So let me guess, you’re someone that lives out of state and you want to make the move to Michigan and buying a home sight unseen is something you can’t seem to justify in this fast moving housing market. Well, you’re not alone. Stick around as I break down the reality of today’s housing market as someone who is in the thick of it every single day. Let’s get to it.
To buy a home sight unseen, or to not, it’s the burning question that has homebuyers across the nation ripping their hair out. And understandably so, it’s just full blown stressful, and as a Michigan Realtor with a lot of experience in this with most of my clients coming from out of state, I've seen it change life plans, hurt marriages, and have people walk away from their dreams. I hurt for you, I hate to see it, but the question that often comes up is how do we make this work? How can we maneuver through such a difficult housing market, and what should the expectations be for the Realtor in the state we want to go to? I’m going to touch on all those questions and more, but before I jump right into those responses I want to break down why this “sight unseen” thing is even a part of the home search process these days.
Believe it or not, “sight unseen” home purchases have been happening for years and years ever since they attached a camera to our phones I can guarantee it, but unfortunately, it’s something that trickled into mainstream media as the reality of this fast moving housing market sank in more and more after the pandemic put this market into a new gear. I have several videos about the housing market and the effects of Covid that I will link to so you can queue them up after this one.
The roadmap for a new home listing these days is to have the home pictured well, priced at market value listed as coming soon on Tuesday or Wednesday, then switched to an “active” status available for showings on Friday so there’s a few days to build some hype, then have an open house or broker tour over the weekend and call for highest and best offer by Sunday or Monday night depending on the showing count and choose the winner by Tuesday.
"Cool Andrew, what about the homes that actually last longer than a week?"
I’m so glad you asked, more times than not, the home is priced to high, and I'd say that without looking at the home 99% of the time, because several years ago a listing agent would walk a sellers home and say, repaint this, depersonalize this, declutter that, increase curb appeal here, but nowadays, it’s about getting your home on the market as fast as possible to ensure you aren’t missing out on the opportunity this market brings (and that’s a ton of money in a sellers pocket), because at the end of the day, no one really knows what will happen tomorrow, and if your home can sell in under 7 days, you’re capitalizing, I can promise you that. Nobody knew the mortgage rate over the pandemic was going to hit 2.50%, nobody knew homes were going to appreciate at rates we couldn’t imagine. If you come across someone with a real estate ouija board that says they can see the future, I can assure you, they can’t.
With that being said, homes are still going fast, which means for the people out of state, you are stuck between a rock and a hard place, because life is busy these days and to drop everything you’re doing to time your visit perfectly, pack up the kids, work out your work schedule, along with your partners, then figure out if you’re driving the distance or taking a plane, booking a hotel and maybe even a rental car, it’s a lot to do in very little time, while keeping up with the list of homes you want to go see to ensure the time, money and effort you put forth can yield a good outcome. Then one of those homes accepts an offer before you even get there and at that point it feels like the world's out to get you, but the reality is, you’re not the only one dealing with this home buying scene, and sometimes the timelines don’t line up as planned and you just need to do what you can with what you can control, and that’s your time in Michigan. You can’t assume you’ll find the one the first weekend out on showings, it will take some time, so if showings get canceled or they accept other offers before you have the opportunity to view but you’re already committed to come out, make the most of your time and venture out to a few areas of interest.
One thing I always do with out of state clients is have face to face meetings on zoom or on the phone and really dig into what they are looking for to narrow in on the communities that could be of interest, typically starting a little broad due to the lack of inventory then narrowing in a few communities that check the boxes is the best course of action. I have been working in all these cities throughout southeast Michigan, so if you have priorities in schools, downtown space, nightlife, walkability, privacy, I can suggest quite a few options to consider as a way to focus your time and energy, and that’s one of the reasons I created the video about Michigan lifestyles which I will link in the description as well, because I talk about truly hunkering down and figuring out what your lifestyle truly looks like and how knowing that can help you narrow down the communities you have on your radar drastically, so be sure to check that video out.
"Okay Awesome Andrew, but how can we make this work?"
Well, At the end of the day, you’re either going to have to drop what you’re doing and plan a visit, or put your trust in a real estate professional to be the eyes, ears and nose for you to make a well informed “sight unseen” decision. So with that being said, what should your expectation be for a Realtor helping an out of stater like yourself to feel comfortable to make an offer on a home without seeing it? First, it starts with communication and setting expectations. You want an agent who is going to give their opinion, their experience and their insight on every aspect of the home, while asking you the questions that get the gears in your mind turning. For example, I was helping a few out of state clients transition into the Rochester Hills and Birmingham area and their budgets were over $1 million, so with that price tag in mind, they wanted something that felt like a million dollars. Had that curb appeal, and had that jaw dropping reaction walking through the front door, but they also had several other criteria that were very important, but in order to capture all their criteria, there would need to be a budget increase, so the conversation of certain compromises needed to take place.
You want an agent in this technology built era to be tech savvy, someone who can get on a facetime call with you, walk you around the home inside and out and point out potential concerns, while also being able to create a quick walkthrough video of the home, the neighborhood, nearby amenities and schools that can be referred back to later. I typically will compile a walkthrough video of the home, neighborhood and some of the community in a folder along with some still images of areas of concern and make it accessible for the buyer, along with any other information I can gather which can include the sellers disclosures, updates made, etc.
You’ll also want someone who can get a showing scheduled within the next day or two, or find someone who can, so you can virtually get your foot in the door and see the home before it’s gone. It may all seem like common practice, but I promise you it isn’t. Most agents will hop on a normal phone call with a buyer and just say everything looks good and the only proof you have on the other end of the fun is the heavily filtered listing photos that are meant to look perfect. Since camera lenses are incredible these days, making rooms and areas appear much bigger than they actually are, I'll often times use myself in reference to the size of areas, whether it’s pointing the camera my way standing under a low ceiling and making the buyer aware I'm 6’3, or going as far as laying down on the floor to see if a queen sized bed would fit, I have done it all.
Buying a home is a large financial investment and that is no secret, so the fact that purchasing a home sight unseen scares you, means you are financially aware and don’t want to make a mistake, but at the same time, there’s a misconception that I have heard several times that I want to make sure I clear up and that’s thinking that since you got your offer accepted, you’re stuck with the home, but that couldn’t be any farther from the truth, depending on how you structured your offer of course. Remember that a home inspection comes after your offer is accepted, so if something is that messed up, or is that costly, you can back out of the home without a second thought. You don’t need to justify your decisions, you just are simply unsatisfied with the result of the home inspection. Of course, if it came back 100% good, you may be questioned a little bit, but if it ends up being this giant honey-do list, then by all means, draw the line for how much you’re willing to do on the home and back out.
Take a step back for a second and think about why buying a home sight unseen is so bad?
Is it not knowing the layout 100%? Is it thinking the rooms might not be big enough? Is it not fully understanding the community or neighborhood the home is in? These are all questions a Realtor can get answered for you, because a video walkthrough and patient facetime call will help with the layout, a measuring tape or body reference as I mentioned before will help with sizing, and the Realtors experience, insight, opinion and video footage will help outline the community better for you, so it really comes down to whether or not the home is a piece of junk or not right? And that’s what the home inspector is there to answer, and I always make sure I attend all the home inspections to get any questions answered and to simply be another set of eyes for potential findings. Then from there on out, everything else can be done from the comfort of your own home, from the document signing to even closing on the home. Title companies in Michigan ever since the pandemic have been offering virtual closings, as well as having a mobile notary come to you wherever you’re most comfortable and getting all the documents signed and situated.
Then your agent will hold onto the keys until you arrive and help you coordinate utilities, internet providers, and even some repairs and renovations you’d like to have done before you even move into your home. It’s something I have been doing a lot lately, whether it’s window servicing, brick work, radon mitigation systems, outdoor patios, basement finishing, etc. As I mentioned, it’s important to find an agent that will be your eyes, ears and nose while you’re most likely hundreds of miles away, but the most important thing you can do as a buyer to make sure this transaction goes as smoothly as possible is communication. I’d say I have pretty good taste, but my preferences may not be the same as yours, so being open with your agent about what’s important, and what isn’t is crucial to make sure this process goes as smoothly as possible.
For those of you out there right now, would you purchase a home sight unseen? Why or why not, drop your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
Andrew McManamon is a Michigan REALTOR® with Signature Sotheby’s International Realty and provides real estate services to Buyers, Sellers and Investors throughout SE Michigan including Livingston County, Oakland County, Washtenaw County, Genesee County & beyond. Andrew has become one of the rising stars of Michigan real estate agents. Prior to his real estate career Andrew was responsible for managing a senior living facility in Brighton, Michigan as a dining supervisor and an activities assistant. Andrew’s passion to help people is unlike any other, and he continues to strive to be best resource he can be. Andrew graduated from Cleary University in Howell, Michigan with a double major and currently resides in Brighton, Michigan.