EYE OPENER: Record number of homebuyers are making offers site unseen

Edited By: Tara Dugan
February 19, 2021

EYE OPENING stats in this article! 63% of homebuyers made offers site unseen in 2020. Is this a phase of COVID, or is this shift in behavior here to stay?! Redfin's Tim Ellis unpacks it for us. Read the full article here

About 1 in 10 home tour requests to Redfin agents are for a remote video tour.

Nearly two thirds (63%) of people who bought a home last year made an offer on a property that they hadn’t seen in person, the highest share since at least 2015, according to a Redfin-commissioned survey in November and December of more than 1,900 homebuyers across 32 major markets. That’s up from 32% a year earlier, and 45% in July, which was previously the high point.

Record Share of Homebuyers Made Offers Sight Unseen

“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.”

Video tours with a Redfin agent have surged this year, from less than 1% of Redfin tour requests at the beginning of 2020 to about one in 10 today. Similarly, 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.”

Much of this virtual homebuying activity is being fueled by a surge in migration as remote work becomes much more common. In 2020 27.8% of Redfin.com users were looking to relocate, an all-time high and up 2.3 percentage points from 25.5% in 2019.

In late August, from the comfort of our home in Everett, WA, my wife and I found a 168-year-old home that we loved in a small coastal Connecticut town. 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.

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. After working out a strategy over email with Mary Ellen, we made an offer, which was accepted by the sellers on October 4. Critically, we did not purchase the home entirely sight-unseen—we still included an inspection contingency, and attended the inspection in person. In my opinion, if at all possible you should definitely see a home in person before fully committing to purchase it.

Connecticut home

We closed on the home remotely on December 8. Although there were some snags on the way to closing related to financing such a unique home, the virtual components all went off without a hitch. We likely would have made a cross-country purchase like this virtually even if we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic, but the rapid adoption of remote technologies made the whole process much easier than it would have been even a year ago.

Methodology

From November 19, 2020 to January 4, 2021, Redfin surveyed more than 4,700 U.S. and Canadian residents who bought or sold a primary residence in the last year, or plan to in the next 12 months. In this report, we only analyze responses from the more than 1,900 respondents who bought a home in the last year. While the survey covered numerous topics, this report focuses on responses to the following question: “Did you, at any point in your home-search process, make an offer on a home you hadn’t seen in person?” Where possible and applicable, results were compared with those from similar past surveys

Redfin's chief economist @FairweatherPhD says homebuyers' strong desire to relocate combined with agent led video tours and online 3D walkthroughs are likely to propel sight unseen offers this year. What do you think?

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