How to buy a house virtually
CATHERINE ALFORD • Aug. 27, 2020 • 8 min read
What we'll cover
Methods to finding the best real estate agent for you
Tips for touring a house virtually
How you can pay for a house virtually
Right now, everything we’re used to doing has changed. Grocery shopping is different. Spending time with friends is more distant. Working remotely is a change for many, and services are becoming more virtual. The same is true for the homebuying process. In fact, many people are buying homes without ever seeing them in person. So, today, I want to offer some actionable tips to help you buy a house virtually.
First, find a great real estate agent.
If you're buying a house in your local community, one of the best ways to find a real estate agent is to ask your friends and family for recommendations. Consider asking someone who has moved recently — the reason being that they’re going to be able to share whether or not their real estate agent was helpful with all the new challenges of buying a house virtually.
If you’re moving to a different state, again start with recommendations. Are you moving to a different state because you got a new job? If so, ask your new boss or the HR team if they have recommendations for a great real estate agent in the area.
If you're moving for a different reason and don’t have anyone to ask, look at real estate agent reviews online. You can find them on Realtor.com, Zillow, and other places. Again, really focus your search on real estate agents who have sold homes during the pandemic and ask them if they’d be willing to give you the extra support needed to facilitate a virtual sale. Because buying a house virtually has taken off in recent months, it’s important to work with an agent who is familiar with the virtual homebuying process versus someone who only helps consumers buy and sell homes every now and then.
My experience with touring a house virtually
About 6 years ago, my husband and I rented an apartment sight unseen. We were about to embark on a long-distance move from Louisiana to New Jersey, and I had just given birth to our twins. There was no way either one of us could fly to New Jersey to tour rentals in the traditional way. So, we scoured online ads for rentals, but we still didn’t know anything about the various neighborhoods.
We were fortunate, because a friend of ours lived in the area, and we asked him to tour rentals for us. He went above and beyond, even taking videos of walking down the street and talking to neighbors to make sure they seemed nice. Sure enough, when we pulled up to our rental after driving through 10 states with two tiny babies, everything was just right. Plus, the neighbors were just as nice as he said they were. They invited us to many backyard barbeques and were delighted to hold our babies, so we could get a minute to breathe.
Suffice to say, a virtual showing is definitely going to be different from seeing a house in person. It’s hard to grasp the feel of a neighborhood. It’s difficult to know whether or not the neighbors are courteous. And, if you’re virtually touring a house you want to buy, that’s a much bigger and more serious investment than my renting experience. So, there are few things to keep in mind when you do a virtual showing.
Tips for touring a house virtually
First, if you're buying locally but you’re not allowed in the house or don’t feel comfortable doing so, you can always drive by the neighborhood at different times of the day. You can see how the neighbors maintain and take care of their houses. You can check if there are train tracks or hospitals nearby that might make noise at night and decide if you’d be okay with that.
However, if you live too far away from the house to do that, you'll have to rely on photos and 3D tours of the house. Also, more than ever, you’ll have to rely on your real estate agent's advice. That’s why it’s so important to find one you trust, one who will go above and beyond to ensure you’re buying a home that meets all your needs. Don’t be afraid to ask them to walk down the street or talk to the neighbors. If you see a building nearby on Google Maps and you don’t know what it is, ask them to go look at it. You can also use Google Maps to virtually walk down the street, look for nearby schools, and spot potential issues like railroad tracks that might deter you from buying a home due to noise.
See if your real estate agent will video chat with you as they walk through the home. Sometimes, that can give you a better feel for the home than a 3D tour online. Remember, there are a lot of photography tricks sellers can use to make a home seem bigger and brighter. So, having someone be there in person, even if it’s not you, can be very helpful. Ultimately, your real estate agent wants to help you buy a home. That’s their goal. And, a great one will be more than happy to be of more assistance when you can’t see a house in person, so don’t be afraid to ask them for a few extras.
Paying for a house virtually
Even before the pandemic, the home buying experience became increasingly digital. Potential homebuyers search for houses online. Real estate agents create online portals filled with homes that meet buyers’ criteria. Homebuyers compare mortgage rates online.
Even the experience of getting pre-approved for a mortgage has gotten much faster. For example, you can get pre-approved online with Ally Bank in as little as three minutes without ever leaving your living room. Plus, you can upload and sign documents online and even text the team if you need help or guidance. You’ll even get access to a closing expert to help you complete the home buying process and get the keys to your home.
Gone are the days when you bring stacks of documents back and forth to a banker’s office just to get a home loan. Luckily, the mortgage industry has already been transforming into a digital experience over the past few years. So, many lenders, including Ally, already have systems in place to start the mortgage process online.
Keep in mind, even though the home buying process has become smoother thanks to digital technology, you’ll still need to be vigilant about common scams, like wire fraud. Sometimes scammers take advantage of the digitized homeowner process by posing as your real estate agent in emails and trying to get you to send your down payment to them via wire instead of your title company. So, be hyper vigilant once you get to the final, closing stage. Check and double check all account numbers with your real estate agent and title company before you officially send over your payments and actually close on your home.
Initially, the idea of buying a home virtually might seem overwhelming. After all, it’s likely one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make. However, with the advent of new technology, it’s entirely possible to buy a home you love without ever stepping foot inside. It’s also possible to get a mortgage without ever seeing your banker face-to-face.
While it would be nice to visit every home you love in person before putting in an offer, you can learn so much from 3D tours. As long as you have an excellent real estate agent who is willing to go the extra mile, you can also get a great sense of the neighborhood from video tours.
When it comes to a home inspection, hiring a well-rated inspector is key. Consider asking your inspector to do a video chat with you while they walk through your home. And, again, having a real estate agent willing to negotiate repairs or payments for any issues the inspector finds is important for your bottom line.
Lastly, working with a bank that is experienced with online banking is helpful when buying a home remotely. Ally Bank, as an online bank, is well versed in working with customers virtually. And they can help take you from pre-approval all the way to closing.
I know things are different now, and they might not go back to normal for quite some time. However, you can still find a great house your family will love, even if you’re not able to actually walk through it until you have the keys in hand. Using these tips, you can ensure you buy a home that’s not only a great investment, but one you’ll truly enjoy living in for many years to come.
Are you thinking about starting the home buying process? To start your journey toward new home ownership, visit Ally Home Loans today. And, for more tips on how to manage your money, visit my blog for more insights at CatherineAlford.com.
Catherine Alford is a nationally recognized financial educator who partners with top brands to encourage, educate, and inspire people to take on a more active financial role in their families. She is also the founder of CatherineAlford.com, an award-winning personal finance blog that she created in 2010. Follow her on Instagram @CatherineCAlford.
The views, information, or opinions expressed are solely those of the individuals involved and do not represent those of Ally Bank.
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