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Buying a First Home Over the Internet

“You’re going to make an offer on a house you’ve never seen?” asked my husband incredulously.

“We don’t want to move into an apartment with a second child arriving in the fall.”

“Your dad and I’ve never bought a home without viewing it a few times.”

My expectant daughter, her husband, and their two-year-old needed to relocate from Boston, Massachusetts to Ann Arbor, Michigan in the summer of 2020, the summer of the pandemic, and real estate agents in Michigan weren’t allowed to show houses. Her husband stayed behind to pack their belongings and finish his fellowship while she and their son sheltered-in-place with us in North Carolina, for three months.

Over the phone, her husband talked about financing, mortgages, interest, and several houses they’d seen pictures of. “Why is the owner leaving?” my husband queried and shook his head. “Always ask that.”

After perusing several houses via pictures sent on Zillow or watching videos produced on agents’ wobbly cell phones, we started to get an idea of houses in a city where we’d never been. In fact, I’d ridden through Michigan only once, as a kid on a road trip from the East Coast.

“Those prices sound mighty high,” my husband remarked to my daughter.

“You want to buy a house with the idea of flipping it in a couple of years? Huh? That doesn’t sound good to me!” I offered my opinion. “You two aren’t handymen.”

“By then, we’ll have a better idea of where we want to live and the schools,” my daughter offered.

“You can move later,” I suggested. “You’ll be miserable in some house you plan on renting out in the future to others.  You need a home for your family.”

“This place is near downtown, with sidewalks,” my daughter pointed at the pictures on Zillow.

 “Look at that price tag!” I exclaimed. “Too much.”

“Ann Arbor’s expensive. We’d have to share a driveway with a neighbor,” my daughter responded nonchalantly.

“No way, Honey! You’ll have small children. The neighbors could have big trucks. Much too dangerous.” I knew I shouldn’t be giving unsolicited advice, but this wasn’t a little purchase to return if you have buyer’s remorse. During 43 years of marriage, my husband and I have lived in three homes, and we deliberated on each for months and sometimes years.

“We got to buy before mid-July. It’s May now. Moe begins his program and needs a place to live,” stated Heather.

Each night, she’d study houses on the internet, and sometimes wouldn’t consult us. Then, one day she thought they’d found one, but it was more expensive than others they’d looked at.

“Show me the pictures,” I said.

She took me to the website and pointed at the sloped yard. “Not much room for kids to play. A drawback,” she said.

“Michigan is cold. They’ve two seasons: winter and orange cone season.” She didn’t laugh, but I continued, “You want to concentrate on the inside, not the outdoors.” I felt surprised at myself because the yard of a home has always been important to me.

The first picture she showed me– a fireplace with a huge stone wall the length of the room.

“Nice,” I muttered.

The next picture of the bay window in the living room elicited a remark from me, “I love bay windows!” Next, I saw a roomy dining room and a bright kitchen with sliding doors to a deck with black railing. The following photo was of a large laundry room and a small studio where the owner taught piano lessons. Upstairs were four bedrooms, decent sizes, and two small bathrooms. Then, I saw a huge basement with old carpet.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“It doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what you and your husband think.”

“That wall-to-wall carpet in the bedrooms and basement I don’t like.”

“You can tear that up; replace it, in the future.”

“The bathrooms are so tiny,” she whined.

“That’s how they were in older homes. My parents’ home. Your dad’s parents’ home.”

“I’m not sure the house has much curb appeal.”

“You can change that,” I volunteered.

The agent made a cell video with the elderly widow selling her house as she led him around, narrating and pointing out things in each room.

“Adorable,” I said. “She’s proud of her house. You can tell she took good care of it.”

My husband came in the study and perched over her shoulder; he studied the pictures and then said, “Buying from the original owner is good, better than from someone trying to flip it after a few minor renovations.”

“We’d be pretty near to our neighbors here. Mom, you said you wouldn’t move to a house unless you checked out the neighbors first,” my daughter reminded me.

“I’m sure they’re nice folks.”

My husband spoke with our son-in-law who’s not lived in a house because he’s from a country where most folks live in urban apartments, so negotiations and house ownership are things he’s never dealt with. Yet, he caught on quickly to the idea of making an offer and being willing to walk away if it doesn’t suit the seller.

“I can’t imagine buying a house one has never set foot in,” said my husband.

“I like to smell a house. I like to touch a house. I can’t imagine buying one over the internet, either. But…” I added.

“If you make an offer, you might own a house. You ready?” advised my husband.

Moe made the offer. It was back and forth a little, and they got the house. Moe came down, picked up our daughter and grandson and off to Michigan they went.

Four months later in November, we drove up, when their daughter was born. We’d seen the ultrasound picture, but that didn’t prepare us for the real deal. She’s a beautiful, bright, perfect wonder!

I learned you can buy a home, sight unseen, over the internet, and it too can turn out to be beautiful, bright, and perfect … wonder. Miracles abound! Live and learn!

Comments

11 responses to “Buying a First Home Over the Internet

  1. Whoever heard of buying a home sight unseen? My daughter bought one she only saw at night and when I saw it a few days later my heart sank down to my toes. The city neighborhood was awful. Luckily she was able to get out of it and I spent a week showing her how to look for a house. A fun and enlightening story.

  2. it is a sign of the times, isn’t it?
    and a lesson to let go and trust that it will all work out.
    one way or another, it always does!

  3. Loved the article! I chuckled since there was so much perspective from their daughters parents! I would have offered the same advice! Their daughter and son in law listened respectively and kept their thoughts to themselves! I loved the ending comparing buying a house sight unseen to the miracle of meeting a new baby sight unseen! Well written as usual!

  4. Loved this, Erika! We’ve bought three houses we’ve chosen on the internet, but did manage to see in person first. Each had its imperfections and surprises, but our touches and hard work made it ours.

    You are right—so many things are bright and beautiful even before we see it with our eyes. Of course, doing your homework is a must, but this is a new world, new innovations and new rules. Good thing we brought up our kids to be smart!! 😉

    Congratulations on your beautiful and perfect granddaughter 💝

  5. Interesting concept, buying over the internet. We have moved many many times. 3 foreign countries, 8 states (some more than once) and over 20 homes or apartments in our 50 years marriage. Not sure I could throw caution to the wind…..

  6. It is not always easy to give advice to our adult children. We as parents have a lot of experience which is not always solicited. We thread easily hoping to put a seed in their ear. So glad that all ended well. Erika, congratulations on your new granddaughter and thank you for a well-written and entertaining story.

  7. I struggle with the idea of purchasing a home without seeing it in person, but I know it’s not uncommon these days. Sometimes it’s best to “go with your gut” and anticipate that everything will work out. So glad the house lived up to everyone’s expectations.

  8. Loved this short story. So many poignant observations. Trusting the outcome is a key lesson. I think this situation presents itself much more often than we think. People who have to move because their jobs dictate that they do or young adults having to suddenly move because an aging parent needs them closer, these are circumstances that invite the internet to take a leading role in purchase decisions. Makes me feel lucky to be settled and not house hunting. Well done, Erika. Another fine job.

  9. Great story, as per usual 🙂 Erika. This, I gather, is the new way to do…everything. Nice handling of the dialogue, amusing.

    Congrats on your perfect new granddaughter.

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