The Pursuit: A Skype-Bought Home

by Shilpi Paul

Rob Wittman’s client’s new home.

It is no secret that the home-buying process has been enhanced by the internet. From sifting through listings to looking at comps, buyers can now tackle the initial stages of the house hunt from the comfort of their couch. However, we recently heard about a home buyer who, with the help of a Northern Virginia-based agent, chose a home, made an offer, went under contract and had it inspected, all from a computer in Bulgaria.

A few months ago, Redfin agent Rob Wittman got a message from a State Department employee. He was stationed in Bulgaria, but was coming back to the region and needed a house for his family. The issue is that he wasn’t going to be able to come to the city before the move, and didn’t really know anyone in the area who could search on his behalf. So, he wondered if there was any way Rob could work with him from abroad.

Neither Wittman nor his buyer had done anything like this before. “We had a 45-minute conversation just speculating how it might work,” Wittman told us. “And I didn’t know if it would.” Technology would be invaluable to the process, and Wittman didn’t know if his cell phone’s video capabilities would be helpful as he toured homes. His client mentioned Skype and soon, they had a plan: Wittman would walk through homes while connected via Skype to his client and describe as much as possible. The camera video would provide images.

As for parameters, the buyer wanted a multi-bedroom house with yard space. He needed to be close to the Foreign Service Training Facility, and wanted a home that could potentially be rented out when he left for his next assignment. Wittman decided to concentrate on Arlington Forest, and together they zeroed in on a few houses.

Living room

When Redfin customers find a property they want to see, they usually click through to request a house tour on the website and Redfin employees coordinate with agents to set it up; in this situation, Wittman’s client would type in “pre-arranged Skype tour, speak to Rob Whitman” to alert Wittman that he was ready.

“The first house was our test,” Wittman said. He walked through the house for 30 minutes, describing what he saw and holding his phone up so that his client could see. As a test run, everything went smoothly: cell phone reception held up throughout the tour.

After looking at a few more homes that way, Wittman and his client started gaining confidence in the process. Even when cell phone reception would drop off, the buyer felt happy with Wittman’s descriptions.

A few weeks into the process, Wittman and his client found a three-bedroom, one-bath home in Arlington Forest that seemed like a good fit. Wittman walked around, but reception was pretty bad in some parts of the house and the client wasn’t able to see a few areas. While the main floor and upstairs looked good, Wittman was having a hard time describing one particular feature that would likely impact his client’s decision.

“There was this very peculiar smell, kind of like cedar chips,” said Wittman. Turns out, the sellers were guinea pig breeders, with 20 cages full of the animals in the basement. Despite that, the client felt good enough about the property to make an offer, which was accepted.


Now, there were a few more challenges to work around. Wittman recommended a home inspector and lender he had worked with before and trusted, and the client used DocuSign to sign the stream of paperwork that came his way. They tried to Skype during the inspection, but the cell phone reception kept cutting out; instead, the client talked to Wittman and the inspector at length immediately afterwards about what they had found. The inspector was able to itemize potential problems and gave the client cost estimates. The client ended up making a request for credit, in lieu of repairs.

The closing is scheduled for May, and Wittman is still figuring out how that will work. The buyer may Skype in to the settlement and/or use the power of attorney, in addition to signing as many documents as possible in advance using DocuSign.

So after this guinea pig (in more ways than one) trial, will Wittman keep offering the service? “I would make sure that the person didn’t really have many other options, and would have to be comfortable that they were technologically savvy. It’s not for everyone.”

Still, Wittman seems proud to achieve this first in his real estate career. “Five years ago, you couldn’t use the internet at all [for your home search],” he noted. “It’s amazing how far we’ve come.”

See other articles related to: the pursuit, redfin, editors choice, arlington

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/the_pursuit_a_skype_bought_home/5443


  1. M said at 12:31 am on Saturday April 28, 2012:

    As another FSO overseas, this is GREAT news. Perhaps this could be a small real estate “niche?” Technology is advancing all the time, so “Skype house hunting” should become even easier.

    Rob—there should be more agents like you! Some would have said, here’s the MRIS, look me up when you get to DC and we’ll go from there. By that time, it’s too late as we usually need something to move into when we arrive. Do let us know how the “overseas” closing process worked.

  1. L said at 11:11 am on Saturday April 28, 2012:

    We did the same thing from China.  We gave a close friend power of attorney- the only documentt that could not be signed online.  Our agent, Isabelle Jenkins based in VA was great, looked at many places and sent photos and descriptions.  She did the same for friends of ours.  I did come back for the
    inspection though.

  1. jen angotti said at 4:28 pm on Saturday April 28, 2012:

    I helped a client that lived out of the country and we used Docusign too.  I took a lot of photos and had a lot of email/phone conversations.  The house needed a ton of work but we used an excellent inspector so my client had a clear idea of what he was going to encounter.  He never saw the house until the week before we closed!  He was really happy with the house when he saw it in person.  I hadn’t thought about Skype.  That’s a fantastic idea and I will definitely utilize it if I have this sort of client again.

  1. John said at 3:12 pm on Thursday May 24, 2012:

    This property is in Arlington Forest.  Great Neighborhood, very close to Ballston.  I searched for 3 years before deciding on this neighborhood.  I don’t think I could make a major decision like buying a home without kicking the front door.

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