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Six Pros and Cons of Virtual Home Tours

Covid-19 has caused a tectonic shift in the way the real estate industry operates, with the most significant changes largely a result of shelter-in-place orders enacted in many states and localities. Private showings and open houses, until recently the bread and butter of a realtor’s sales strategy, are increasingly, and by necessity, being replaced with high-tech, 3D walk-about virtual tours. Once seen as a snazzy bonus used to entice buyers to attend an open house or book a private showing, virtual tours have nowadays become indispensable. (In some states, such as California, real estate is deemed an essential service, so serious buyers can often still schedule one-on-one, in-person tours, though some municipalities have discouraged them.)

Here are some of the pros and cons of the virtual tour:

PROS

1. Buyers Can See a House Without Leaving Their Home

What could be better than looking at prospective new home videos while wearing sweats or pajamas?

2. Buyers Can Tour Many Houses in a Short Space of Time

Spending a day driving from one house to the next, making notes and trying to remember them all can be grueling and time consuming not to mention costly (time and gas). Virtual tours allow to view any number of houses in a short space of time and compare one next to another behind the comfort of your computer screen.

3. Unlimited Time to Compare Homes

One of the difficulties of seeing a house is not only trying to remember everything you saw but remembering what you didn’t see. Was the furnace old or new? What about the windows? What was the condition of the roof like? A well-shot virtual tour allows potential buyers to go back and re-analyze a property as many times as they want without having to disturb a homeowner. The most comprehensive tours have even begun to include 3D walkabouts of the outside areas as well as the interior of the house.

4. An Agent Can Send It Out To Many Prospective Buyers At Once

Real estate runs, in part, on social media and a savvy agent can attract thousands of prospective buyers from around the world at the touch of a mouse, touch pad or phone by posting a link to a virtual tour.

5. Virtual Tours Present a Realistic Representation of a Property

Like online dating sites, looks can be deceiving in marketing pictures. We’ve all seen wide lens photos where a room looks as wide as a football field only to see the same room in person and find out it’s actually as narrow as a bowling alley. A 3D virtual tour eliminates that issue as moving film, with human beings for reference, help give a true perspective of the house.

6. Minimal Cost and Technical Skill Required

If you have taken videos with your smartphone camera, you can create a virtual tour. A number of companies, such as Matterport, specialize in high-end virtual tours and have easy-to-use smartphone apps. Some brokerages may still be inclined to engage a professional videographer for virtual showings, but a relatively inexpensive handheld gimbal attached to a smartphone will produce a smooth professional effect. Add a few digital bells and whistles in post-production and no one will know that you didn’t splash the cash on a camera crew.

CONS

1. “There Is No Way People Will Buy Homes From a Virtual Tour”

When real estate expert Barbara Corcoran speaks about properties, folks tend to listen. “But do people really buy real estate, and how often, without actually walking into the unit?” the “Shark Tank” judge asked in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “Very few people will take that kind of risk.”

While that makes sense, a major catastrophe such as this pandemic may actually change that school of thought. Ultimately, many people need a place to live and with record low interest rates it seems implausible to think they will hold off from buying a home simply because a detailed virtual tour is their only option.

2. No Chance for a Face to Face Discussion With an Agent

One of the advantages of seeing a house in the flesh, so to speak, is getting to ask the sales agent about various aspects of the property in real time. Everyone can talk a good game over the phone but if a buyer sees rust or water market of an uneven floor, there’s not an easy way for an agent to spin these kinds of imperfections which often won’t show up on a virtual tour. The finishes, gutters and windows cannot be fully inspected from a virtual tour, which tends to focus on the things the seller wants you to see as opposed to the things they don’t. Also, relying on Google Street View imagery may not be a good idea as the imagery might be outdated.

3. Buyers Can’t Get a Feel of the Neighborhood From Their Computer

If the house next door is abandoned, or has a car frame on cement blocks in the front garden, there’s no way to tell through a virtual tour.

4. Natural Lighting Is Hard to Gauge on a Computer

Although a virtual tour is far more accurate than a photo, it’s still difficult to accurately determine how much natural light a home gets.

5. A Home’s Infrastructure Cannot Be Evaluated

The refrigerator could be doing an impression of a steam engine, or the kitchen sink pipe could be leaking water akin to Splash Mountain. Only a home inspection or in-person home showing will pick up on these. If you decide to buy a property on the strength of a virtual tour, make sure that the house has been inspected by a professional and you are satisfied with the results. Or simply don’t make an offer until you have seen the home in person.

6. It’s Sometimes Hard To Track How A Buyer Came To See The Home

If a buyer sees a virtual tour on a listing site such as Zillow or Realtor.com before his/her agent sends them the same thing it may be hard for an agent to claim their commission because there’s no definitive way of knowing who showed the buyer the home first.

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