How can I buy a house virtually?

Virtual homebuying puts home viewings in the palm of your hand. (iStock)

Traditionally, if you wanted to buy a home, real estate agents would host an open house or schedule a private showing with you. But with the coronavirus pandemic, virtual home buying has become a popular alternative for checking out a property.

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"Virtual home buying is when people search for their homes virtually — meaning they don't physically visit the homes but 'view' potential homes through digital virtual methods," said Allison Chiaramonte, an agent at Warburg Realty in New York. Everything is done completely online including photos, videos, FaceTimes, and 360-degree home tours.

Buying a home virtually offers a workaround to social distancing requirements in the COVID-19 era. And the demand for home buying remains high, with mortgage applications increasing 4.6% for the week ending October 2. At the same time, home buyers continue to find themselves in a low mortgage rate environment.

If you're ready to buy a new home and want to undergo the process completely online, then visit Credible. The online marketplace can help with your house-hunting by comparing mortgage lenders and rates within minutes.

How can I buy a house remotely?

If you're interested in buying a home sight unseen, Chiaramonte offered some advice to ensure you do your due diligence and find your dream home.

  • Make use of all available tools: Looking at photos offers one impression of a home but a video or virtual home tour can give you a different view. If you have more than one way to view a home virtually, take advantage of those options to check it from all angles. 
  • Get to know the property first: Before scheduling a FaceTime viewing or virtual home tour, familiarize yourself with the layout. That way, when you're moving through the home virtually you can get a better sense of how it flows.
  • Ask questions: If you're viewing a home in-person you likely wouldn't shy away from asking specific questions about home improvements such as the condition of the roof or the age of the HVAC system. So take that same approach with a virtual tour and don't be afraid to question anything that seems unclear or stands out, or request home inspections.
  • Be aware of what you can't judge virtually: Some things you can't gauge from a virtual showing alone. For example, you may not get a true sense of what the noise levels outside the home are like or whether the lawn puddles up when it rains. So having your agent visit the home for you can help fill in the blanks to decide if it's the right property. 

Virtual homebuying can save you time and you could speed things up by getting pre-approved for a mortgage. The mortgage process can take a month or more to complete but pre-approval can give you an edge because it means a lender has reviewed your credit report and credit score to conditionally approve you for a home loan.

Having a mortgage pre-approval in hand could be your ace in the hole if virtual homebuying lands you in a bidding war. And with such low rates, that's an incentive to apply for a mortgage now. If you have questions about home buying, you can get them answered by connecting with one of Credible's qualified loan officers today.

HOW TO GET A MORTGAGE DURING CORONAVIRUS

Today's mortgage rates

According to Freddie Mac data, the rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is 2.75% while the rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages is 2.25%.

Low rates could mean savings for homebuyers looking for a mortgage or homeowners planning to apply for a mortgage refinance. Refinancing now could be particularly attractive for homeowners who want to avoid the adverse market fee set to take effect on December 1.

If you're interested in checking your refinance rate, visit Credible to compare quotes without affecting your credit score.

You can also use an online mortgage refinance calculator to estimate your monthly savings.

5 WAYS TO PAY OFF YOUR MORTGAGE EARLY

How is virtual home buying changing real estate?

In terms of how virtual homebuying is impacting homebuyers, sellers, and the market as a whole, Chiaramonte cited a number of positives.

"People are using virtual methods to go beyond pictures and check for things they wouldn't have previously been able to see without stepping foot in a home," she said. "This means they'll visit fewer properties but hopefully, those properties will be much closer to what they want to buy."

If you've already found your dream home and you're looking to secure a mortgage, check out Credible. When you use an online mortgage broker like Credible, you can get personalized rates and pre-approval letters without a hard inquiry that could negatively affect your credit score.

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One direct benefit may be spending less time on your home search. Instead of scheduling one or two open houses a week, you could view 20 homes completely online in a single day.

Virtual homebuying also puts more pressure on sellers to make sure their home is buyer-ready. Chiaramonte said this may mean sellers need to spend more time in preparing their home and taking photos or video. But as a buyer, that could help calm any fears you might have about the virtual version of a home and the reality matching up.

That makes having a professional agent who knows the market in your corner even more important. For instance, even if you can't visit a home in-person your agent could scout out the property and the area for you to spot any potential red flags.

Real estate agents can also advise you on which contingencies to include in the home offer and contract. For instance, you may include a contingency that if the home doesn't pass inspection you can walk away with no further obligation to buy it. Or you may include a contingency that your purchase of the home hinges on a mortgage approval. This type of escape clause can be reassuring if you're worried about buying a home sight unseen.