For a prospective home buyer, it‘s that time of year. Lawn signs and advertisements are sprouting up everywhere touting newly-listed home properties.
As a home buyer, you should know that real estate agents have turned to virtual home tours during the global pandemic. They’ve become a standard part of the house-hunting routine. And this could be part of a new norm after the pandemic ends, too.
In a typical virtual tour, you can choose (or with the help of your real estate agent) to visually “walk through” a showcase of the property you want to inspect, without the need to be physically present. The tour is taken via a digital service such as Zoom, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, WhatsApp or Skype—or on a website such as YouTube or one of many other software platforms.
On a routine day, more than six million people view a virtual home tour. If you’re wondering how a cyber-tour can possibly compete with a live walk-through, you should know there are some distinct advantages to taking a virtual tour. Here’s how to get the most out of a virtual viewing.
It’s About Safety
COVID-19 safety guidelines have changed the way business is done. Although the changes may be more pronounced in some states than others, you’ll likely come upon some modifications made to accommodate pandemic safety concerns. As the buyer, you won’t have to worry about unnecessary exposure.
Save Time & Money
Thanks to today’s technology, virtual tours mean much more than they used to. 3D cameras, room-scanning instrumentation and real-time Q&A’s reveal more than just a glimpse that simple photos provide. You get to investigate all of the ins-and-outs of the property without the need to be physically present. You can even watch it on your phone. View all rooms at any time you choose, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.
With virtual showings, you can see and compare more properties in a day without getting into your car and driving around. Forget about having to find parking, searching maps for an address, or fiddling with lockbox keys. Do as many viewings as you like. As they say, “shop ’til you drop.”
Is your target home in another state or cross country? Are you long-distance military personnel being relocated? What better way to get details without the long expedition.
Check Out All The Details
Photos of the home you want to bid on may show one thing. But in many cases, they’re sharpened, brightened and edited. The photo touch-ups are sometimes done to hide imperfections such as a rough patch on a wall, scratches to hardwood floors, or to make the back yard look bigger than it really is.
A video is more likely to shoot things as they appear. Look at every detail closely. Slow the video down, if need be. [As a caveat: Buyers should remember that if there is any question about what you’re seeing—best to see it live for yourself.]
Ask About What You Can’t See
Though you might think you can do it alone, a knowledgeable real estate agent can be invaluable in helping guide you through a home tour. Having your agent ‘on the ground’ while you view is the best situation—they can be your eyes and ears, providing a trusted second opinion and personalized property guidance.
Because agents have experience with virtual viewings, your agent will instinctively spot if something is wrong with the property during a virtual tour. They can detect all of the things that you wouldn’t be able to over video: things like traffic noise, uneven floors or any bad odors.
Remember, just because you’re on a virtual tour doesn’t mean you should be a spectator. Having a list of questions handy before you make an in-person showing appointment can keep you from making the wrong decision. Take advantage of the situation and be brutally honest about what you are looking for.
Map Out a Gameplan
Use a copy of the floor plan with measurements to follow along on your tour. If you don’t have one, have the listing photos handy so you can compare. This way, you’ll have an idea of the full space you are observing—comparing dimensions and sizes to match your expectations.
Scope The Whole Territory
Don’t forget to ask to see outside. If you’re hunting for a single-family house, have your real estate agent walk around the perimeter of the residence so that you can see the condition of the home’s exterior and inspect the landscaping, patio, porch and yard.
Check Out The Amenities
When it comes to real estate, the golden rule is location, location, location. You should request that your agent capture a comprehensive sweeping video shot of any community or neighborhood amenities (like a swimming pool or gym). Some tours will even start with a street view followed by the surrounding property and finally the walkthrough in the house.
No Home Is Perfect
To protect your rights as a buyer, it’s smart to:
- Acquire a copy of any virtual tour, either by recording it yourself, or by downloading a copy. Never be afraid to ask for a copy from the agent or seller.
- Make sure, having only seen a property via video, that any agreement is ‘subject to a physical inspection.’
Realize no matter how immersive the technology is, the home inspection is critical to protect buyers from major repairs of undisclosed structural shortcomings that may not be obvious in virtual or physical tours. Home inspectors are functioning during COVID-19. When buying, you should always enlist the services of a qualified and experienced inspector.
Buyers have come to love the convenience of virtual viewings. Although they are no replacement for traditional showings, a virtual tour will let you prescreen any homes that fit your criteria, so you’re only visiting those you’re truly interested in. The virtual tour can be seen as a way to whittle down your choices before committing to an in-person tour.
Resources: CU Realty Services, Wall Street Journal, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, TALLBOX, 99.com