If you’re relocating to a new city and are unable to travel for showings, you may need to consider buying a home without first seeing it in person. Online images provided by real estate agents can sometimes hide crucial details, so this is a base where caveat emptor, or “buyer beware,” applies.
As with any investment opportunity, investing in a property sight unseen involves a certain element of financial risk. If you’re considering making a purchase without personally viewing a property first, you may want to consider the following precautions beforehand.
#1: Contact the property’s real estate agent
If you’re thinking about buying a property sight unseen, you can call the property’s listing agent to obtain initial details. You can discuss the ins and outs of the home with the agent in order to better visualize the interior and unearth any potential red flags.
For starters, find out when the roof was last replaced. An older roof might need fundamental repairs to major components. Ask when the electrical system was last updated and what the actual age of the home is. A home’s age can provide insight into what type of wiring and other electrical components were used during construction, as well as what could need replacing or upgrading soon.
#2: Know about mold
Mold is difficult to detect, and if you can’t be there to look for signs yourself, then you can ask the agent or owner about it directly. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, bathroom tiles, basement walls, and window areas where moisture condenses are the most common sites for mold growth.
“Mold can be mitigated, but the source of the moisture contributing to the mold needs to be addressed,” says Diana Giles, a real estate agent with Hodges & Fooshe Realty Inc, in Brentwood, Tenn.
You should also ask about any water damage to the home, such as basement flooding or leaky plumbing, or regular episodes of flooding or leaking. These occurrences can be precursors to mold growth, possibly requiring an environmental inspection of the home.
#3: Consider hiring a home inspector
If you are unable to see the house before buying it, it’s still important to have someone else examine the property. A home inspector can check for problematic pipes, leaky roofs, water damage, or faulty wiring.
Hiring a home inspector can provide additional protection through a home-inspection contingency clause. A contingency clause allows for completing a home inspection within a specified period.
“The home inspector check[s] plumbing, electrical, structural issues, appliances, and sometimes mold and radon,” Giles says. “Once the inspection is done, the buyer can ask the seller for repairs or back out due to the findings of the inspection.”
#4: Conduct an Internet search on the neighborhood
Before making an offer, you should get to know the neighborhood, especially if you won’t be able to explore it beforehand. You can easily search the street address online to learn more about the area.
You can also locate neighborhood crime reports. Apps such as CrimeReports can provide details about crimes that have been reported in a given neighborhood, and online searches can also direct you to current news about your new neighborhood.
You may also want to consider calling the local police department to ask if the daily police blotter (where crimes in the neighborhood are recorded) is online or available electronically.
Isabel Thottam is a freelance writer and social media specialist. She is the social media manager for BatchUSA and writes career advice for the Monster career blog. Follow her on Twitter: @ikthottam