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The Surge in Sight-Unseen Property Purchases

More than half of homebuyers last year purchased a house without seeing it, opting instead for a virtual tours, inspections, and closings, according to a report from Redfin.  Researchers reported one in ten shoppers requested a remote tour, due to fear related to COVID-19.

A survey—of more than 1,900 homebuyers across 32 major markets—commissioned by the company showed about two-thirds of 63% of those who purchased a home in 2020 made an offer on property they had not viewed in person. That makes the highest share of site-unseen purchases since at least 2015, the researchers said. The numbers are up 32% from the previous year.

“The virtual home tour is here to stay,” said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather in her housing market predictions for 2021. “Homebuyers who are searching for a home out of town and don’t have the time or ability to view the home in person will use virtual tours as their primary means of viewing a home. The increased use of this technology, coupled with more people relocating, mean the sight-unseen trend will continue, and the majority of homebuyers will make offers sight unseen during their search for a home in 2021.”

In addition to a surge in video tours with Redfin agents, from less than 1% of Redfin tour requests at the beginning of 2020 to about one in 10 today, monthly views of 3D walkthroughs on Redfin.com have increased 563% since February.

“Live-video home tours have gone from futuristic fantasy to an everyday part of the homebuying process,” said Connecticut-based Redfin agent, Mary Ellen Wisneski. “Over video I’m able to show my buyers closeups of anything in the home and describe peculiar details they can’t experience in 3D walkthroughs or photographs—it’s like they are actually there with me.”

Redfin real estate analyst Tim Ellis, referring to the study, describes the process of purchasing an old home in coastal Connecticut via mostly virtual means in his own experience.

"We spent two or three hours over the span of a week pouring over the 3D walkthrough on the Redfin.com listing and video toured the home via Google Duo with Wisneski, who was our agent," Ellis said. "Through the video tour, Wisneski pointed out cracks in the plaster, loose doors and other minor issues that weren’t visible to us on the screen."

Readers can access the full report on Redfin.com/news.

About Author: Christina Hughes Babb

Christina Hughes Babb is a reporter for DS News and MReport. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, she has been a reporter, editor, and publisher in the Dallas area for more than 15 years. During her 10 years at Advocate Media/Dallas Magazine, she published thousands of articles covering local politics, real estate, development, crime, the arts, entertainment, and human interest, among other topics. She has won two national Mayborn School of Journalism Ten Spurs awards for nonfiction, and has penned pieces for Texas Monthly, Salon.com, Dallas Observer, Edible, and the Dallas Morning news, among others. Contact Christina at christina.hughesbabb@thefivestar.com.
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