The Best Tips for Finding a Home Virtually

Would you buy a home you’ve never seen in person? That’s exactly what more and more home buyers are doing, thanks to changes in the real estate industry brought on by COVID-19, and the rapid development of sophisticated technology that makes shopping for a home through virtual tours a new normal. 

Virtual home tours are on the rise, in some cases replacing in-home showings altogether, for a number of reasons including convenience, safety, and efficiency. When COVID-19 arrived, home buyers quickly became accustomed to using virtual tours when restrictions made in-home showings impossible. Even as pandemic restrictions eased, travel bans caused difficulties for out-of-state buyers who had to rely heavily on real estate websites, virtual tours, and the boots-on-the-ground expertise of a local real estate agent. 

In addition, new developments in technology and software have dramatically reduced the cost of producing high-quality video. Virtual tours can now be filmed, edited, and produced on a smartphone and made available on the internet in a matter of minutes. 3D and 360-degree cameras that once cost thousands of dollars now cost hundreds, and there’s no shortage of apps available to realtors to create and manage an unlimited number of virtual tours.

Home buyers are increasingly relying on virtual tours as a starting point for a home search. Not having to tour multiple homes in person can eliminate stress from the process, and buyers who are still not comfortable meeting in person or traveling can feel safer. Buyers are also able to search more efficiently, using virtual tours to narrow down what they want and what they need without leaving home. 

Real estate innovations — from e-signatures, to live video conferencing to virtual tours — can streamline the home-buying process, even when a buyer isn’t there in person. 

Here are a few guidelines to consider when buying your next home remotely: 

Find a Local Agent

An experienced local real estate agent is your best, most reliable resource when you’re not able to tour homes in person. Not only will they be able to verify that the virtual tour and photos of a home you’re seeing online match the reality, they’ll also help you zero in on neighborhoods, types of properties, school districts, and other amenities important to you to expedite your search. 

Working with a good agent remotely goes beyond virtual tours. They’ll be able to guide you through the closing process (which may differ from state to state), and connect you with local professionals like a home inspector, real estate attorney, or contractor.

It may take some legwork to find a local agent, but start with referrals from family, friends, or co-workers if you’re house hunting because you’re moving for work. Evaluate online agent reviews and interview at least two or three. Make sure their expertise aligns with your needs, they’re a good personality fit, and any questions about the process you have are answered. 

Know Your Must Haves

When house shopping remotely, it’s vital to have a clear understanding of what you want and don’t want, and that you’re able to communicate those needs to your agent as they’ll be acting on your behalf when assessing properties. 

Details like the type of housing, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and floor plans are important, but so is knowing your needs regarding location, local services and amenities, transportation or commuting requirements, and school districts. 

Clarify your deal-breakers to your agent so they can eliminate properties that don’t fit. If an urban townhouse with a small yard, a vintage fixer-upper, or a detached garage would knock a property out of consideration, for example, lay those details out for your agent so they can maximize the efficiency of your search. 

Photos Don’t Show Everything 

When scoping out homes remotely, note if the photos are up to date, but be also aware of what pictures might not tell you. Remember that photos and virtual tours only show what they want you to see. 

Are there plenty of photos of the interior but few of the exterior? Is the home listed as having three bathrooms but only two are shown? Does the tour include the basement, attic, or garage? If it seems certain areas of the home are being avoided, it’s worth checking to see if there are issues in those spaces. Don’t be afraid of asking the seller for more photos.

Photographers often showcase a home’s spaces by using a wide-angle lens to make rooms look larger or improve poor lighting artificially. Remember that photoshop can hide or enhance just about anything. 

Your agent should schedule a real-time walkthrough via video conference, allowing you to explore the nooks and crannies that a 3-D tours may avoid. On a video call, your agent can give you an up-close look at the hardwood floors, test the water pressure, open and shut windows and doors — all the things you might do on a walk-through in person. Consider asking them to take you on a real-time tour of the surrounding neighborhood as well. 

Protect Yourself 

Mitigate the risks of buying a home without seeing it in person by protecting yourself with provisions that allow you to exit the deal without penalty if necessary. 

Your offer should be contingent upon a professional home inspection that allows you to walk away should the inspection turn up anything unacceptable, or language that allows you an out clause should something not meet your expectations once you’ve seen the property in person. 

Keep in mind that real estate law varies from state to state. There’s usually a limit to how long you have to cancel a contract without penalty.

Do the Extra Homework

Do your due diligence to eliminate surprises about the home and the area you’re considering.

Consider pulling public information from the last time the home sold, and utilize Google Street view to get a sense of the neighborhood. Read online local newspapers to get a sense of what’s topical in the area, and consider researching reviews of local restaurants, stores, businesses, services, and entertainment options to get a feel for the surroundings. Check social media to see if your new town has its own accounts and see what they’re posting. 

With the right mindset and a good real estate agent, buying a home remotely can, in fact, be a smooth process if you know what to expect.

About Thomas O'Shaughnessy
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