House Hunting with Vision Loss: Choosing a Realtor and Viewing Houses
Choosing a Realtor
Before moving to Tallahassee to teach at Florida State University, I contacted a realtor recommended by my cousin. I explained that I was blind and needed to live close to the university to keep the bus ride as short as possible. Over and over he ignored my need and suggested homes that were at least a thirty minute bus ride from FSU. It didn’t take me long to find another realtor!
This frustrating experience leads me to my next suggestion. Although I did not need a realtor for my recent purchase of my own house, choosing the right realtor is essential and it’s imperative that you choose a “buyer’s” realtor. That is someone whose primary interest is meeting your needs not making a quick sale. Ask friends and colleagues, especially those with a visual impairment for recommendations; then interview several candidates before making a decision. You want to choose a realtor who will listen to you. Choose someone who is not patronizing but respects you as a visually impaired person.
Meeting with Your Realtor
Before you begin looking at houses, meet with your realtor at your current residence to get acquainted. Here you can move around with confidence and put the realtor at ease. Teach him or her sighted guide techniques. Remember you will be getting in and out of vehicles and going in and out of unfamiliar places. You want smooth transitions through doorways and up and down steps. Explain that there might be times when you choose to use your cane or dog guide. If you are a dog user, take time to teach your realtor dog guide etiquette.
Inviting your realtor into your current residence will also give him or her ideas about your living preferences. It takes less than two minutes for a new visitor to my home to see that I love antiques, like a fireplace, and don’t mind stairs. Although my decorating is fairly simple, a realtor who has never worked with a blind person quickly sees that I like having pictures and paintings on my walls even though I can’t see them. This kind of preliminary effort will relax the realtor and begin your relationship on an even footing.
A colleague of mine blindfolded her realtor to show the agent why some homes were poor choices because of safety and transportation. This is an excellent suggestion that you should consider.
Virtual House Hunting
If you have enough vision to see a computer or iPad screen, you may want to begin your house hunting by using the realtor’s “virtual house” site. This software will give you an up-close-and-personal look at every room in a house, the patio, pool, and other outdoor areas. This technology may help you prioritize or eliminate some available options before you start making onsite visits.
Checking Out Homes of Interest
If your vision is very limited or you are totally blind, you may want to ask a sighted friend or family member to accompany you and your realtor when you find a house you are interested in buying. I like to touch everything I can when house hunting, but that’s impossible if the seller is still living in the house. That’s when another set of eyes of someone you trust is essential.
It’s much, much easier to explore an empty house. Honestly, I have never bought a house where the owners were living. When a house is empty, I can take all the time I need to explore the rooms and get a sense of their size. My antique bedroom furniture is large. I’ve used a retractable measuring tape in a few houses to make sure my furniture would fit in the master bedroom. I like wandering throughout a house visualizing the floor plan and my furniture in each room.
What I Look For
For me, the kitchen is very important. I want to check out the drawers, the cabinets, the appliances, and the countertop space. My current kitchen has nine drawers, sixteen shelves, three other storage areas, and a lazy Susan in one corner. Storage space is equally important to me. My laundry room has several shelves and the garage has cabinets and places to hang shovels, rakes, and other gardening tools. Besides the bedroom closets, I have a huge closet under the stairs and a floored attic room on the second floor. Having this information helped me choose my current house over another one.