3 tips for buying a house sight-unseen without regrets, according to homeowners and real-estate agents

3 tips for buying a house sight-unseen without regrets, according to homeowners and real-estate agents
Alyssa Bleau and her familyCourtesy of Alyssa Bleau
  • Hannah Selinger and her husband bought their home in Massachusetts sight-unseen.
  • For many people, submitting offers without touring a property was a reality of the hot housing market.

In 2021, when journalist Hannah Selinger and her husband decided to buy a home in Boxford, Massachusetts, they soon realized they would have to do so sight-unseen. They were six hours away, and in a hot market where buyers often have to beat out multiple offers within hours of the house being listed, it just wasn't feasible to visit properties.

Five unsuccessful offers later, they bid on a house they'd only seen on Zillow and in videos taken by their real-estate agent. When they actually saw the house, Selinger told Insider she was surprised by "ceilings that were a little lower than we expected, and one of the bedrooms that was smaller than we realized."

But a year after buying a house sight-unseen, Selinger doesn't regret it. She even said she'd do it again.

While risky, buying sight-unseen became a frequent reality during the pandemic — and it isn't going away. New York real-estate agent Jesse Moss told Insider via email: "I've sold multiple properties in Miami without having ever seen the properties myself, without ever meeting the seller in person, and having never met the buyer in person."

These kinds of stories are familiar among realtors operating in a market that, if anything, has only gotten more aggressive since 2020. But with them, these veteran buyers and agents have learned a few things about how to go into a purchase sight-unseen.


Take advantage of technology

Zoom and other video-chat technologies seem to have become a permanent fixture of the real-estate market. Pre-pandemic, there were some buyers who invested in spec homes and new-build developments based only on virtual mock-ups. What changed during the pandemic was that virtual attendance became commonplace in all facets of life.

When realtor Alyssa Bleau, who's bought and sold houses sight-unseen, decided to move from New York to North Carolina, her agent provided a showing via FaceTime. But she heavily relied on Matterport, a 3D modeling platform, to tour a 3D twin of her future home and measure the space for furniture.

Since moving to North Carolina, Bleau predominantly works with out-of-state clients in the same boat.

Your real-estate agent needs to be your most trusted emissary

In a virtual showing, the realtor holds the camera. Buyers need to work with someone they trust not to cut eyesores out of the frame. There are also some things that just don't show up on the screen.

Barry Weiss of Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage Realty told Insider he'll do just about anything to give his clients a full taste of what they're buying, short of crawling under the house.


"With offers going in with [non-refundable] deposits prior to the full home inspection, our clients are relying on us to check for smells, moisture, mold, paint quality, quality of appliances, and even whether the electrical outlets work," Weiss said.

When purchasing her 1926 Spanish Tudor home in Glendale, California, Meg Chapham enlisted neighbors and friends both to help with her local house hunt and acquire photos and videos of potential homes. Chapham, the head of editorial for Netflix Kids and Family, eventually connected with the sellers of her home through a neighbor. They were about to put their home on the market, and she got in early.

Not only does Chapham love her home after two years, but she developed a close friendship with the sellers, even sight-unseen.

"I would [buy sight-unseen] again, but I would say we were exceptionally lucky in the previous owners," she told Insider. "They ended up becoming friends. Their kindness and honesty through the process was unmatched."

Know what your deal-breakers are

While buying a house sight-unseen is a risk, it should be a calculated one. Even with the best realtor and virtual resources, a buyer who doesn't know what they want will end up disappointed.


While realtor Weiss has successfully sold multiple homes sight-unseen in Wilmington, North Carolina, he did experience a buyer losing a non-refundable due-diligence fee because she changed her mind about the property.

"As thorough as we were, she looked at the house on video after a rainstorm and felt uncomfortable about what might happen during a hurricane," Weiss said. Even though Weiss said he and his partner had pointed out standing water under the house early on to the out-of-state buyer, it was only after her offer was accepted that she realized she wasn't comfortable with the property.

Conversely, informed buyers who know their boundaries have a better chance of being happy with a house bought sight-unseen. Journalist Selinger said: "I write about real estate and have a good understanding of what kinds of things are easily fixed and what kinds of things are deal-breakers."

The unpleasant surprises — the low ceilings and small bedroom — weren't daunting because she knew the difference.