What You Need to Know About Buying a Home Virtually

A man and woman sitting next to each other and looking at a house listing on their laptop.

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Buying a home online? That's a thing now. Here's how to navigate the process.

When you imagine buying a home, you might picture yourself attending a series of open houses and scheduling private walk-throughs to scope out your top choices. But that's during normal times, and right now, we're living through anything but.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, many sellers are skittish about strangers romping through their homes, bringing all manner of germs with them. And so a lot of sellers are investing in thorough virtual tours instead. The hope is that buyers will get a solid sense of the property from an online video rather than in person.

Of course, the concept of virtual tours existed well before the pandemic, but these days, buyers rely on them even more. In fact, as of late July 2020, 45% of people who purchased a home in the past 12 months had made an offer on a property without touring it in person, according to Redfin. As such, if you buy a home based on a virtual tour, you'll probably be in good company. But here are a few things to know if you're going to go this route.

1. You'll probably get more detail than you'd think

Clearly, a virtual tour is not the same as an in-person one. But you may be surprised at how much you're able to learn about a property from a video that reviews its ins and outs. It's not unheard of for sellers to hire professionals to film their virtual tours, so chances are, you won't be looking at a makeshift video, but rather, a thorough review of what a home looks like.

2. You'll need a detailed home inspection

A good home inspection is an important part of any real estate purchase, but it's especially important if you buy a home based on a virtual tour. A virtual tour will highlight obvious problems -- say, a wall with noticeable cracks. But less obvious issues, like improper roofing or a failing HVAC system, are generally only found via a detailed inspection. Limited inventory means that today's housing market is very competitive. As such, one thing you should know is that some buyers might waive a home inspection to increase their acceptance chances. But this is a very risky idea, especially if you can't step foot in the home you want to buy.

3. You'll need a well-worded purchase contract

Your home inspection might reveal more red flags than usual when it's a home you've only seen online. If you're going to make an offer based on a virtual tour, you'll need to do so before your inspection. Since that's the case, make sure your contract is worded with enough protection to let you pull out if your inspection reveals too many problems.

Buying a home based on a virtual tour may seem like a crazy idea, but given the circumstances, you may have no choice. Especially if you want to buy a home in the near term to capitalize on today's low mortgage rates. And while forgoing an in-person showing may not be ideal, remember that you can learn a lot about a home through a virtual tour and by paying close attention to your home inspector's report. Finally, the great thing about virtual tours is that they're easy to share. So if you're on the fence about a home, you can send the virtual tour link out to your parents, siblings, and friends. In fact, just about anyone whose feedback you value can give you solid input.

Our Research Expert