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This is What It’s Like to Buy a House — Without Ever Stepping Foot In It

photo of a wood paneled bedroom
Photo courtesy Winona Dimeo-Ediger


In a surreal moment last year, I found myself signing the papers to put an offer on a house across the country I’d seen only via photos and FaceTime.

It’s been well-documented that millennials tend to do things differently than previous generations, and when it comes to real estate, our reputation proves accurate.

Not only are many millennials forgoing large, expensive metropolises in favor of smaller, more affordable cities, they’re also using technology to revolutionize the homebuying process.

In fact, last year, over 45% of millennial homebuyers put in offers on houses they’d never seen in person, relying on online information and high-tech home tours to choose their new abodes in cities across the country.

I never thought I would join this club. In fact, when I talked to friends who had bought their houses sight-unseen, I thought they were crazy. I thought I’d for sure need to get a feel for a house in person, that I wouldn’t trust technology to make such a huge decision.

How did I get here?

My partner and I were temporarily living in California last summer. We knew we wanted to move to Nashville, where we’d lived a few years prior, and knew we didn’t want to set up another temporary apartment when we got there. We were ready to buy a home and move into it as soon as we arrived.

Like many growing cities, Nashville’s housing market was so hot that most homes were selling within a day or two. Flying from California to Nashville is expensive, and even if we’d planned a trip to see a specific house, chances are it would have been gone by the time we got there.

This left us with a choice: book plane tickets for a frantic house-hunting weekend in Nashville and hope we found our dream house, or do the whole thing remotely.

After talking to our Realtor, who told us the majority of her clients are now buying a house sight unseen, we decided to give it a try.

The Search

Red brick ranch style house in Nashville, TN.
Photo courtesy of Winona Dimeo-Ediger

We began the same way nearly every prospective homeowner starts a search these days: by obsessively looking at online home listings. We found a few we liked and forwarded them to our Realtor, who scheduled showings as soon as possible.

Our Realtor visited the property and sent us detailed photos and videos of every room, trying to give us a feel for the home.

Whenever possible, she would FaceTime us from the house, which allowed us to make requests like, “Turn right into that pantry” and “What’s that cute detail on the bath tile? Can you get closer to that?”

Some of the most surreal, “Oh my gosh, we’re living in the future” moments occurred during this part of the process, when we were directing someone across the country, in real time, to inspect the nooks and crannies of a house we’d never seen in person that we were considering purchasing.

Crazy? Maybe, but it was also unexpectedly fun and much less stressful than speeding around to crowded open houses.

The Offer

wooden deck chairs in a yard.
Photo courtesy of Winona Dimeo-Ediger

After a few FaceTime tours of houses that weren’t quite right, a friend in Nashville tipped us off to a house for sale next door to hers.

Everything about it looked perfect online, from the layout to the neighborhood to the style — a brick ranch house with a picture window in the living room overlooking a park and a blast-from-the-past, wood-paneled guest room I couldn’t wait to decorate.

I tend to make decisions based on emotion and had been worried that no house would feel right when viewed through an iPhone lens, but as soon as our Realtor FaceTimed us from the driveway, I knew this was our house. From the sunlight pouring through the trees in the front yard to the cute country kitchen, it was our dream home.  

We asked her to write up an offer that day, signed it electronically and sent it off to the current owners.

This was the most nerve-wracking part — submitting an offer of hundreds of thousands of dollars for a home we’d never set foot in. However, our Realtor assured us we still had a 10-day grace period to change our minds if anything came up during the inspection process.  

Our offer was accepted.

Pending the inspection and a final contract, this adorable home across the country was ours.

The Inspection

We handled the inspection the same way we handled the initial house tour: We attended via FaceTime (what would we do without FaceTime?). We took notes and asked questions as the inspector crawled into the attic — followed by our Realtor with her iPhone — tested faucets and attempted to make peace with some wasps who had taken up residence in the basement.

The inspection didn’t uncover any major issues, which meant we were ready to finalize our sale.

The Closing

front room with picture window.
Photo courtesy of Winona Dimeo-Ediger

The title company sent a “mobile closer” (basically, a notary who handles all the paperwork) to our home to handle the closing process.

She brought the huge stack of papers, walked us through all the required signatures and then said, “Congratulations, you just bought a home.”  

Buying a House Sight Unseen: Our New Home — In Real Life

A month after signing the papers, we packed our stuff into our pickup truck and drove from California to Tennessee to go home.

Our Realtor left the keys under the mat by the back door, so when we arrived, we just let ourselves in.

Stepping inside our house for the first time was surreal, but at this point we’d spent so much time there by way of photos and FaceTime that it felt comfortable and familiar.

One thing FaceTime couldn’t capture accurately? That big picture window in the living room.

It was even better in person.

Winona Dimeo-Ediger is the managing editor of Livability.com, the go-to guide for finding the best places to live.  

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