Two-thirds of homebuyers bought ‘sight unseen’ last year

A “sale pending” sign is posted on.a home Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. Virtual home tours have gone from futuristic fantasy to an everyday part of life in the home buying process, according to Redfin. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

A record 63% of homebuyers in 2020 signed a contract to buy the home without actually seeing it in person first.

That’s according to new data from residential listing firm Redfin. The trend is a phenomenon that has been driven by the pandemic, and the pandemic’s acceleration of virtual tour technology, as buyers shy away from open houses and physically touring several homes during their house hunting process.

Virtual home tours have gone from futuristic fantasy to an everyday part of life in the home buying process, according to Redfin. And agents themselves are getting good at live video tours.

“They can put the camera right up to a crack in the ceiling, or show you water damage, and show you anything you might miss in a scan of the home or photos of the home,” Redfin economist Daryl Fairweather told WTOP. “So you can tell your agent you really care about the condition of the hardwood floors and they can show you that the hardwood floors are in immaculate condition, or if they have scratches,”

Monthly views of 3D walk-throughs on Redfin.com have increased 563% since last February, according to the company.

Another factor that has increased sight-unseen purchases is the increase in buyers searching for a home out of town, driven by the accelerated adoption of work-from-home options that no longer tie many buyers to their employers’ immediate geographic location.

In 2020, 27.8% of Redfin.com users were looking to relocate somewhere other than their current city, a record high.

But signing a contract to buy a home sight unseen should not mean never seeing the property in person until the day you move in.

“If you are planning on buying sight unseen, you should definitely have an inspection contingency, so you can go out and see everything before everything is set in stone, and you don’t have to worry about losing your earnest money. But there aren’t that many reasons you can back out,” Fairweather said.

Redfin predicts virtual and live video tours are here to stay, even long after the pandemic has passed, as buyers realize how timesaving it can be, how many more properties they can tour, and how much more detailed the technology has become. It expects the majority of buyers in 2021 to make offers sight unseen during their search for a home this year.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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