Homebuyers Guide Homeownership

7 Tips for Navigating Virtual Home Tours

While the coronavirus pandemic has made virtual home tours the only option for anyone who wants to buy a home right now, checking out potential homes digitally—and in some cases, buying a home site unseen—was something an increasing number of buyers were doing even before the stay-at-home orders.

“This has been a trend gaining in popularity in recent years with relocation buyers who need to make quick decisions in competitive markets and aren’t able to get to a home quick enough,” says Jennifer Gralitzer, a Neighborhoods.com real estate agent based in New Jersey.

"I don't think there's anything I couldn't have seen in a virtual tour given how quick my interaction with the home was before I took the plunge."

But even beyond out-of-state buyers, more agents are using digital tools to show homes. Florida-based Neighborhoods.com real estate agent Christina Greenslade says that while she’s sold only three homes using FaceTime and WhatsApp from start to finish, she does a lot of final walkthroughs virtually rather than in person.

“My last few sales, people have driven down in a hurry, but I will only be doing virtual tours over the next month or two,” she says. “I’m very comfortable with the process.”

If the idea of buying a house without seeing it in person seems like the premise of the Netflix show “Love is Blind,” I’d like to share my own experience to assuage your fears a bit. When I purchased my house, a process that took just six weeks, I only saw it once in person for about 15 minutes before I was under contract (I saw it one more time, during the inspection, before I closed). My point is, even though I saw it in person, I don’t think there’s anything I couldn’t have seen in a virtual tour given how quick my interaction with the home was before I took the plunge. In fact, I spent much more time engaging with the listing online and noting its various specs than I did with the actual house itself. 

You also might consider a no-contact, in-person tour with safety precautions such as wearing a mask and gloves. Remember, you’re a real estate agent’s client, and in most circumstances, they’d be more than happy to keep everyone safe by staying six feet away while you privately tour the space. 

Types of Virtual Home Tours

Opting for a virtual tour is sometimes a necessity, even outside the pandemic, and luckily there’s a lot of digital tools that make this easier than ever.

First, it’s important to distinguish between the two types of virtual tours. There are premade virtual home tours, created with a 3D camera system like Matterport, that are included on real estate listings and available to view at any time. And there are real-time home tours given by real estate agents via virtual platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype.

While 3D home tours included in listings can help you see a lot of houses and narrow down the few that you want to tour with an agent digitally (or in-person if that’s an option), watching someone walk through the space in real time will give you a better sense of the house without seeing it in person.

“The benefit of having your agent facilitate the tour would be that someone can be physically inside the property, can answer your questions on the spot, and can identify those intangibles that photos don't capture,” Gralitzer says. “Does the home have a smell? Is the basement damp?”

If you decide to opt for a virtual home tour instead of a traditional in-person tour, we’ve got you covered with a few things to look for to help you feel confident during your homebuying search.

7 Tips for Virtual Home Tours

1. Do Some Research Before the Tour

Since you won’t be able to be there in person, doing some legwork before the tour can allow you to focus on seeing the house and asking any questions that come up. There’s a lot of information you can find out about a potential house online, but you should also have your agent connect with the listing agent to get information on the condition of big things like the roof and foundation as well as systems like the furnace, air conditioning, and plumbing. Find out the brand of those systems and how old they are. 

“Of course home inspections dive into things deeper, but from an offer standpoint, you want to come up with your offer reflective of the market itself and the quality and condition of the home,” Gralitzer says.

2. Ask For a First-Person Perspective

Just like a video game, a first-person perspective can help you get a more lifelike sense of the space. Greenslade says she always flips the camera to provide a first-person perspective. “I even have them watch me open the doors with door handles and sliders,” she says.

Before a virtual tour, consider the common things you’d be doing in your house, like locking and unlocking the front door or fumbling for the bathroom lightswitch during the night. Ask your agent to walk through those more mundane aspects in addition to giving you visuals on all living spaces, bedrooms, and the kitchen.

3. Don’t Watch the Tour on Your Phone

Gralitzer recommends asking the agent to conduct the tour via Zoom, or a similar video conferencing platform, as opposed to strictly mobile-based one like FaceTime so they can film the house from their phone and you can watch it on the larger screen of a laptop or desktop computer. Also, through a platform like Zoom, you can more easily invite family members or other interested parties to watch the tour with you.

4. Don’t Forget the Exterior

“I start in the driveway to show my clients the outside,” Greenslade says. It sounds obvious, but we’re so focused on a home’s interiors that it’s easy to forget what’s outside.

Ask to see the property from the street as well as the driveway, garage, front porch, backyard, or any other exterior amenities. Is there a doorbell or door knocker? Is there a concealed spot for mail and deliveries? Those are small things, but be sure to take note of the big stuff too: Are there window cracks? How does the foundation look?

5. Request the Best Lighting

If possible, aim to take a video or virtual tour during daylight hours, and ask that your agent turn on any and all lights in advance (if the house is unoccupied, the power might not be connected—all the more reason to opt for a daytime tour). The level of natural light a home gets can be a make-or-break factor. Plus, you can’t get a sense of the home if you can’t really see it.

6. Ask for a Glimpse of the Home’s Unique Assets

During a virtual tour, think back to what piqued your initial interest in this particular property. Was it the custom built-ins in the living room? The view from the upstairs bedroom? The vintage tile floor in the bathroom? Ask to see these specific features on the tour—they might not be important to the larger functionality of the home, but they do help give you a sense of its personality and vibe, helping you remember (and underscore) why it might be just the right place for you.

7. Ask for a Tour of the Neighborhood

At Neighborhoods.com, we believe finding the right neighborhood is just as important—if not more so—than finding the right home. If you’re doing a virtual tour, beyond doing your research to find your target neighborhood, you can also ask to see your neighbors’ homes from the street or even request a virtual neighborhood tour.

“I do full neighborhood tours with my GoPro mounted camera so the client feels comfortable with not only the property but the surrounding area,” Neighborhoods.com agent Michaelene Tracey says. “My longest-distance client lived in Scotland at the time she bought her property through my video assistance,” Tracey recalls. If your Realtor isn’t equipped with a GoPro or able to do a larger neighborhood tour, Google Maps is an easy, free way to get a street view of many areas.

Taking a virtual tour isn’t ideal, but it might be the best, safest, or even the only option right now—and by using the above tips, you can get a true impression of the home without seeing it in person.

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