When Jason Wooten decided to buy a home in Denver, he knew it might be an atypical experience. Jason lives in Alaska. Knowing that Denver is one of the most competitive real estate markets in the country, Jason was prepared to move quickly when a property he liked hit the market. He realized that he likely wouldn’t be able to see homes in person before making an offer.
“If I wanted to see every property in person, it might take days to arrange for travel there and the property would be gone by then,” said Wooten. “When my condo came on the market, the seller provided good photos and I did a tour via Facetime with my Redfin agent. I felt comfortable with everything and had an offer in that day.”
Jason was under contract that evening. He closed on his home last week and will see his home for the first time when he flies into town this week.
While Jason’s story may seem unusual, new survey data shows that 19 percent of people who bought or sold a home in the past year made a bid on a home before viewing it in person. The survey of more than 2,000 who bought or sold a home in the past year was conducted by SurveyMonkey Audience and commissioned by Redfin. A similar survey conducted last year found that 21 percent of recent homebuyers had made offers sight unseen.
Buyers of high-end homes were almost twice as likely to have made offers on homes sight unseen. Thirty-nine percent of people who bought homes for more than $750,000 made offers without seeing homes in person.
For overseas or out-of-state buyers like Jason, bidding sight unseen is the only option. But offer deadlines and competition from other buyers are additional factors that can drive blind bids. Investors who purchase multiple distressed or foreclosed properties as an investment often do so without seeing homes first.
Karla Kirkpatrick-Adams, Jason’s real estate agent in Denver, said that there are some circumstances when sight-unseen offers work, but she cautions buyers that it’s not without risk. In Jason’s case, Karla said, “I knew the condo building and exactly what Jason was looking for. Given his circumstances, a sight-unseen offer was the only option. This condo carried minimal risk because it is in a highrise in downtown Denver that has a solid Homeowners Association maintaining the building. Purchasing a single-family home would carry a lot more risk with the potential for latent defects or other issues.”
When possible, many buyers will send a friend or family member to tour the home in their place before making an offer. Karla advises having an inspection and including an inspection contingency in the offer, if possible. The agent or inspector can video stream the inspection so that the buyer can follow along and ask questions and feel confident that they know about any issues or problems with the home. The inspection contingency and other contingencies provide an “out” for buyers should they find something out about the home that makes them not want to move forward with the purchase.
Crissy Dyer, a Redfin agent in Washington, D.C., has recently helped two families purchase homes sight unseen from overseas. She says that the keys to success are communication and trust.
“I was working with a family based in Singapore and we were constantly in touch over email. We’d schedule times to do video tours in the morning here, evening there. Even though we never met, we got to know each other really well,” said Crissy.
Video tours allowed Crissy to point things out and help her buyers get a sense of the layout, finishes, light and views in the home—qualities that aren’t easily captured in photographs.
“Technology makes it easy for buyers to feel confident making a sight-unseen offer.”
She acknowledges that working with overseas buyers can be a challenge, especially with time zone differences, but says it’s always incredibly rewarding to help a family find their dream home.