home without seeing it in real life isn’t the best-case scenario, having a real estate agent in your corner is the best way to avoid regrets and disappointment.
If you’re considering buying a home without seeing it in real life, The Christine Cowern Team can help reduce stress and risks. So, give us a call at 416.291.7372 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to work with you!