Buying a House Sight Unseen

In the wake of COVID-19, some companies have announced plans to allow employees to work from home permanently, freeing people to live anywhere. What does this mean for Mendocino County? Maybe nothing or maybe we’ll have an influx of city dwellers ready to escape the rat race.

Lucky for them, working isn’t the only thing going virtual. People can also buy houses without ever setting foot in them. In a recent Zillow survey, 36 percent of respondents said they’d buy a house online and 43 percent said they’d sell a house online. And these days, we have the technology to make the whole process fairly straightforward.

If you’re thinking of moving but don’t want to risk all the in-person interactions typically associated with buying and selling property, here’s how it can be done from the comfort of your home office.

First, find a good Realtor. The best way to do so is to get recommendations from friends and family, but if you’re moving out of the area, you may not know anyone there. Rather than simply calling the listing agent of the first property you see, I suggest doing a little homework and finding a Realtor that will be your advocate. How? Start with the local Realtor selling your house. Any Realtor can connect with other Realtors anywhere in the world. Then, check online reviews. And if you’re up for it, cold call a few people in the industry there. Home inspectors, lenders, insurance agents, attorneys, and others who work with Realtors all the time typically know who the good ones are.

Once you get a few names, review their websites or online bios and choose a few you think you could work with. Then schedule a phone or video interview to see who you click with best. With a Realtor working for you, everything gets easier. A Realtor finds the properties that meet your criteria for bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage, location, school district, and anything else you care about. After you review photos and videos of those properties, you can choose your favorites and do a virtual walk through while your Realtor uses their mobile phone to stream video. You can peek in the closets, walk around the back yard, and visualize your furniture in the living room without ever setting foot in the house.

After deciding on the home of your dreams, your Realtor can write an offer, negotiate on your behalf, send you documents to sign electronically via a secure connection, and help you open an escrow. A word to the wise, read the dozens and dozens of pages you receive rather than simply scrolling to the sections to initial or sign. This is likely among the biggest investments you’ll make in your lifetime. Make sure the details are right.

With a signed purchase agreement, your Realtor will order a title report, begin coordinating all the necessary inspections, and connect you with a lender. I encourage you to resist the temptation to go online and choose a lender based on the lowest rate. Here’s why: like Realtors, it’s best to have a relationship with your lender. You want their direct phone number and email address so you can get the help you need when you need it. Online lenders rarely provide the service of local lenders, and the rates they quote sometimes leave out hidden fees.

Once all the inspections are done and any contingencies are removed, you’re ready for the final steps. A couple of documents must be notarized, and you’ll need to send the down payment.

With wire fraud on the rise, I highly recommend going through the small hassle of ordering a cashier’s check. If you must wire funds, be certain you have the correct account. Double check it with your lender or escrow officer (not a surrogate who may be posing as a secretary or colleague). There’s no getting back money once it’s been wired, even if it ends up in the Bank of Southern Ukraine.

If you’d like to discuss these or any other real estate matters, feel free to get in touch. You can reach me at or call (707) 462-4000.

Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

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