Online shopping has become more popular than ever, and that goes for just about everything, from groceries to clothes to homes. Yep, you read that right: virtual home buying has become a new reality for buyers around the globe. Some are moving across the country, others require a sudden move, while many simply enjoy the convenience of buying a home without visiting the community. And while its convenience and flexibility are undeniable benefits, buying a home “sight unseen” must be done carefully so that you make the best decision possible. Here’s a guide to help you make the most of your virtual home buying experience.
1) Make Your Wishlist
Many buyers who see homes in person rely on their intuition to tell them when they’ve found “the one”. Since it’s more difficult to get a feeling for a home from behind a screen, making a wishlist of your needs and wants in a home is especially crucial when buying online. A detailed set of standards will help you narrow your search, focus only on homes that meet your practical needs, and ultimately help you choose a home that fits into your lifestyle.
To make your wishlist, start by asking yourself this question: what do you need in a home? Your needs should be things that you couldn’t comfortably live without. Perhaps you need four bedrooms to fit your family and any guests; a three-car garage to fit your beloved golf cart; or a big backyard for your dog to play in. The more specific you can get, the better. For example, if you need a big backyard, specify with a specific square footage. Otherwise, you could get swayed by what you see in online photos and videos, where a home’s backyard might appear bigger than it really is. Be sure to keep your specific needs at the top of your list so you can easily eliminate any homes that don’t satisfy them.
Once a home passes the first test of meeting your needs, it must check off your list of wants to set itself apart. Wants are items that you could live without, but that would make your life a little easier and happier. Maybe you love to bake and want a walk-in pantry for easy access to your baking supplies, or perhaps you would love to have a pool in the backyard to cool off after a long day of work. These are important to include on your wishlist because they will serve as important reminders of what would make you not only satisfied, but truly happy with your home.
2) Take a Virtual Tour
You might fall in love with a home’s listing photos, but these don’t show you everything there is to see. Rather than relying on the photos to make your decision, do what you can to see the home for what it really is, even if that’s through video. You might be surprised at how different a house looks when you can see it up-close and personal!
Many agents are now holding virtual open houses, tours and showings, where you can join them for a live viewing of the home. This is helpful because not only does it allow you to see the home from the perspective of someone who’s actually there, but you can also hear their commentary and ask questions. Agents will often point out features of the home that you can’t see through photos, which will help you get a better feeling for what the property is like even though you can’t see it in person. HomeSmart agents are well-trained in these emerging processes, so reach out to your agent or find a HomeSmart agent today to get started.
3) Prepare Your Questions
Another huge benefit of attending a live home tour is that you can get your questions answered in real-time. It’s good to have questions, especially when you’re viewing the home through a screen rather than your own eyes. But coming up with these questions can be challenging when you aren’t there; you can’t smell the pet odors, hear the sounds of the busy road outside, or see the scratches on the wood floors, for example. That’s why it’s important to take some time before your live tour to come up with questions that can speak to those things that you can’t experience for yourself.
To kickstart your brainstorming session, use the property as your guide. Look at the floorplan if it’s available to you; review the listing photos you’ve seen; and pretend like you’re walking through the house. Think about what questions you might have as you enter each room, like, “How old are the appliances?” or, “How big are the closets?” It’s also important to think about more general questions relating to the house and its surroundings as a whole, like, “What is the cell-phone service like?” and, “What kinds of noises can you hear from outside?” By asking these questions, your agent will be more likely to give you a closer look at the home and tell you things that they might have otherwise forgotten. This will help you determine if the property is really right for you.
4) Research the Community
A home’s surroundings is just as important as the home itself. Even if you find your dream home, you’ll be unhappy if it’s located in an area that doesn’t fit your lifestyle. Before you decide to buy, do some research on the neighborhood. Niche is a free-to-use website that allows you to search by city, neighborhood or zip code and gives you information ranging from public school statistics to crime and safety rankings in the area. Additionally, residents can leave their own reviews about the neighborhood, so you can hear from people who actually live there.
To learn more about a specific property’s surroundings, Google Maps can be extremely helpful. Simply type the address into the search bar, and you’ll be amazed at how much information you can find. You’ll be able to see what the home backs up to, the other homes around it, and you can even use “Street View” to get a 3D view of the home. Google Maps can also tell you the driving distance from the property to places that you’ll be visiting often, like your office or the gym. All of this can be useful to determining whether the home is in an area that works well for you.
5) Hire the Right People
Even if you do everything right, you can’t have a successful transaction without the right people helping you. You’ll need a knowledgeable agent to help you through the virtual search process, a highly-qualified inspector to check out the house before you buy (especially since you can’t be there to see it yourself), and a mortgage lender if you’re planning to take out a loan––just to name a few. Set yourself up for success by finding a trusted group of professionals to help you from the beginning.
Here at HomeSmart, we know that a buyer’s agent is one of the most important parties to any real estate transaction, which is why we equip our agents with the tools and technology necessary to give you the best home buying experience possible––even if it’s virtual. Our agents are trained to provide virtual tours, and HomeSmart’s paperless transaction model and state-of-the-art technology makes it easy to buy from wherever you are. Connect with a HomeSmart agent today and get ready to find your dream home!