How do I buy a house if I can’t see homes in person?
You are ready to buy a home, but are not able to view them in person. This could be because you are moving across the country, or it could be due to a specific event such as the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic of 2020. When you come across a home you think might be a fit, you ask your REALTOR to show you homes virtually. In order for you to take full advantage of virtual showings in your decision making process, both you and your agent will need to go through the following steps.
1. Get pre-approved
Regardless of how you intend to tour homes, this is always our starting point. Most home buyers think that the process will be time-consuming, or that they are not prepared to take this step. However, this step is of utmost importance. In a matter of minutes, you can complete a pre-approval process with a lender. This will give you peace of mind that the homes you are considering meet your budget.
2. Determine your search criteria – and understand the “why” behind it
You will want to decide which items are most important to you in your next home, but more importantly, WHY are they important. Ideally, you want to have a list of 3-5 “must-haves,” or things that you cannot live without. The key to narrowing down what’s most important starts with your motivation. Ask yourself, why are you moving in the first place? What will buying a new home help you to achieve? When you connect your criteria to something that powerful, you will be surprised how quickly you find clarity.
Your agent will be a valuable resource in this stage. Their role here is to confirm your criteria, ensuring that together you are digging down to what matters most to you. They are the sounding board for your home search ideas and will be there to tell you if the ideal home you are imagining is realistic given the area you are looking in.
Regardless of whether you will viewing homes in person or via video, this step sets the stage for the rest of your home buying process.
3. Select your favorites
When viewing homes online before your tour of homes, you will want to be hyper-realistic about whether or not the homes you are saving on-line as your favorites are actually a good fit. For example, if one of the top items in your search criteria is a large back yard for your dog, but you find a listing on-line that has a fabulous media room and the most gorgeous finishes, yet the home doesn’t have much of a yard, you need to stop and review your criteria. Ask yourself, “Is what has drawn me to this home more important than the criteria I’ve created?” You may also ask yourself, “Do I need to revisit my must-haves?” Of course, there is no right or wrong answer, but you want to think through the process. You should also discuss any changes to your wants/needs with your agent.
One thing we encourage our home buyers to do (when viewing homes in-person or virtually) is to only keep the top 2 homes in their sight. We do that by ranking homes as you view them. After seeing the first 2 homes, we determine which one would be the best fit if there were no other homes available. Then with each new home toured, we compare the newest home viewed with the current number 1 choice on the list.
4. Narrow your search – gather more facts
Once you have a few homes you really like on-line, it’s time for your agent to help you learn as much as possible about the homes. This could include viewing any other video or walk through tours provided. This should also include review of any disclosures, list of updates, or previous repair receipts that could be available. Your REALTOR may also contact the listing agent to ask any further questions before setting an appointment. If you have specific questions regarding the home, now is the time to bring those to your agent’s attention.
5. Schedule a live virtual tour
It’s best to think about virtual home tours in the same way you think about touring a home in person. You normally set time aside to go out with your agent, so it’s best to create an experience that is as close to this as possible when touring homes over video. The ultimate goal is to simulate viewing the home through your eyes. The most important result of virtual home tours is that you can see the property in a way that gives you confidence in making a decision, and being there live is a great way to ensure that.
Keep in mind that when you walk through a home in person, you instinctively take in the home through all of your senses. If the home features certain smells, you pick up on it immediately. If the floor dips in an area, you feel it. If there is a busy road nearby, you might hear noise in person. Knowing this upfront, and having an agent who understands this, is what separates great virtual home tours from bad ones. Your agent is truly your eyes, ears, nose, etc. This explains why those discussions your agent in advance are so important. It is critical for them to have a clear understanding of what you are looking for when you walk through a house.
6. Schedule a second showing if needed
After reviewing all of the information in advance, doing all of your due-diligence, and participating in the Virtual Home Tour with your REALTOR, you may still be unsure about making an offer. You should schedule a second showing with your agent to see the house. If you are able to attend in-person, this is the best option. However, if you are unable to attend in person for any reason, ask your agent to schedule another Virtual Home Tour. Many times, if all of the steps above have been done thoroughly, you won’t need to schedule a second showing. However, if there are any questions at all – it’s best for you to work with your agent to see the home again. Please know that seeing a home a second time is not an inconvenience at all….however, knowing that you missed out on a home you loved is heartbreaking.
Purchasing the home
Remember, when you are buying a home your REALTOR is there as a trusted resource for you. They are your advocate, and they are there to help you through the entire process. Not only can you view homes virtually, you can complete the contract paperwork remotely through electronic signatures, and many of the purchase documents can be emailed to you securely. However, we understand that viewing the home in person is an important step. Our goal is to provide you with all of the tools and options to help make your move go as smoothly as possible.
During these current times of uncertainty, and stay at home orders, you should consult with your agent or check your county's website to learn more about the shelter in place policy in your area. As we continue to navigate this “new normal” world we live in, you may see more mentions of virtual home tours ramping up, keep one thing in mind — they aren't created equal.
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