Buying guide

Buying a home sight unseen

Buying a home sight unseen isn't ideal, but at times circumstances make it a necessity.

There are certain scenarios where buying a home without seeing it becomes necessary.

An recent example was New Zealand's Level 4 lockdown, when buyers could only view homes for sale through virtual tours.

At other times, buying a home remotely might come about if you're overseas and eyeing a return to NZ, or when you need to act fast on a dream home but can't physically be there.

With today's technology, buying a property sight unseen isn't as unnerving as it once was. Tools such as Matterport 3D virtual tours, Google Maps and Trade Me Property Insights, allow you to gain a good idea of what a home is like inside and out, and gather useful info about the suburb.

However, this doesn't mean you can get complacent, and there are several key steps to make a remote purchase successful.

Buying a house sight unseen: steps to success

1. Assemble a team of experts to help with your due diligence

You’ll still need the support of some key advisers to help you with your due diligence, say four Auckland real estate agents who deal with out of town buyers on a regular basis.

Ray White Mt. Eden agent, Rick Mozessohn, recommends collecting a team of experts to act on your behalf as the purchase goes through. He calls it “leveraging off the boots on the ground.”

If you're serious about remotely buying a house in New Zealand, the first thing you need to do is find a good local solicitor for legal advice. They should know all the council bylaws and check the sale and purchase agreement as well as the LIM (Land Information Memorandum report).

You can also ask them to request property files from the council to make sure that any work done on the home is up to date on council consent, he says.

A highly competent local mortgage broker is another person to enlist if you need to arrange your finances, and they can help you with any gnarly questions.

Today's technology makes a house sight unseen a lot easier than it used to be.

2. Make contact with an agent

Also, make contact over the phone with a good real estate agent who does a lot of business in your suburb of interest, suggests Mr Mozessohn.

They can find out what the demographics of the street are, tell you about the best local schools, and describe the housing stock in the area.

“You want to have someone who can give you a holistic view of the property,” he says.

One of the important details to ask a local agent for are comparison values of nearby homes, ”comps”, in your research of the market, suggests Barfoot & Thompson agent, Daniel Wolff.

With those, you can fast-track your usual house search period of three months, he says.

Meanwhile, if you have some concerns, you don't have to make an unconditional offer, he cautions. Sometimes it's just worth putting in an offer and seeing what the vendor says.

Another crucial member of your support team is a builder who’ll do the pre-purchase house inspection. You’ll want someone who can tell you how much work will cost (if they find any problems) so you don’t get any nasty surprises when you take possession.

3. Enlist family and friends

In an ideal world, you'll also have a friend or family member you trust take a look at the property on your behalf. Be aware, this is quite a responsibility for one person.

"Mum and Dad will often be doing triage, taking video of the home for family overseas," says Ray White Kingsland agent, Tim Hawes.

You can ask them specific things to look out for – what’s the storage space like, how soon will the kitchen and bathrooms need re-doing, for instance. You want to be assured that there isn’t a major expense lurking.

"In the modern world, there's so much disclosure and ability to show information, all the pictures, videos, Skype tours, there's no way not to know what you’re getting," says Mr Hawes.

If you have family and friends in the local area, they can help you get a better idea of the property.

4. Be prepared to supply more than the usual information

Out of town buyers can be viewed with slight suspicion by agents who have had bad experiences with such clients in the past.

Be prepared for the vendor’s agent to ask for a few more pieces of information than usual, says Harcourts agent, Jennifer Kim.

If she's hosting an auction, she'll ask out of town buyers to have a local lawyer write a letter confirming that the buyer has the finances they say they have. A banker’s letter is another option.

Ms Kim’s last piece of advice is to buy a home in a popular housing market that'll be easy to re-sell or rent out if you don’t love it when you come to move in.

"Find somewhere that’s a good start and convenient with well-rated schools. Always think about the resale possibilities, " she says.