Would You Buy a House Online?

These homeowners made the ultimate purchase without seeing it in person. Could you do the same?

August 03, 2022

This past spring, roughly 10% of all home buyers in America sealed the deal on their houses without so much as a walk-through. The trend started as a pandemic necessity because open houses were out of the question, but it seems to be here to stay. “More and more people are relying on virtual tours with agents in today’s ever-competitive market,” says Jessica Lautz, Ph.D., vice president of demographics and behavioral insights for the National Association of Realtors. Without enough homes for sale to meet the ongoing demand, buyers have to act quickly. And tech tools have made it possible to get mortgages, sign documents and carry out closings online. If you’re thinking of clicking “add to cart” when you see your dream house, read on: Six families share some helpful tips.

Find an agent who will really work for you.

Matthew and Kristy Green moved from San Francisco to Grand Rapids with their two kids. “We wanted to know specifics about houses, and our agent went the extra mile to make sure we did, "says Kristy. "During video tours, she’d prop up her phone and stretch out her arms to show us how big something was, then take out her measuring tape so we could gauge furniture placement. Once, she showed us the scale of a kitchen by lying on the floor. She did five or six video calls with us at the property we bought to help us get to know every square foot of it — closets, nooks, behind the garage. Because of her, we said, ‘Let’s do it!’ without hesitation.”

Photo by: Nathalie Dion

Nathalie Dion

Take a virtual tour of the neighborhood.

Todd and Thayer Orelli moved from Brooklyn to Centerport, New York, with their two daughters. “Our bungalow was listed on Craigslist, without an address or pictures, just a map of the area. There was an offer on the table, so we had to hustle," says Thayer. "Todd used Street View on Google Maps to ‘walk’ around, get a sense of the other houses and see how close the neighborhood was to the beach. I jumped on the local Facebook page to make sure the people seemed friendly, and we made an offer within 24 hours. The house turned out to be a hoarder disaster, with takeout food containers and piles of newspapers everywhere. But you can always change a house, just not the location. We are part of the best community — summer bonfires, camp for our girls, and we even do the New Year’s Day Polar Plunge!”

Photo by: Nathalie Dion

Nathalie Dion

Know what you want — and be prepared to pounce.

Stephanie Lewis and Erin Havel moved from Seattle to Palm Springs, California, with their child. “Having a clear vision of what you’re looking for in a home makes it easier to act fast. We made a list of our nonnegotiables: newer construction, updated roof, solar panels, good neighborhood and a solid school system. This way we weren’t wasting anyone’s time, especially since we didn’t have any to spare. I was starting a new job whether we found a place to live or not!" says Stephanie. "We had preapproval for a mortgage before we did any virtual tours. We talked to a bank about our financing options, and the mortgage broker connected us with a good agent. When we got a gut feeling about one of our top choices, we knew exactly how much we could offer and we went for it. We now have a beautiful home and a fun story to tell.”

Photo by: Nathalie Dion

Nathalie Dion

Invest in a top-notch inspector.

Katie and Nick Gomes moved from Jersey City to Nashville with their 1-year-old child. “When you’re not there in person, it’s worth every cent to get a thorough inspection. Our trusted agent referred us to a veteran inspector who FaceTimed us as he went through the home, explaining the condition of everything and details like the HVAC setup. Luckily, he didn’t spot too much other than a screenless window and caulk missing from window casings. We got a detailed report and still haven’t encountered any surprises,” says Katie.

Photo by: Nathalie Dion

Nathalie Dion

Enlist local helpers.

Barrett and Jessi Way moved with their three children from Richmond to Carmel, Indiana. “We didn’t have friends in Indiana to check out homes there when we had to move for Barrett’s job, but my parents live two hours away and volunteered to go to showings," says Jessi. "Afterward, they’d share their true insights when the agent wasn’t around — like that it was too small, needed work or had a weird smell. When they walked into the house we bought, they knew it was the one. Before he left, my dad had picked out where he’d sit for a cigar; meanwhile, we still needed details on the septic system.”

Photo by: Nathalie Dion

Nathalie Dion

Look beyond dated decor.

Michelle Betts moved from Spain to Centennial, Colorado with her three kids. “The house I was considering had that typical ’80s medium-brown oak trim and kitchen cabinets, along with white carpet — even in the bathrooms!" says Michelle. "But when I really studied the photos and videos, I could tell that the home’s bones and the space were great. I loved the vaulted ceilings and huge windows in the living room, and the finished basement. The photos didn’t capture how beautiful the backyard is. And, we have a pool!”

Photo by: Nathalie Dion

Nathalie Dion

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