Buying a Home You’ve Only Seen Online: What You Need to Know

Not only can you buy a house you’ve only seen online, as a real estate investor, you might prefer to do so, at least once you have a system in place. Buying homes online has actually been a strategy for people buying investment property for some time, particularly if said investment property is in an area not local to the investor. And with the coronavirus on the scene, more people have adopted the process as they have become used to doing business virtually, plus not physically going into homes addresses safety concerns.

Buying a home online can speed up the acquisition process, saving you time to plan your next investment opportunity. Here’s what you need to know.

Set parameters for searching

Determine the niche you want to market to for this investment property. This includes price range, home size, location, and any other parameters you deem important.

For example, your niche could be a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home under $200,000 located near a college or university so you can rent to students.

Note that although having some parameters is good to narrow down your market, having too many will make it harder to find the right deal. So limit your parameters to make it easier for yourself.

Check out the neighborhood — virtually

With online house shopping, you probably won’t be familiar with the neighborhoods. But you can find out all the information you’ll need — you guessed it — through online searches. You can get employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, income ranges from Sperling’s Best Places, school ratings from Great Schools, and crime statistics from AreaVibes, all from the comfort of your own computer.

Learn to analyze the property

As with any investment property, whether you’re buying remotely or in person, you need to analyze it to help determine whether it will be a moneymaker for you. There are many formulas for rental properties to determine this. The fastest one investors use is the 1% rule, meaning you should be able to make 1% of the home’s price in monthly rent to make the deal worthwhile. So for that $200,000 property, you’ll want to get as close to $2,000 a month as possible.

If you have a favorite method of running the numbers, use it for your online deals just as you would with any other deal. You can determine what the property will likely fetch in rent by conducting an online search to see what similar area homes are renting for.

Determine what you’ll offer

This step is the same as an offline deal as well. Investors routinely offer less than asking price, but doing so remotely presents more of a challenge if you don’t know the local market and conditions: Is it a buyer’s or seller’s market there? It’s important to find this out so you’ll know how much less to offer and still get the deal. A real estate agent will be a great help with this step.

Put the home under contract


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Homefront: Use garden veggies if you’ve got ’em in these easy, meat-free dishes

Jean Stover of North Berwick doubles the cheese and uses whatever kind she has on hand when making this recipe for Quinoa, Broccoli and Cheese Casserole. Photo courtesy of Jean Stover

“When I was out of work during the beginning of the COVID shutdown, I had a lot of (vegetables) and grains on hand. Then when the stores started running out of certain foods, people were buying the grains. This time of year, the fresh garden veggies are especially nice in these recipes. These are easy, and ingredients are easy to find right now. Both are from “The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet,” by Nava Atlas. I double the cheese (in the first recipe) and I use whatever cheese I have on hand. (For the second recipe), I used black beans, fresh corn from the farmers market, and fresh tomatoes and shallots from my garden.”

– JEAN STOVER, North Berwick

Quinoa, Broccoli and Cheese Casserole

Serves 6

1 ½ cups quinoa, rinsed

2 tablespoons light olive oil

1 large onion

2 medium broccoli crowns, cut into bite-size pieces

1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring 3 cups of water to simmer in a saucepan. Stir in the quinoa, cover and simmer gently until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and saute until golden. Add broccoli and about ¼ cup water. Cover and steam until a little more than tender crisp, 5-7 minutes.

In a bowl, combine everything with half the cheese. Season and stir well. Transfer to lightly oiled casserole. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake until golden, 20-25 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before serving with avocado salad and warm tortillas.

Pinto Beans and Corn can be made with canned tomatoes or fresh ones from the garden. Photo courtesy of Jean Stover

Pinto Beans and Corn

Jean Stover likes to serve this with rice, tortilla chips, avocado and lime slices. She has adapted the recipe slightly (which explains why there are more than 5 ingredients) from “The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet.”

Serves 4-6

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 cups cooked fresh corn or frozen corn, thawed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Two (16-ounce) cans pinto or pink beans, drained and rinsed

One (14- to 16-ounce) can low-sodium or Mexican-style stewed tomatoes, chopped, with liquid

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced or mild chilies

2 teaspoons ground cumin

Saute the shallots and the corn in olive oil in a large skillet for several minutes until the shallot softens, then add the remaining ingredients. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover the mixture and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.

Serve in shallow bowls.

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