Updated: Oct 13
In real estate, you typically are able to access homes that are listed for sale. That's not always the case, however.
There are 4 types of homes that don't allow showings on a regular basis:
1. Homes where the offer deadline (actual deadline present or likely timing of when the seller will respond if no formal deadline is present) is before the buyer, the buyer's agent, & everyone else that might be able to fill in for a showing are unavailable prior to that time or where the home's showings have filled up until that time and no dual showings are allowed.
2. Homes that only allow showings during a very narrow timeframe.
For instance, a for sale by owner who states that he's "overwhelmed" by all the showing requests in a hot market on an underpriced home and who decides after a brief period to only allow access during a single open house prior to accepting an offer soon after and later allowing that buyer to come back in for home inspection, other inspections if applicable, and walk through inspection prior to closing.
3. Homes that only allow showings after contract ratification by the buyer under contract and those associated with him, such as inspectors and his agent.
4. Homes that only allow the buyer, the buyer's agent, and any inspectors access to the property after the buyer has closed. (hint, most buyers should skip these)
What to do when a home won't allow showings or when a showing is unfeasible:
The answer to this question depends highly on the scenario (i.e. 1-4 above) and the buyer.
Determine if there's any option for showing even if there doesn't seem to be if there were options but you're seemingly too late. Sometimes a home that seemingly can't be shown actually can be. For instance, I've been told before that a home doesn't have any more showing availability prior to offer deadline, requested to be allowed to tag along to someone else's showing, and been able to show before. To avoid getting into that scenario to begin with, buyers should see the Expeditious Showings section of my MLS Search Basics for Buyers document. If a buyer can't be there during a narrow time frame, what about a video showing? If a buyer's agent can't be there during a narrow time frame, what about an associate of that agent to fill in for them?
If the home can't be shown at all prior to closing except from the street & online, determine your risk tolerance. If you were to find out that the home is a tear down only after closing, if that would be "devastating" to you financially, you shouldn't consider it. Keep in mind that you can do dozens of hours of online and exterior research, but still find out after closing that a problem not visible from the exterior or online research at all makes a home a tear down (i.e. extensive defective drywall or a long time former meth lab in a home with a large operation). I typically don't recommend these unless you've already made such substantive profits from real estate investing that you can afford to take a big hit if it goes south. A buyer purchasing dozens of homes that can afford a tear-down can also afford to take bigger risks than a buyer purchasing a single owner occupant home with a mortgage.
If you're using a mortgage on a property where no showings, assessments, or inspections are allowed, check with your lender to see if a purchase wouldn't even be possible without an appraisal. The answer is typically going to be "no", but there are some exceptions, especially if putting down a >25% down payment on a conventional loan with certain lenders. According to the CFPB, "If you are buying a home with a mortgage, you do not have a right to cancel the loan once the closing documents are signed."
If you are allowed to see the property and perform an inspection on the property prior to closing, assess if it's worth it to you from the pictures/online to be put out of buying if you're only buying 1 home at a time for a bit and assess if the costs of inspections are worth it to you with such high volatility & risk that it won't work out. Keep in mind that if other buyers have seen the home, your offer will likely need to be better than theirs by a higher than-typical margin because you didn't see the home at all, especially if no video was involved for you to see & the listing doesn't provide a video tour or virtual tour.
Perform heavy exterior/online research prior to moving forward, as you can find out many things about a home online. In many states, there are inspection requirements prior to sale, but that's not the case in states like Virginia. In many states, Virginia included, there are at least certain homes with rights of recission periods after signing the contract of purchase, but even when there are, beware of exclusions. As of 10/12/22, the online version of Virginia Law on the government page includes, "(1) Except as provided in subsection (5), in addition to any right otherwise to revoke an offer, the buyer has the right to cancel a home solicitation sale until midnight of the third business day after the day on which the buyer signs an agreement or offer to purchase which complies with § 59.1-21.4."
Where do you find homes that don't allow showings?
Some Multiple Listing Services (MLS) have rules about that where an inaccessible home isn't allowed to be listed on their MLS. Sometimes homes are listed that break the rules of access of their MLS. They could get fined for that, but they still are. In other cases, those avoiding showings get around that by not listing on MLS (i.e. many auctions, where no showings allowed is much more common than on MLS), despite the fact that the marketing is significantly negatively impacted by not listing on at least the primary MLS of a city. The MLS gets fed to buyers through the buyer's agents that typically set up searches for them with MLS, and MLS typically auto-feeds to hundreds of other real estate-related websites, sometimes by default and sometimes through paid 3rd party programs. My standard policy is to list on 4 MLS, as a point of reference, & I don't list where I don't have access to the primary MLS of a particular location.