More people than ever are dropping millions on houses they’ve never seen

A rendering of 21 East 12th Street, which has not yet been built (credit: Corcoran Sunshine)

Who has time to actually visit multi-million dollar homes these days before buying them? The moneyed are increasingly buying homes without ever having seen them IRL. Thanks to online pictures and videos, virtual reality tours, Skype and Google Earth “visits,” they don’t really need to.

According to Redfin, a national real estate brokerage, “sight unseen” offers on properties are on the rise. The firm surveyed 1,334 recent home buyers in 11 major metropolitan markets and found that 33% said they had made an offer on at least one house “sight unseen.” Previously the brokerage found about 20% of buyers did so.

Other brokerages agree and are taking advantage of the latest technologies. Sotheby’s International Realty currently uses 3D photography for about 10 percent of its listings. In addition, about 5 percent of the company’s 880 offices worldwide have virtual-reality viewing areas, where clients can view 3-D property pictures on a screen or while wearing VR headsets. The company expects all of its offices to embrace this technology within five years.

Another firm has taken the concept of virtual home showings a step further. VirtualAPT, a Brooklyn-based technology company that launched last year, invented a robot that films 3D VR tours. The robot records a real-estate agent guiding a tour of a property, as if showing it to a live person, and quickly produces a video. Tours are rather pricey at $1-per-square-foot.

Because of the cost, this sort of technology tends to only be used to advertise the most high-end properties. And it seems to be working. The WSJ found quite a few happy buyers who procured their luxe homes without ever setting foot in them.

One buyer put in an offer on a Williamsburg, Brooklyn home while in a soaking pool on the Amalfi coast. He went into contract for $1.125 million without ever having visited the apartment.

Likewise, the buyer of a $1.65 million Mediterranean-style home in Florida who had never seen it in person prior to paying, was happily surprised with his purchase, exclaiming, “I liked it even more in person.” [WSJ]