Buying Sight Unseen: It’s A Thing

Written by Posted On Friday, 27 November 2020 00:00

Kevin Wilkinson needed to move his family from California, Maryland to Austin, Texas. An information technology manager who’d relocated once before, he expected the move to be trouble-free.

When a colleague referred him to Austin agent Debbie Marett, a veteran with Coldwell Banker Real Estate, he called her and made an exploratory trip to check out neighborhoods and housing options.

Then COVID-19 moved in with a vengeance, and further trips were put on hold. But thanks to technology and a dedicated agent, his search for a home was not.

“I took detailed photos and videos of both the houses and the streets they were on,” said Marett, “and used Facetime to help the family get a good understanding of the properties they couldn’t view in person.”

Marett did such a good job of finding suitable homes that Wilkinson made offers on three of them - only to find himself outbid each time in the hot Austin market.

“Months went by, and the sense of urgency ratcheted up,” he said, “not just in terms of my business transfer, but in the push to move before the start of the new school year.”   

Marett dug in and held firm. 

“The fourth time was a charm,” she said. “We closed on the family’s new home on the first of July. The day Kevin toured it for the first time was the day before we closed.”

As it turned out, he was thrilled.

“Debbie listened - really listened - to what we wanted and needed, and the home we finally bought reflected that,” Wilkinson said. “In some respects, it’s better than we expected, and the area is perfect for us. We’re living proof that buying sight unseen can absolutely work to advantage.” 

The most valuable part of the experience, Marett noted, was the relationship she was able to develop with the family over months of remote contact.

“We trusted each other so completely,” she said, “that Kevin shipped his car to my home, and it sat in my driveway until he got here.” 

The Austin market, like others across the nation, had been heating up for months. It reached a fever peak in mid-July when Tesla announced the company’s plans make Austin home to its next factory, bringing an estimated 6,000 jobs to the popular state capital. 

“Investors everywhere began to set their sights on Austin,” said Coldwell Banker agent Rudy Vincent who, with mother Pat, heads the busy Vincent team. “We were not surprised when a San Francisco investor called about a listing we had in the desirable Olympic Heights neighborhood.”

At the height of summer, with bidding wars inevitable on nearly every available property, the Vincents employed virtual tours and FaceTime calls to guide their investor client through multiple properties and several failed bids, ultimately writing successful offers for three residential properties.

“It was a win-win,” observed Vincent, “For most investors, and for experienced agents, the virtual experience is practical, it’s objective, and it works.”

It works, too, for military families who must often relocate in a hurry.

“I had a call from a U.S. Army couple last July who had 30 days to move from their home near a base in Washington state to Fort Hood here in Killeen, Texas,” said Coldwell Banker agent Tanessa Roberts. “But the COVID-19 lockdown made travel out of the question, so in the midst of this crazy-busy market, virtual was our only option.”

Like her colleagues, Roberts used video and FaceTime to show them suitable, base-close homes.

“I showed them five properties very near the base, and they made offers on two,” she said. “When they lost the second bid, we decided to widen our search to an area slightly further out.”

The strategy worked. The couple’s third bid was accepted, Roberts said, and they were able to close in Washington state. When their move was delayed, Roberts picked up the keys, got the utilities turned on, and prepared a binder for them containing all the paperwork they needed and information about their new community.

“Naturally, they had some misgivings about buying a home sight unseen,” she said. “But in the end, the whole family was super-happy with the house. It truly accommodated all their needs, including a workspace for their photographer Mom.”

As the health pandemic continues to soar, stories like these are playing out daily in cities all across the nation; families who need to move, relying on savvy real estate professionals to help make it happen - virtually.

“Thanks to great technology and agents getting smarter every day about how to use it,” Roberts noted, “virtual transactions are not only becoming more acceptable, they are proving to be a smart alternative.”

Indeed - a trend that likely will remain with us into the post-pandemic new normal.

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Barbara Pronin

Barbara Pronin is an award-winning writer based in Orange County, Calif. A former news editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism and corporate communications, she has specialized in real estate topics for over a decade. She is also the author of three mystery novels and two non-fiction books.

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