Buying Unseen: How to limit your risks when you can't view your property first hand

In the pre-Covid world, buying unseen was usually a play made by overseas investment buyers and disregarded as lunacy for the vast majority of residential house purchases. However, going all-in blind is now part of a set of new Covid-driven property trends and is happening in many of the country's hotspots.

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Property Reporter
23rd April 2021
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Ed Jephson of Stacks Property Search, explains that buying unseen may not be as crazy as it sounds and could actually make sense for certain buyers.

Ed says: “It's driven by the huge demand for rural properties that in many parts of the country, notably the south-west and the Cotswolds, dramatically exceeds supply. Property is selling as fast as it comes onto the market, and in many cases, before it makes a public appearance. Factoring in a visit to a property slows the process down so much and is so often in vain as properties are sold before a buyer gets onto the M5. Rental property is in equally short supply. Determined buyers have taken the view that the only way they will make a successful purchase is to conduct a desk-bound buying exercise.

“We've been asked to help with several unseen purchases, all-around or in excess of £1m, some from overseas buyers, but others who are London-based, and one from Yorkshire. They tend to know the area well and are clear about the locations they want to buy in, so while the property may be unseen, the area itself is familiar. Dartmouth and the villages on its estuary are a prime example of an incredibly popular area where properties are selling overnight, prices are rising, and demand dramatically exceeds supply.”

So how can bold buyers limit the risk involved in buying unseen?

Ed explains: “I would stress that this isn't a recommended buying method for over 99% of buyers. It's not for the faint-hearted. Buyers require nerves of steel, deep pockets, and an overwhelming need or desire to buy a property in the short term. But if a buyer ticks these boxes, and has been thwarted time and time again, it may be their only option. With prices on an upwards trajectory, there's significant protection from making a big financial mistake, but the emotional costs can be high.

“You may encounter agent and vendor resistance. Agreeing on a transaction is about trust and confidence, so you will need to be convincing, looking like the best buyer in terms of price, financial position, and intention to go through with the purchase. Make sure your offer is as compelling as possible, be a cash buyer, and present the agents with proof of funds, and/or mortgage agreement in principle. You will need an excellent solicitor, it may be helpful to volunteer to use a local solicitor that the estate agent works with regularly.

Ed continues: “You will also need to have done as much research as it's possible to do without getting into the car. Google Maps, Google Earth, floor plans, virtual viewings, virtual tours, OS maps, flood maps, local planning applications, are all your go-to resources. Check for public footpaths around the property, proximity of neighbours, look at a 360-degree view of the plot, check the length of the drive, width of the road, distance to the beach, the pub, the school, the shop, anything that's important to you. You will need a warts-and-all forensic virtual walkthrough, preferably conducted on Facetime with a locally-based friend or professional advisor. This would take in the surroundings and the approach as well as the property and grounds themselves. Ask about the things you might miss from a video walkthrough such as the smells, the feel, any distant road noise.

Ed concludes: “If you have an alternative to buying unseen I would strongly recommend you take it. But for those who simply don't have the luxury of looking at a property first hand, it doesn't have to be quite as mad as it sounds.”

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