Landlording & Rental Properties

How I Bought a Property Sight Unseen for the First Time

Expertise: Commercial Real Estate, Personal Finance, Real Estate Marketing, Business Management, Landlording & Rental Properties, Real Estate Investing Basics, Personal Development, Real Estate News & Commentary, Mortgages & Creative Financing
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Have you ever bought property without seeing it in person first?

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Buying real estate sight unseen — and especially out of area property without going there first — is becoming increasingly popular again. For many, it is absolutely needed in order to find value, to land good deals that make sense by the numbers, and to diversify. Some are still scared of taking the leap. Others have been making a mint by doing it for years. Here is how my first sight-unseen deal went.

First off, let me say that if I wasn’t local, I wouldn’t have done this. My partner and I heard of a local real estate auction. There was a total of 65 properties that were being sold off. We were able to get ahold of the list. We drove areas and neighborhoods and compiled a shortlist of about 12 properties we were interested in after driving all of them. No one was able to gain access to the properties in advance. You simply had to drive by, even if they were vacant.

Bidding Wars

When I tell you it was a bidding frenzy, it was crazy. There were real estate investors who came from out of state, and some were paying almost retail for some of these properties that needed work. It can be easy to join the frenzy, but you have to stick to your number. It’s easy to join the crowd, but you don’t want to end up getting stuck with a property that you overpaid for and end up regretting it for years.

Related: I Almost Bought Properties at Auction: Here’s What Stopped Me

The Surprise

There was a property on the list that wasn’t formally on there. We hadn’t gotten a chance to drive by it, but we knew the area. We pulled up an image via Google. The image showed it needed work (of course). We ran the numbers and came up with a conservative offer price. We managed to land the winning bid. At this point, my partner and I began looking at each other like, “What the heck did we just do?!”

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Why it Worked for Us

Even for the properties that were occupied, we went super conservative on our numbers. We planned for the absolute worst case scenario. We went in with the anticipation that each property was a “gut to studs” renovation job on the interior. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case for any of them.

Related: How (and Why) I Offer on Properties BEFORE I Ever Step Foot in the House

After the Purchase

We went in and renovated the house. It took a lot less time and money than we anticipated. We were actually approached by several parties to purchase the property in as-is condition due to the upswing of the neighborhood. However, at that point in time, plans were to hold onto it for the cash flow. So far, everything has worked out perfectly.

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Summary

It worked out for us. We will probably do this again. However, we will only do it when we know the area and values and have run the numbers and made similar offers to ensure we can be profitable, no matter what work needs to be done inside.

What have your experiences been with buying property sight unseen?

Let me know your stories with a comment!

Sterling is an multifamily investor specializing in value-add apartments in Indianapolis and other Midwestern markets. With just under a decade of experience in the real estate industry, Sterling w...
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    Christopher Smith Investor from brentwood, california
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Very Interesting. I did my first sight unseen purchase in June of this year. In fact there is a good chance I will never see it (I live in CA, the property is in OH). Worked out incredibly well, but I did have some advantages since I had lived there before moving to CA and already had rental property infrastructure in place (e.g., property manager/agent, insurance guy, solid knowledge of the area’s growth, income and expense profiles). The property itself was effectively a special turnkey situation (fully rental ready on day 1). Its an upper end property (3&3) in a top shelf relatively new and affluent neighborhood. The folks selling originally had a much higher offer, but it fell through and they were left with the prospects of having two large mortgages on the completion of their new home (in the very same neighborhood). Left a really nice opening for a timely cash bid about 20K+ below market for a property just a few years old and already inspected with all repairs made (weren’t many really) per request of the earlier failed bidder. Rental rate is great for a relatively high end property and costs in that area are pretty darn low (significantly lower than my rental properties in CA). Its already appreciated about 10K (not including the 20K under market acquisition price) and has had a tenant in place from day 1 with a 2 year lease. This actually turned out to be a great deal all across the board – and all sight unseen. Just wish I could come across more like this one.
    David Acosta from San Diego, CA
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    The rehab looks great! Thanks for sharing.
    Sterling White Rental Property Investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    You’re welcome. Glad you enjoyed the content.
    Karl B. Rental Property Investor from Columbia, MO
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Great article, Sterling. I suppose there’s very low risk when you calculate for a ‘worst case scenario’. And viewing the property for the first time is likely likened to opening a pack of valuable baseball cards X 1000.