As real estate agents, it’s challenging to help buyers find the perfect home, even in the best of circumstances. Throw in a pandemic, exceptionally low housing inventory, and an ultra-competitive market, and things get a little more complicated. More and more, we’re seeing buyers put in offers on properties without touring them first. With more clients making offers on home sight unseen, how can agents ensure they give these buyers the best possible support?
The Challenges of Representing Sight-Unseen Buyers
Buying real estate sight unseen isn’t necessarily a new concept. Military families, overseas buyers, and those relocating from out of state have long relied on local real estate agents to tour homes and make recommendations for them. However, the current bottleneck in the housing market has driven up demand, leaving even local buyers scrambling to make an offer as early as possible. Therefore, more buyers are making offers sight unseen than ever before.
Real estate website Redfin reported that about 63% of all home offers were made sight unseen last year. That’s nearly double the amount of sight-unseen offers from just a year before.
Real estate agents now face the unique challenge of finding the right property for their clients, all without real-time input. In some instances, unhappy buyers blame real estate agents when the home they purchase isn’t what they expected. The pressure for real estate agents is mounting, but there are a few ways to protect yourself and find the ideal home for your buyers.
Tips for Helping Your Clients Find the Perfect Home…Sight Unseen
Representing sight unseen clients can be a challenge. However, you can help them find the right home – and protect yourself and your assets – with these easy tips.
1. Ask Lots of Questions
The more questions you ask, the more likely you are to end up with a happy buyer. It’s always important to listen to your buyers and get a feel for their lifestyle, their “must-haves,” and what constitutes their ideal home. With sight-unseen buyers, this step is even more crucial.
Essentially, you will become their eyes, ears, and noses. A comprehensive interview process helps you clearly understand what your buyers want and what they don’t. In fact, it’s a good idea to clarify what the buyers don’t want in a house just as much as understanding their “wish list.” Because every buyer is different, you should ask detailed questions before starting a home search. Ask about concerns like loud neighbors, strange smells, proximity to train tracks or roads, fenced or unfenced yards, or design considerations. Don’t ever assume something isn’t a big deal.
2. Use All the Technology at Your Disposal
Thankfully, we live in the 21st century, where technology infiltrates nearly every aspect of our lives. If we’re going to live through a sight-unseen buying surge, now is the time to do it.
There are a plethora of real estate tools at your disposal. But when representing a sight-unseen buyer, the video walkthrough will be perhaps your most valuable tool. The concept is simple: tour the home using your phone, upload the video using your favorite software program, and send the video to your buyers. The result is a remarkably reliable video tour that helps your clients visualize the space and make informed decisions.
A note here: in the past, we relied on 3D mapping tools like Matterport to give buyers a better overview of a home. While some agents still include 3D mapping in their listings, it’s becoming increasingly uncommon. That’s because buyers are scooping up available properties just as fast as they’re listed. Real estate agents don’t need to include 3D maps to help the house sell, so why incur the unnecessary expense?
As the buyers’ agent, your walkthrough will often replace the 3D map seen in the past. Whether you use a third-party software or simply video chat with your clients in real-time, the video walkthrough is immensely helpful for sight-unseen buyers. Since they often can’t rely on a 3D map of the home, your walkthrough will be their one opportunity to get a feel for layout and size.
3. Stay Objective – But Watch for Red Flags
When you’re touring the home, try to maintain objectivity. What might be a big deal to you – lack of natural light, outdated appliances, or blue carpets – might not be a deal-breaker for the buyer. And vice versa: what doesn’t bother you might be incredibly disappointing to your buyer. Keeping in mind all those questions you asked your buyer at the outset, point out every detail in a neutral light. Your buyers should make a decision based on their own interpretation of what you present.
However, you are a real estate professional, after all. You know what will cause problems for your buyer down the road. While you should stay objective during most of the video walkthrough, you should also watch for glaring red flags. Point out any potential problems like apparent foundation issues, roofing damage, evidence of electrical problems, or other obvious signs of trouble. While you’re certainly not responsible for inspecting the property, you are the buyer’s first defense against potential problems. Draw your buyers’ attention to red flags during the video and make a note of them in writing.
Should your buyers choose to write an offer, you’ll also want to revisit these potential issues during the home inspection.
4. Encourage Buyers to Do Their Homework
Before you ever start touring homes, encourage your buyers to do their research. Let them know that real estate laws prevent you from steering them towards or away from specific areas, so it’s up to them to decide which neighborhoods best meet their needs.
Your buyers should also understand that, while you have done your best to represent their interests and find a home they will love, the ultimate responsibility falls to them. Before they make an offer, the buyers should carefully read through all property disclosures, research the property history, and determine whether or not it’s a good fit.
Once your buyers make an offer and have an offer accepted, it’s time for more homework. The due diligence period will be absolutely critical for the sight unseen buyer. If at all possible, your buyer should attempt to see the house in person. They should also research housing inspectors and choose one with plenty of experience. Even if your buyer is paying cash – and therefore isn’t required to have a home inspection – it’s always a good idea in a sight-unseen purchase. Your buyer may want to be at the inspection if at all possible. If they cannot attend in person, you should offer to attend, and video call with them during part or all of the home inspection.
5. Put It in Writing
You want to find the right home for your buyers. But at the end of the day, it’s your clients’ responsibility to determine which property best meets their needs. Protect yourself and your business. Consult your brokerage or a contracts attorney and create an addendum clarifying your and the buyers’ roles in the transaction. This addendum should state that the buyer has a sufficient due diligence period during which they should conduct inspections, walkthroughs, and any other necessary assessments. It should also assert that you are not responsible for future problems with the house or the buyers’ dissatisfaction with their purchase.
Check with your brokerage or state Realtor association. Many will already have these sight-unseen addendums available for your use.
Have you represented a sight-unseen buyer this year? We’re betting you have! Tell us about your experience in the comments below.