Can You Purchase A House Without Javascript Or Proprietary Web Apps?

I'm a free software advocate who tries to compromise as little as possible with my principles, by blocking JavaScript in my Web browser, and by not using non-free Web apps, which in most practical cases amounts to the same thing. I also recently have been trying to purchase a house. So, I have been in a position to test how much of the process can be done without violating these principles, and how difficult it is. If you have no idea what I am talking about, please read this:

JavaScript, the Web Browser, and Computing Freedom

One disclaimer: As of writing this, I have not yet *successfully* purchased a house. My last contract fell through late in the negotiation stages, over repair issues. But I learned enough in the process that I think I can write a useful article.

Also, a clarification: We are only dealing with the question of whether or not you personally can get through the process without using any JavaScript or Web Apps directly. Your real estate agent (we will just say "agent" to save time), your lender, and your seller will all be using JavaScript and proprietary Web apps.

The short version is that, in principle, it is possible to get through the whole process without JavaScript or proprietary Web apps. However, in practice, it will be very difficult to do so without making a few compromises, and in any case the process will be painful and may involve some sacrifices.

Viewing Listings

So, the first hurdle I had to deal with was finding interesting house listings. All our friends and Internet searches pointed us to listings on Zillow. On Zillow, it is possible to view the house address, image thumbnails, and a few minor details, without enabling JavaScript. But if you want to view the photos at full size, or look at other details, you need to enable JavaScript.

When I got hooked up with an agent, he was able to set up a system where listings would be automatically sent to me in an HTML e-mail. Since I use the mutt e-mail client, and the HTML was not playing nicely with urlview, I had to save the html to a file and then open it in my Web browser. His system allowed me to view most of the listing information without JavaScript enabled, except unfortunately most of the property photos, so I was forced to enable JavaScript occasionally for that.

File Transfer and DocuSign

I'm not wealthy, so I needed a lender. I couldn't get help from my bank (long story) so I had to go with another in-state lender. Immediately, the lender wanted me to send a boat-load of documents (paystubs, bank balances, and such like). The lender assumed that I would be sending the documents to them over their "secure portal" Web app — something provided by Floify. Also, to find out which documents I was supposed to send, I was supposed to download a file from the portal.

Several rounds of e-mails followed in which I tried to work out some other solution. Finally the lender called me, rather suspicious, wanting to know why I wasn't sending the documents, and what it was I was trying to hide. I stumbled through a brief explanation of software freedom principles, and eventually he grasped enough that he was willing to work with me.

Of course, I still needed to send the documents, and I don't happen to have my own trusted, free-software file transfer system set-up. (Well... I don't think I could've explained to them how to use SFTP.) So, the lender e-mailed the document list to me as an attachment, and then I mailed the documents to them through USPS. This introduced some extra delays and expense, but it worked.

Then there was the DocuSign issue. The lender, agent, and sellers were expecting every form and contract to be signed over DocuSign. So, I had to explain to three or four different people why I didn't want to use DocuSign. Fortunately, my agent has an office in town, so we worked out a system where all documents would be sent to my agent's assistant. Then she would print them off, I would sign them in the office, and they would scan them and send copies to whomever needed them. This kept everyone happy, and had the added bonus of allowing me to easily ask questions about agreements before signing them.

The main difficulty with this system is time pressure. With a lot of the forms, it doesn't matter if it takes you a day or three to get over to the office. But for things like offers and counter-offers, in our very tight market, it was necessary to get contract forms sent through within a few hours, or the whole deal might fall through. And the agent's office wasn't generally open on the weekend. So, I had to compromised once or twice in using DocuSign for a few time-sensitive documents. But I didn't feel too bad about it, since at least everybody knew that is not what I normally do.

First-Time Buyer Course

To get me a rate-discount as a first-time home buyer, the lender is required by some law or regulation to put me through a Freddie Mac home-buying educational course. This is one of those proprietary Web apps where you have to spend hours clicking through slides and doing multiple-choice tests.

I briefly contemplated trying to get the course done at the library, so at least I wasn't running the proprietary Web app on my own computer. But I didn't really see how there was much benefit to that, as far as spreading the message of software freedom, since no one else would know or care. The lender just gets a certificate that is e-mailed to them after you complete the course. And it would have been a large inconvenience to me to need to hang out at the library for several hours, rather than doing it at home. So I decided to do it at home.

I also wondered if there is some other legal way to fulfill the requirement — like getting the materials printed out for you, and filling out a written test. But I didn't think that either my lender or would care enough to investigate the matter for me.


It is possible to go through the home buying process without using JavaScript or proprietary Web apps, at least if the first-time home buyer discount doesn't matter to you. But expect a roller-coaster ride as you navigate trying to get everyone else on board with your plan. Also, practically speaking, it is very difficult to evaluate listings without being able to look at the photos, which likely will require JavaScript.

It would help if you have a lender and an agent who both have an office in town. In my case, nobody was opposed to printing out documents and having me sign them with "wet ink" provided that we could meet deadlines.

In the process, I also learned that brief explanations of software freedom principles usually don't communicate very well. To get the idea across, you need to explain the four freedoms, and then also explain how that ties into JavaScript and Web browsing, since most people don't really know what a Web app is or how JavaScript plays into that.

(Post published on 2023-08-09)

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