Ways to protect yourself when buying a property ‘sight unseen’

In some areas, real estate prices are so low that they’re too good to pass up. What if you see a home you want to buy, either as a residence or an investment property to rent out, but you’re hundreds or even thousands of miles away and are afraid that someone else will snap it up before you can check it out in person? Maybe you found it on an online real estate site. Perhaps a friend or acquaintance is selling their vacation home halfway across the country.

Whatever the case, if you decided to buy it “sight unseen,” you wouldn’t be alone. In a survey by Redfin this year, 45% of homebuyers reported that they had bid on a home they hadn’t seen in person. That was up from 28% last year.

If you buy a home without looking at it in person, you’re going to need a trusted person on the ground to be your eyes and ears – and maybe your nose. That means finding a reputable real estate agent in the area. You want someone who knows the local real estate market.

Here are some other things to remember:

  • Take a virtual tour: Many listings include those, but not all. Don’t just rely on photos or even drone footage of the exterior and the land the property is on. One way to get a virtual tour is to video chat with your realtor as they walk through the property. Maybe they can take you on a virtual walk or drive around the neighborhood. Your realtor should be able to tell you something about the area. You can do some online research as well.
  • Get a trusted inspector: Home inspectors are trained to notice things that most people wouldn’t – even if they saw them in person. However, when you’re buying a property sight unseen, the inspector’s report is even more important. Be sure you hire a highly qualified inspector.
  • Be careful about waiving contingencies: Sellers (and especially their realtors) can smell a person desperate to buy a home. Don’t agree to waiving contingencies regarding inspections, financing or appraisal because you’re afraid of losing out to another buyer.

If you’re buying property in Pennsylvania and handling everything virtually, it’s essential to be sure that everything is being done correctly. It’s a good idea to have a Pennsylvania real estate attorney on your side.