When most people think about home-buying, they picture long weekend shuttling from property to property, peeking in closets and cabinets to get an idea of spaciousness, seeing how the light comes through the kitchen window overlooking the backyard, and generally getting a “feel” for their next prospective home. Drop all those impressions, because this post is about something altogether different. This is dedicated to the corporate climber who just got a job in Philly and has a matter of weeks to move from their home in Oklahoma. This is for the military family who has to quickly adjust to a new life in a new city. This is for the couple who wants a Rittenhouse Square condo that they know will elicit a bidding war the day it goes up for sale. In other words, this is a guide for buyers who are purchasing a home sight-unseen, and the little hacks that can help make moving day not a total crapshoot.
A good agent is always a plus when talking about real estate, but nevermoreso is it an absolute requirement than when you are looking to buy a house in an unfamiliar city. This is someone who will have to be completely honest with you – brutally so, if necessary – and who is willing to advocate for you even in your absence. Technology is a godsend when working with an agent in what will be your new hometown. Some Philadelphia agents use Facetime or other forms of video to give their clients a guided walkthrough and a peek at the surrounding area. This virtual tour should include what you see out of major windows and an upclose-and-personal look at the yard, the perimeter, and a walk up and down the street. Finding an agent who’s intimately familiar with the area is a good bet.
Maybe you can’t free yourself to go tour a potential new home, but maybe you have someone close to you who is willing to do the footwork. Agents who have worked with sight-unseen clients often encourage them to send parents, siblings, or good friends to be their eyes and ears. Choose someone who knows your preferences and will look at the property through your eyes. Your dad could measure rooms so that you can make realistic floor plans; your mom can tour the neighborhood. Ask them to investigate everything that might seem weird to your realtor – whether there are any musty smells, an unusual light fixture that you have to see to decide if it’s a keeper or a tosser, and their opinion of whether the layout feels open and airy or cramped and closed-off.
Bad MLS photos are something of an internet joke, but the reality is that listing photos can be deliberately deceiving. Some agents use wide-angle lenses to make rooms look bigger, photograph a room from a certain angle to hide damage or unsightliness, or even doctor their pics in Photoshop before submitting them. It sucks that some agents are dishonest, but that’s why you have to get an agent to do a video walkthrough with you (see above). This applies doubly so if the house in question is unfurnished, as a room with no furniture to scale can be near impossible to get a size estimate on. If necessary, ask for specific room dimensions.
Even if you have done the absolute most to ensure that you know what you need about a house, it’s important to include contingencies in your contract that will protect you from unexpected surprises. An obvious contingency is the sale pending on a home inspection. A home inspection from a qualified inspector is absolutely critical for helping safeguard you from any nasty discoveries about the plumbing, electrical, roof, etc. You need someone who will run every tap, flush every toilet, run the dishwasher, and peek into every nook and cranny of the basement, attic, and everything in between. It really is best that you find a way to go see the house as soon as possible after securing a contract, so that if there are major disappointments, you can possibly still get out of your contract. Know that, even in the best case scenario, there will be moments where the house doesn’t live up to your expectations. That’s normal, and statistically, very few sight-unseen buyers actually regret their purchase.