In Dec., 63% of homebuyers made an offer on a house they didn’t visit, up from 45% five months earlier. Pandemic travel fears and today’s tech are part of the reason.
MIAMI – The first time Jason Mullan saw his new home was the day he showed up to move in. The 36-year-old from New York City bought the house entirely online, without ever seeing it in person.
He’s among a growing number of homebuyers, particularly millennials, investing thousands of dollars on Florida homes they’ve seen only on a cellphone or a computer screen.
Some 63% of homebuyers made an offer on a house in December that they had not seen in person, up from 45% in July 2020, according to discount real estate brokerage Redfin.
Almost 40% of millennials, ages 25-40, are open to buying a home just by viewing it online, according to research from online real estate marketplace Zillow. Fifty-nine percent of millennials would be somewhat comfortable buying it online without seeing it in person first, Zillow said.
The trend appears to be the result of reluctant pandemic travelers, the competitive housing market, the migration of people from other states and the technology mindset of young people.
“I think it’s a perfect storm. They don’t want to travel, and houses are going very fast. If they wait to get here, they will lose the house,” said Ellen Taracido of The Collection Realty in Fort Lauderdale.
Mullan, an engineer for Pandora radio, bought a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Loxahatchee for $575,000 after seeing it online through an email sent by his real estate agent, Taren Cassidy of Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Mullan wasn’t present for the inspection or walkthrough for the closing, instead relying on his brother and his father to be there in his place.
“I had to do this before I got priced out from the market,” Mullan said.
His first vision of the home came last week when he drove down for the big move from out of state. So far he has no regrets about the purchase, and he’s pleasantly surprised by the quality of the home, something he couldn’t see as well over a video call.
“I was also floored at the size of my standalone workshop,” he said. “I don’t even know what I am going to do with all that space.”
Technology does help with any concerns millennial homebuyers may have: 3D tours of the homes give them a sense of what the house will look like, and FaceTime calls with an agent in the home give them the ability to “see” the house.
Putting in an offer before anyone else, without waiting to fly down, gives them a leg up in the market.
“For the walkthrough and anything that needs a face, I act as it and include them as much as they want,” said Cassidy, the agent at Douglas Elliman.
Judy and Nick Peñaranda, ages 28 and 37, purchased a lot for a home in Lake Worth Beach in March after seeing it online or through video calls. Their original plan was to travel to Florida from the San Francisco Bay area in January to see houses in person. But with the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, they turned to looking for a home virtually, settling on new construction in the Fields of Lake Worth community.
Building their home from the ground up, they’ve picked out tiles over FaceTime calls with their agent and picked their floorplan virtually. The entire project should cost upwards of $800,000.
“We haven’t physically seen it,” Nick, a software engineer, said. So far, they have no hesitation. “We literally had our agent put us on FaceTime for those in-person meetings.”
Home inspectors say there are risks to buying a home while not seeing it in person, as things like home odor or odd noises don’t translate over video. Real estate agents say the inspection period, usually 10 to 15 days, offers some cushion if the buyer doesn’t like it, but inspectors stress that it’s better to see the home in person. And backing out of the contract after the inspection period can result in a lost deposit.
“You can’t get a sense of ‘wow, I feel good about this,’” Robert Melendez, president of RMI Home Inspections in Fort Lauderdale, said. “You need someone to go inside and take a look at all of the systems.”
Many millennials, accustomed to using technology, aren’t too worried about things going haywire. Young people tend to rely heavily on things like Google maps, neighborhood alerts and online research of the builders and developments they plan to buy from.
Jade Arias, 29, founder of a digital marketing agency in Texas, saw only a model of the studio she ended up buying at Natiivo Miami, a high-rise downtown.
She understood the risk involved with purchasing a property sight-unseen, but she got a sense of the neighborhood by setting up alerts on her phone and using Google maps to tour the surrounding area virtually.
Arias has not moved in yet because construction on her studio is not finished. But she’s satisfied with the way she bought it.
“I chose to do the process completely online because it worked for me,” Arias said. “I’m not sure if I would recommend this route for everyone. It does require some level of tech savviness.”
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