A house is typically a person’s largest single purchase, so it might seem crazy to buy one without stepping foot inside. Yet in 2020, 63 percent of homes sold in the United States were bought sight unseen, according to Las Vegan Matt Garnes of Nova Home Loans. Sometimes, a virtual buy becomes necessary, either because of pandemic concerns or when a buyer is shopping from outside the area.
Las Vegan Leslie Hoke, a real estate agent with Premier Realty Group, has sold houses virtually. “I did it for a military couple who were both stationed in the Middle East,” she says. Hoke led them on video tours using FaceTime and WhatsApp. “When they came back to the States, [the condo] was theirs, and they were very happy with it.”
Despite the pandemic and the recession, it remains a competitive seller’s market in Las Vegas. Potential buyers, motivated by historically low interest rates, are met with a relatively low inventory of available homes in Southern Nevada. And that means more buyers are competing for the same properties, thus raising prices.
The most desirable homes tend to get snapped up quickly, so a virtual home tour could give a buyer an edge on the competition, while also helping protect them from the risk of COVID-19. “If sellers are pricing the house right, people will send in offers without even seeing the house,” Hoke says.
But it’s not for everybody. Hoke says it works best when online house hunters are already somewhat familiar with the area. It’s not just about the home itself, after all; it’s also about the location, the neighborhood and its amenities. The perfect candidate for a remote purchase, Hoke says, is someone who “knows exactly what they want [and] is familiar with Las Vegas but can’t be here in person.”
If you’re up for a remote purchase, Hoke says a good relationship with your real estate agent is a must. You’ll be seeing the property through their eyes, so trust is paramount.
So how do you know if you’ve found a good agent? Hoke says to look for someone who can answer all your questions with confident responses. And, obviously, a good long-distance agent must be comfortable leading clients on virtual tours.
Even paired with an informed agent, you’ll want to do your own research. Sites like Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com can help educate buyers in advance. “You can never do enough research,” Hoke says.
Photo Shopping Tips
A picture might tell a thousand words, but that’s still not the whole story. Look at home photos or videos with a critical eye.
• Lots of Vegas home listings feature impossibly beautiful colors. If the sky looks bluer than blue and the stucco just seems to pop, photos have probably been altered. That isn’t necessarily a red flag; it’s hard to resist a good filter these days. But your real estate agent can help by taking their own photos for a dose of unbiased reality.
• If a home is staged with incredible decor and the hippest furniture, remember that it won’t look that way when you move in. Picture the house empty or with your own stuff in it. Is it as appealing?
• Realtor.com advises looking for what photos might be hiding. Sellers can mask a small room by stretching out a picture or just focusing on one aspect of a room, like a bathroom sink.
There’s a level of uncertainty when buying property remotely, so your goal should be to clarify whenever possible.
• Request a floor plan and the seller disclosure, Realtor.com recommends. These documents will give you a better idea of the home’s size and layout, and if there are any known issues.
• Ask your agent to show you anything that might have been excluded from the listing photos. For example, an agent can zoom in on details such as ceilings, flooring, finishes and hardware that might be excluded from the photos.
• Listing photos often don’t provide a feel for the way a home is situated within a neighborhood. Your agent should be able to help, potentially by taking you on a video walking tour of the immediate area.
• Homelight.com suggests scrolling through social media sites like Nextdoor to get the inside scoop on your future neighborhood.
Sure, it’s fun to browse houses on Zillow or Trulia, but if you truly plan to buy, there’s some tedious work involved. Fortunately, you can do it all online.
First step: Getting preapproved for a mortgage. Seek out a lender that allows you to do the paperwork online. Also, work with a mortgage company to schedule a home appraisal and to underwrite the loan, recommends Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans.
Once you’ve found a home, your real estate agent can submit an offer letter on your behalf. Next comes the inspection. Generally, the buyer would be present for that process, but if you can’t attend, Realtor.com advises sending your agent in your place to “learn firsthand what the inspector has found.” Your agent will be your eyes and ears, so plan to discuss the results after the inspection.
Finally, when it comes time to close on your new home, you’ll review the final paperwork and sign the documents online. Exact details might vary.
Online selling advice
• Hire a professional photographer. Hoke does this for all her listings. Bad photos can lower the offer amount.
• If a weekend project can improve curb appeal—like pressure washing the exterior or sprucing up the front yard—do it, HGTV.com advises.
• Remove clutter, personal items, signs of pets and excess furniture to provide a roomier look for buyers imagining their stuff inside the house.
• Consider virtual staging. If you can’t afford a traditional stager, technology can help. Virtual staging fills your house with digital decor to help buyers visualize the home at its best. There’s a mix of full-service and DIY virtual staging options out there, which your agent can help you navigate.
When possible, it’s still best to visit a potential new home IRL before buying. But, of course, you don’t want to risk a potentially deadly virus in the process.
Hoke says that when giving in-person home tours, she follows pandemic guidelines: masks, sanitizers and social distancing. Generally, it’s fairly easy to spread out when touring a home.
In terms of distancing, Hoke says vacant homes are best. If a listed home is still occupied, however, Hoke says sellers typically leave during tours for safety reasons.