Virtual property tours are yet another nugget of life online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Between March and April alone, video tours jumped by over 130% when lockdowns began in New York. Six months later, virtual visits of properties have become a staple for realtors, with advanced techniques ranging from ultra-high resolution images to 3D models side-by-side with 2D floor plans.
However, if you’re on the lookout for a new home right now – whether to buy or rent – virtual tours may be a novelty for you. Especially if you haven’t moved in a while. While these digital visits can be highly informative, there are also a few pitfalls.
Here’s what to look out for during a virtual tour of your new home.
Vet the agent’s reputation on virtual tours
First off, do a quick background check on the real estate agents listing the property and make sure they are trustworthy. With a virtual tour the agents (and the videographers they direct) decide what you are shown.
As a consequence, virtual property tours are a breeding ground for real estate scams.
If this has been the case with the agent listing the property you’re interested in, chances are disappointed former customers vented online. Check reviews for your realtors on Google and Yelp.
Another great place to check if the realtor you’re working with is trustworthy are online real estate agent listings and rankings by trusted third-party sources.
Gauge (natural) lighting
Lighting is notoriously difficult to capture in photos and videos. It can also make a fundamental difference to the atmosphere of a property in a digital tour.
During the tour, be sure to pay attention to all the sources of natural light. Check for the location of the windows, their size and orientation. Note the placement of ceiling lamps, spotlights, and other lighting systems.
Otherwise, you might end up moving into a place which looked great in the post-edited video but is abysmally dark in real life.
Beware invisible defects
Another point to pay particular attention to are defects you can’t see – but that you’ll definitely hear or smell once you move in.
Paper-thin walls letting you listen in on neighbors’ conversations. Kitchen sinks gurgling away in the corner. Creaking floors. Sewer odors wafting from the shower drain.
These are all aspects you’d pick up on in a moment during a personal tour. Virtually, you may gauge them by turning the audio up on the video and peeking closely at vulnerable spots.
Pay attention to image resolution and coverage
The quality of the virtual tour is grainy and the angles weird. This may be a clue that the agent didn’t know their way around a camera – or a warning sign of a scam.
Low-resolution footage can conceal trouble spots realtors don’t want you to see. The same goes for angles the camera flits over too fast or doesn’t show at all.
Make sure your virtual tour is high-res throughout – and that it covers the entire property.
Ask for a live tour
If you’re considering renting (or buying) the property you looked at in a recording, or a 360° visualization, request a live tour.
A Zoom or Skype call with an agent gives you the chance to listen to the actual soundscape of your potential new home, gauge its lighting, and get a feel for the atmosphere. You can ask to check out certain areas you’re doubtful about – where you suspect water damage, mold, or shoddy repair works.
Plus: you can ask the agent to take a quick walk through the apartment complex or around the block so you can judge your new neighborhood.
No matter if you’re given a live tour or if you watch a pre-recorded video. Record. Everything. Whether with Zoom’s inbuilt features or a plain old screen recording, keep a copy of the virtual tour.
If you find your new home doesn’t live up to your expectations, you can always refer back to the files you saved. And sit on top of watertight proof in a potential dispute.
If you’re hunting for a new home during the pandemic, there is no way around virtual property tours. In the best case, they are informative. In the worst case, they are straight-out scams.
Knowing what to look out for and having a reliable realtor at your side will help you navigate virtual properties. And find a place in which to feel at home the moment you step in it the first time for real.