home sight unseen? Get an expert's view
Real Estate Adviser,
I currently live in California and plan to buy a home in Ohio. Can
you advise me about buying without checking it out firsthand? Finances
and a fear of flying are driving this decision. I can't afford to
move twice, so renting before the purchase is out of the question.
Plus, we have pets to consider.
Unfortunately, we don't know anyone in California to help us in
this process. What are your thoughts?
-- Julie M.
Realize you are flying blind here -- or in your case, driving blind.
Not that sight-unseen home purchases can't work out
OK. Such deals are done more routinely than ever, particularly among
out-of-town investors, according to real estate and mortgage groups.
But the inherent risks in these types of buys are
obviously far greater than there are in the purchase of a home to
which you've given intense personal scrutiny. Sight unseen, you
are relying almost exclusively on the honesty and forthrightness
of your agent, the marketing literature, some digital photos, and
(or) a virtual tour and, possibly, satellite images.
In this sort of deal, I strongly advise against using
the seller's agent because that agent, by nature, has the seller's
best interests in mind, not yours. Ask the agent who is selling
your California home to refer you to a relocation specialist in
Ohio, or do some agent research of your own on the Internet, then
call your top choices and screen each extensively.
Be very clear with the agent what type of house and
amenities you're shopping for, and request information on schools,
parks, crime statistics, taxes, utility costs, shopping, mass transit
and anything else that will tangibly affect your quality of living.
Always do a search for any sex offenders who might be living in
the immediate area. Your Ohio agent should be able to refer you
to the appropriate Web site.
Before proceeding, you'll need to add a few safety
nets to your due-diligence list to make this less of a crapshoot:
Carve out room in your tight budget to hire a home inspector to
give the place a thorough going-over. You can't afford not to. You
should also insist on a contingency in the sales contract that allows
you to do a final -- or in your case, first -- walk-through in the
empty house before you agree to sign those closing papers. Furnishings
and other household items often obscure defects from agents and
home inspectors -- and you, especially if you're only looking at
pictures of the place.
But there are some things about home buying that you
can only observe firsthand, such as neighborhood culture and noise
levels, the condition of nearby houses, traffic on your street,
funky/suspicious smells in and around the house, or the presence
of busy roads or highways nearby.
In other words, you just can't get a real feel for
your prospective living environment from afar -- and that's a big
drawback in such sight-unseen purchases.
Good luck on the move. (You might need it!)
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