Buying a House Sight-Unseen (Podcast)

Listen to the podcast here.

This week, I was joined by Deborah Rutter, an Associate Broker with Nest Realty, and we talked about videos for out of area buyers, the buying process when out of town, buying a lifestyle and a community. What value does a good agent bring to this scenario? Video of the street and approach is more important than the house sometimes. And yards. And traffic. And know your left turns. This was a fun and great conversation.

Transcription

Automated, thanks to Rev.com, so please forgive errors.

Jim:
This is Jim Duncan with Real Pod VA and Nest Realty. Today, I was joined by Deborah Rutter, a colleague of mine, associate broker and one of the smartest agents I know. We talked about buying homes sight unseen, doing videos of properties, videos of the neighborhoods and the areas, and things that buyers and sellers should be aware of when buyers are coming in and making offers and contracts on properties without ever having stepped foot in the house. And, we were also joined by Bart and Dave as usual. It was a great conversation, really enjoyed it, and I hope you do too.

Jim:
So Deborah, several years ago I was showing a house to some folks. They flew over from UK. They spent three, four, five days we spent intently looking Western Albemarle. Looking at every single house we could find, every property, everything for three, four, five days. They flew back. They couldn’t find anything. We had our plan of… We had our search set up in the MLS, that if one comes up in the MLS, within Western Albemarlewithin their criteria, I’d go take a look and take a video for them. Three or four, five days later, I get an email from them saying, “We found a house. We think we want it.”

Jim:
“Great, where is it?” “It’s past Pantops, 30 miles to the east.”

Jim:
And I say, “Great. When you were here, did you ever drive around?” “No, we’ve never been there.” “Okay, great.”

Jim:
I went out, and I took a video from three miles out, down Route 20, up the road, down the other road, around the house, inside out, looking out the kitchen window, under the sinks… 45 minute video. They made an offer, put a contract, didn’t fly back for the inspection. We did the inspection. Ordered the video of the inspection, audio, pictures, all that stuff. Negotiated the inspection. Then, we went to closing. They flew over. They signed the papers for closing on Tuesday morning, and then they went and looked at the house.

Speaker 2:
They closed on a house before they saw it?

Jim:
Yeah.

Speaker 2:
That’s crazy.


Jim:
I went with them, terrified, because they’d never actually seen the house. Never been down the road, never been down the road to the road. Never been in the neighborhood. They drove up, and they loved the house. He said… I’ll never forget this. He said, “The only thing you didn’t get was the smell. And, it was a good smell.” It wasn’t the former Woolen Mills smell. It was the smell of country and cows and nature and trees. This was years ago and they loved the house.

Jim:
But, it scared the bejeezus out of me, and it does every single time going forward. I always am very nervous, and I have to make sure that I know the client before I do a video and feel comfortable saying, “Here’s a house I think y’all would like.” But Deborah, you’ve written a whole series on the nest blog. What are some things you look for in your client? When you do the video sight unseen, what do you look for?

Deborah:
I think especially when you’re looking at a couple buying, if they’re looking at each other nodding their head while they might be in town before they make an offer, and they feel like they’re both kind of on the same page, I feel like that’s a pretty good indicator that they’re going to be behind each other when it comes time to actually pull the trigger. So, I think that’s probably key. If they’re both looking at each other, and one of them is saying, “Yeah, this looks great,” and the other one’s saying, “No possible way,” that’s not going to get any better just because it’s on video in a few weeks later. So, I think that if there’s more than one person buying, they both have to be on the same page.

Jim:
Would you feel comfortable doing a video for people you’ve never met? Well, the video making … would you feel comfortable with the people you’ve never met making an offer and a contract without ever met them?

Deborah:
Yeah, I would do it, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable. I think that everybody’s situation is different and sometimes timing is just an issue. But, in general, that level of trust that you have to have with somebody to go into the process on the front end is just so important. It’s not the level of trust between just me and the potential buyers, but it’s the buyers between themselves. It’s me and the potential listing agent. There’s got to be a level of trust that goes in multiple directions to make that even have a modicum of success.

Jim:
Yeah, I mean I’ve found that with my buyers I work with them… It takes me a while to know them. Generally with my buyers I know … except for these guys. Generally I know a house that … I know where they’re going to end up. If I spend a week with you, I generally will be able to say, “Okay, they’re going to end up in this place.”

Deborah:
Right.

Jim:
But, it takes time for those buyers to come to that [inaudible 00:04:46] is being able to help them come to that determination. It’s a scary thing to do a video for someone who’s not been in the house, might not have been in the neighborhood. And hasn’t driven down, hasn’t felt it and smelled it and all that stuff. One thing I try to do when I’m doing the video is, unfortunately from a practical perspective, I have to do the outside video, the approach, stop it, use my lock box…

Deborah:
That’s right.

Jim:
On my iPhone, and then start it again, so it’s a two-part video. But, I have to make sure that I walk in every bedroom and look in the closets.

Deborah:
That’s right. Turn the lights on, open the window. What does it look like when I stand here? What’s the morning light like?

Speaker 2:
Flush the toilets.

Deborah:
Flush the toilets, exactly.

Jim:
Flush the toilets.

Speaker 2:
What is water pressure like in the house?

Deborah:
That’s right.

Jim:
And looking at the kitchen window, looking to see if there’s a disposal… The stuff you look at when you’re not looking.

Deborah:
That’s right. That’s right.

Jim:
Is something I try to do.

Speaker 2:
I even want to frame this in a different point, from the lay person perspective, why in the world would people sign a contract on a home site unseen like that? That for me, I can’t even wrap my head around why that happened. You guys are talking about this off mic before we press record, but going into that, what is the mindset people to sign a contract site unseen on a home like that? That sounds crazy to me.

Deborah:
Yeah, I think that most people who do this, don’t see it as an either or, like, “I could go to the house and look at it or maybe I’ll just won’t.” It’s not something that people say, “I’m going to choose not to look at the house even though I could. I think they’re in positions where they can’t come see the house. Timing is an issue. You’re on deployment with the military. You’ve started a job, you don’t have time to….

Speaker 2:
You’re relocating from another part of the country…

Deborah:
…travel back and forth, you’re relocating from another part of the country, you’ve got familial issues that make it impossible to get back more than once and so you’re just going to come back for the closing, there’s all sorts of reasons why people can’t do that, but I don’t think anybody comes to this process saying to themselves, “Well I could, but I’m just not going to,” because I don’t think anybody’s got that level of comfort. People are discovering that, “Okay, there’s something that I can do, and maybe I should do, but I don’t necessarily want to do.” Nobody says, “I would love to buy a house site unseen.” I think people say, “If I have to do it, what’s the way in which I can do it that makes the most sense for me.”

Jim:
The only ones that I think would buy a house site unseen, email Deborah and say, “I want to buy this house on 123 Main Street,” is an investor.

Deborah:
Right.

Jim:
I think that’s the only class of buyer that I think would…

Deborah:
Somebody who’s buying under…

Jim:
They’re buying an asset.

Deborah:
That’s right.

Speaker 2:
To flip.

Deborah:
Yeah, they’re looking [crosstalk 00:07:31]

Jim:
It’s a thing they’re buying for an asset.

Deborah:
Right.

Jim:
I think for… you know, a lot of the people that I do this with, they come in from California. They come in for a week. We don’t find what they’re looking for because I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody, day one say, “Oh hi Jim, by the way I found a house I want to buy.” That has never happened, well maybe once.

Jim:
I think as they come in, they do an intense search, don’t find anything, or they make an offer on the house and they lose it, and then they go back. Then they know where they want to be. They know the where and the what and to your point earlier, where they’re nodding, they know what they don’t want.

Jim:
It’s that process of going through 15 houses in four days where you ascertain and find those things that you don’t want. It’s easier to say, “I don’t want the power lines,” Or “I don’t want to be on septic,” Or “I don’t want this ‘other thing'”. Until you go to the process of conversating for four days about your next home, that’s when the video of the house, is a tool to use. It’s not something you can do without having that groundwork.

Deborah:
That’s right. I think that we all get stuck on this idea of buying a house. People do come to town and the do expect to find and buy a house, but what they’re really buying is a life. Right? They’re buying a community. They’re buying a feeling. They’re buying a commute that’s really pleasant. They’re buying a neighborhood for their kids. They’re buying a social life.

Deborah:
Those are the things that you buy in addition to the actual house. Having that trust up front, is in part, yes all sorts of technical tools and things we can use electronically to help you to get around the ‘I don’t know what the whole house looks like’ issue. It’s that trust up front about ‘What is it like to live here’ and not to just live in this house or this street, but ‘what’s it like to live in this community’, ‘what’s it like to live in this subdivision’, ‘what’s it like to be here in the winter time, ‘what’s it like to be here two weeks after school starts’, that kind of thing.

Jim:
I think it’s something that the terrifying nature of representing a buyers’ site unseen, is that it’s probable. From a sellers’ perspective, if you get an offer from a buyer that you know has not been in the house, I think there is a level of unease and discomfort. Representing the seller, if I get an offer from an agent and I discern that the buyer, sometimes I ask, but if I have that sense. If I can discern that the buyer has not been in the house, a lot of the advice that I give to my seller about the merits of the offer and the strength of the offer, it’s going to depend a lot on the ways the trustworthiness and representation of that agent.

Jim:
If it’s an agent that I know that does not manage their clients very well, or I know that they, they aren’t as technically aware, the term savvy just aggravates me, but it determines a lot on the merits of the agent first and foremost. Then it’s a matter of understanding, “Okay, so they haven’t been there. Have they been through this neighborhood before?” Okay, so they lost three houses. Awesome. From a representing a sellers’ perspective, they lost three houses in this neighborhood? Great. They probably won’t make this work.

Jim:
It’s one of the things that does give me representational unease, when that buyer has not been through that house.

Speaker 2:
Yep.

Deborah:
Right, or even if they’re, you know what I love to hear is, “They haven’t been through the house, but their sister’s going to come over and take a look.” So, I assume that, families really have a language, in and amongst themselves, when somebody tells me, “I want a house with lots of light,” I don’t know what that means necessarily with a new buyer. When a sister tells me that her sister wants a house with a lot of light and she knows what that looks like, I know, now, that this is somebody I can trust who has a special language with that person, that will be able to identify what that means to them versus my interpretation of that.

Jim:
It’s also, real estate is not a thing that can be defined necessarily, because I think with the sister and the light, she might say, “Yeah when my sister was younger, she started painting and she still paints today. That’s why she’s looking for that light.” Oh, well then you just have a different sense as to what that light means.

Speaker 4:
A specific point of reference for you?

Jim:
Right.

Speaker 4:
Yep.

Speaker 4:
When you’ve looked at the video that’s a critical piece of the puzzle, when you’re trying to help somebody through this process. How do you capture some of the sort of aesthetic pieces of it? What is the street light? Do you video coming down the street?

Jim:
Yeah.

Speaker 4:
You guys are nodding, but this…

Jim:
Yeah.

Speaker 4:
… this is an audio media.[crosstalk 00:12:45] (laughing)

Jim:
Nodding.

Jim:
Should I bang my head on the table? (laughing)[crosstalk 00:12:52]

Speaker 4:
… something… make a noise, man! (laughing)

Jim:
I video for, I will go from in Crozet, I have a video that I did years ago that’s like 17 minutes but it’s a quick tour of Crozet of nine neighborhoods of just me driving through. If they’ve been through Crozet before, I’ll start at the four way stop, or the west Nest office, or whatever, and drive from there narrating the whole way through Grayrock or whatever, and just drive down Jarman’s Gap and then turn into Grayrock and say, “Here are the houses.”

Jim:
That way you get the spacing of the houses. You get the playground. You get the nuances, if you will. Any good agent is going to use professional photography. The photos are going to look good. Not unrealistic good, but they’re going to look good. You don’t take a headshot and have it blurry. The house is going to look great, but it’s not going to show proximity to neighbors. It’s not going to show the shotty fence next door. It’s not going to show the fact that there are power lines behind it or the orientation of the house to the whatever.

Jim:
I take the video of that whole thing because the pictures of the bathroom or kitchen, “Okay, it’s got a bathroom.”

Speaker 2:
Yeah. Sweet.

Deborah:
Yeah, even for people who are moving here for work. I have gone so far as to say, “Okay, so tell me what time you’re going to get off work.” I’ll go to that person’s work, at which the time they think they’re going to get off, and we just drive to the house. What’s the commute like? Are you sitting in stop and go traffic for 35 minutes and you have assumed that you’re going to have a commute cause that’s what Google maps says? Have you assumed that it’s going to be stop and go traffic and it’s really just that there’s no stop lights at all.

Deborah:
Even something as far as the commuting times between your work and your home, for a lot of people, that’s key. They’re moving to a smaller community because they’re thinking they’re going to get something better. Let’s make sure that’s actually going to be the case. Let’s drive to and from work during the time in which you think you might be driving to and from work. That becomes part of the, for me, the video process as well. Not just the house, but again you’re buying a life and for most people that means work and for a lot of people that means, “What’s my commute going to be like,” five days a week. To and from. Is it going to be pleasant for is it going to be the same hassle that I’m experiencing where I am now.

Speaker 4:
I think we are five years away from you having to throw them the Google glass and let these people, and you have to go live these people’s life, you have to live their life for a day.

Speaker 2:
Just go schedule a [crosstalk 00:15:23] appointment. Yeah.

Speaker 4:
And Jim’s like, “Gosh, I thought I was a real estate agent, but now I’m just really a broadcast medium.” [crosstalk 00:15:31] … automation [crosstalk 00:15:33] bought tickets to this concert tonight, but you have to go do the concert for us. Then you show up, drinking beers for them.

Jim:
That’s fine. I can do that.

Speaker 2:
Wait until AI takes over all this and self driving vehicles are just going to record drives for that and just immediately upload the video…[crosstalk 00:15:49] you guys are just going to be completely limited…

Speaker 4:
Can I volunteer to do nights? Any of your clients that are available.

Deborah:
I mean the stuff we are… [crosstalk 00:15:57] I mean

Speaker 4:
Cross talk. Cross talk.

Speaker 4:
Any of your clients that are available, like that want to see what a night of drinking would be like in Crozet, and would like me to record that and sub in as a drinker, I’d be happy

Jim:
You’ve mentioned this before. I’ve shut down smoked a few months ago at 9:15am. (laughing)

Speaker 4:
That’s super [crosstalk 00:16:18]

Jim:
But I shut down the bar. A forty something year old guy.

Speaker 2:
This is an interesting podcast that we should, Deborah, you may want to be in on this too, we just bar hop Crozet, and just podcast from all of those places?

Speaker 4:
Yeah, as we walk, like those big antenna….

Jim:
Go Pro helmets? Like serious, go pros on helmets?

Speaker 4:
Yes.

Speaker 2:
Yes.

Speaker 4:
Then we can provide, this is a service we can provide.

Jim:
There you go. There you go. Perfect.

Jim:
I will take a quick tangent, that I was looking at Landau’s twitter a couple weeks ago, and they were talking about traffic, and infrastructure, and growth, and all this stuff. One of the guys says, “One of my pet peeves is that people say that traffic in Charlottesville is bad.” Relative to him, coming from Northern Virginia or D.C. or New York or whatever, it’s not that bad. I said, “I understand that, but traffic is bad relative to what it was 20 years ago.” That’s the marketing that a lot of people are buying into when they move to Charlottesville.

Jim:
2004, I think we got the number one place to live in North America. That marketing is still carrying forth in 2019.

Deborah:
That’s right, we get a lot of mileage out of that.

Jim:
We get a lot of mileage out of that.

Speaker 4:
I’m going to cut this, but that was a pre Nazi rating, so…

Jim:
Thank you. Thank you so much.

Jim:
Okay, mark this too, [crosstalk 00:17:35] I was talking to a client the other day, and she said that, we might want to leave this in but I don’t know, she said that she was evaluating our market and she noticed that there was a profitable drop post arb ish 12th. She said, “I still see that you haven’t recovered from a market perspective.”

Deborah:
So what was she using as the… the…

Jim:
I don’t know what metric she was using. It frankly doesn’t matter. Her perception was that there was a drop and she wanted to advantage of that. I think that…

Speaker 2:
You guys have done but going up since then.

Deborah:
Exactly.

Jim:
Yeah, but it doesn’t, her perception is that the market is still down because of that. I think that is something we struggle with as a community is that it still a thing that, Jesus, you can’t turn around CNN every two days hearing Charlottesville…[crosstalk 00:18:18]

Speaker 2:
We’re a verb. [crosstalk 00:18:20]

Speaker 4:
I also want to get into a situation where you have to do the yard work for the person. [crosstalk 00:18:27] (laughing) Cause I hate yard work, so much as we’ve discussed many a time. I’m on here and you having to mow the lawn for the person while they sit at home and watch you mow the lawn, is just as black mirror as it can possibly get. I’m just uncomfortable with the entire idea.

Jim:
I have some folks that came to town, they’re from tiny little whatever, and they said, “We want two acres.” “Great.” You have no idea what that means. So we went and look at one, one and a half, two acre parcels…

Speaker 4:
That’s disgusting. Who would do that?

Deborah:
I did that.

Jim:
Y’all are different. Y’all are different. (laughing) Every once in a while, “Aw, that’s way too far.” “Here is an acre and a half, and by the way, do y’all have a riding mower?” “We have a what?” “A riding mower? Cause this is going to take you a good four to six hours every weekend to take care of. He’s got a weed eater, a lawn mower…” “What do you mean four to six hours?” “Or $250 every couple weeks, that’s how high ours is.” “What do you mean $250….”

Jim:
We have the conversation and most of those people, bra brush, most of those people end up on less than a half an acre in a cookie cutter neighborhood cause that’s the best thing that fits for them in their life stages.

Deborah:
That’s right.

Speaker 4:
My dad, I just learned the other day, my dad went to my brother, “Hey, your brother, when he bought a house, learned that he hated yard work and hated mowing the grass. You should really buy a townhouse because you’re going to hate it too because you both hated it as children, and it’s a terrible idea and you really shouldn’t have a yard.” My brother was like, “I’m not my brother. I’m not. Don’t worry about it.” And, sure enough, he hates his yard and it’s overgrown and out of control already.

Deborah:
Is he looking to buy a townhouse?

Speaker 4:
[crosstalk 00:20:07] (laughing)

Dave:
I actually went the other way on that. My parents, in Rhode Island, when I was just headed into my teenage years, bought an acre and a half of land with a house on it because they’re like, “This strapping young kid at 15 years old is going to be able take care of this for us.” I loathed mowing that lawn on a weekly basis.

Deborah:
Loathed it? Wow.

Dave:
But, when I bought my house, with my yard, my Saturdays or Sundays when I get to go out and mow my lawn, is my favorite, it’s one of my favorite, cause it’s time strictly for me.

Jim:
It’s a tiny yard.

Speaker 2:
It’s like 45 minutes for the [crosstalk 00:20:47]

Jim:
Weed eating.

Speaker 2:
I’m just saying, I actually take my two to three hours….

Bart:
How long are you spending on hops and post yard [inaudible 00:20:56]

Dave:
I spend zero hops so far, I’ve been neglecting my house (laughing)[crosstalk 00:21:00] I’m not proud of what my hops upkeep at the moment.

Jim:
That’s not yard work. That’s optional.

Bart:
No, but I’m saying, I look forward to mowing a lawn now as opposed to dreading it. I think there’s something like, “It’s my lawn.” I’m not mowing my dad’s lawn. I’m mowing my lawn.

Deborah:
That’s right.

Jim:
Yeah, I’ve actually walked from the house, with a video recording, to the back of the yard and looked back, just so the people can see the scale of what they’re looking at because, you don’t want to come there and say, “Oh my God. I’ve go to get a lot, I have to get a riding mower or a team of people to deal with this.” Or goats. We have goats in Charlottesville. They’re great.

Dave:
Goats is a smart…

Bart:
I’m impressed with the detail you guys are putting in to this, though. That’s crazy to me.

Jim:
Well, it’s, I’ve written this story, fundamentally when you spend ‘x’ hundred of thousand of dollars on a house, it impacts the rest of your life. For better, or worse it will, that purchase will directly impact, I joke but I don’t, it will impact the rest of your kids’ lives, if you have kids.

Jim:
Most of my clients are grown ass people and they can make decisions for themselves. If they have a 40 year old at home, they can’t be party to that conversation, where they go to school and what kind of car they driving in, their entire lives are impacted by that. A lot of times, Deborah does this as well I’m sure, I take video of stuff that my clients would never think to look at. I know the mistakes that my other clients have made and the ones I’ve gotten people away from.

Jim:
You want to make sure that you cover every angle you possibly can. This is the rest of their lives.

Deborah:
Yeah, it’s the rest of their lives and the mundane stuff is where the issues come to a head. If you’ve got a water heater that’s in a crawl space, that’s really hard to get to, I mean I know this is getting into the weeds, but you’ve got to go down there and check it out because all of a sudden you don’t have hot water.

Deborah:
You’re just on your hands and knees and it’s spidery and creepy down there. That might not be something that you think about when you’re buying the house, but if we don’t get down there and show you where that is and show you what it’s like underneath there, when it comes time for you to do that, you’re going to remember, “Why didn’t I ever take a look at this? Why don’t I know that this is down here?”

Deborah:
It’s that level of stuff when you’re living in a house, day in and day out, that reminds you that getting into the details is key and that’s one of the things we’ve got to do for an absentee buyer is think of all the things that might not happen but once or twice in two or three years down the road, that really will have an impact and make you go back and think about this process. “I should’ve thought about that. I should’ve asked about that.”

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