The temptation to buy a house sight-unseen through Skype is strong these days for people who live far from where they want to buy a house. You can save the time and money involved in traveling to see a house before you purchase it. You can avoid taking wasted trips for houses you don’t want to buy. And in a market like we have in Northern Virginia these days you can actually get in on a great house before it flies off the market.
There is a BIG downside, however: You could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a house you don’t like. To some people, this is a large enough downside that they will fly in to town multiple times if necessary. Some people would never buy a house sight unseen. I understand.
If you are going to buy a house from a distance, always do the following:
- Have your agent take a detailed video of the house for you, pointing out both good points and bad.
- Have your agent take detailed pictures of the house (think 200 photos).
- Use Skype or another live video call to ask your agent questions about the house, while they are in the house. (Note: Ask about smells)
- Have them walk around the neighborhood also.
- Have a friend or relative go with your agent to see the house; they know you better than your agent does.
- Have your agent do research on the value of the house, the tendencies of the listing agent, and on the seller.
- Do your own research also, focusing on what people are saying about the area, schools, crime, etc.
- Make the contract contingent on a Home Inspection, and fly in for the home inspection.
The last point is the most important. If you totally mess up and buy the wrong house, the home inspection will save you. Make sure your contract is written so you can still walk away at the point of the inspection (this is standard here in Fairfax County and throughout the Washington D.C. area). If the house isn’t right, you can walk away at this point. It will cost you a flight and the cost of the inspection, but it is far cheaper than buying the wrong house.
Written by Jeff Royce of Frankly Real Estate, Inc. Fairfax, VA, 703-585-5663