Buying a home that you have never seen can be a nightmare
The COVID-19 pandemic changed many aspects of life, including the way some people buy homes. With travel restrictions in place, virtual home tours and buying sight unseen became more common. For some buyers, it worked out well. For others, it turned into a nightmare.
Jez and Julie had an idyllic life in rural France for 20 years. But when the pandemic hit, they started worrying about falling ill far from family. So they bought a house in England based solely on online photos. When they finally saw the property, Jez’s first reaction was “What the hell have we done?” The bustling neighborhood felt like a big shock after their isolated life in France. Luckily, after renovating the house, they were able to move to a more suitable home in Whitby. As Jez says, he’d never buy a house without seeing it in person again.
Claire and Thomas took a risk buying a home in Devon unseen when relocating from Bristol. Claire was pleasantly surprised that the reality exceeded the video tour. But she recognizes it was a gamble that could have gone the other way.
Lorna and Matthias went even further, moving from the UK to Ireland and buying a home in an area they had never even visited. Through extensive research online and locally, plus a survey, they felt confident to buy remotely. Two years later, they are happily settled in their new community.
Real estate experts say virtual tours and 3D mapping have enabled more remote buying. But most still advise an in-person visit. Buying a property purely online comes with risks. Plumbing issues, noise levels, smells, and the feel of a neighborhood can’t truly be assessed remotely.
In hot markets, buyers may feel pressured to act quickly without a visit. But unless there are severe restrictions in place, it’s wise to see a major purchase like a home before committing. Virtual tours help narrow options, but can’t substitute for experiencing a property firsthand. Home buying is stressful enough without extra surprises later! With careful research and eyes wide open, distant buying can work out. But there’s no guarantee.
The Rise of Virtual Home Tours
Virtual home tours really took off during the pandemic when in-person showings were halted. Estate agents leaned heavily on 3D tours, live video walkthroughs, and other digital tools. This allowed the housing market to keep functioning even amid lockdowns.
Now these virtual touring options are likely here to stay. They provide flexibility and convenience for all parties. Buyers can casually browse listings and get a feel for properties before scheduling in-person visits for serious contenders.
Some of the most common virtual touring features include:
3D floor plans and dollhouse views
- 360 degree panoramic photos
- Videos walking through each room
- Interactive maps of the home and neighborhood
- Augmented reality to envision furnishings in a vacant home
- Digital staging to virtually decorate and update interiors
- drones and other advanced filming for aerial shots
- focus on unique architecture and outdoor spaces
With a combination of these techniques, online tours can give an excellent sense of layout, flow, sunlight, storage, etc. But they still cannot substitute for an in-person experience.
The Risks of Buying Unseen
While virtual tours are useful tools, purchasing a home without ever stepping inside comes with inherent risks.
Some issues that can only be discerned during an in-person visit include:
- weird smells or ventilation problems
- plumbing or electrical issues
- noisy areas like a busy road or airport flightpath
- signs of leaks, damage, or shoddy renovations
- quirks of outdated construction or materials
- neighborhood nuisances like barking dogs or loud parties
- awkward layouts or cramped rooms
- lack of privacy or natural light
Without walking through a property, buyers also can’t get a true feel for the space and flow. Photos can be carefully staged or edited to downplay flaws. Video tours follow a scripted path. Quirks may go unnoticed. There are often surprises behind closed doors.
It’s also key to spend time in the surrounding area to understand noise levels, parking, amenities, etc. Street views can’t replace strolling through a neighborhood firsthand.
For major repairs or renovations, an inspector report is wise. But for more subtle issues, there is no substitute for an in-person visit.
Keys to Success When Buying Long Distance
If circumstances necessitate buying from afar, there are steps to improve the odds of satisfaction:
- Scrutinize all virtual materials closely, repeating walkthroughs
- Request additional photos or videos of any concerns
- Ask locals about the area and read reviews of the building
- Hire an independent inspector to identify any red flags
- Check sales histories and prices for perspective
- Consider a short-term rental before fully committing
- Budget for renovations and some surprises
- Visualize best and worst case scenarios objectively
- Trust instincts and don’t feel rushed into a decision
While not ideal, thousands have purchased homes remotely and been happy. But they usually take extra precautions. Patience and careful judgment is key.
The Future of Real Estate Tours
While in-person home tours won’t disappear, virtual options streamline the initial search process. Home shoppers often browse listings late at night when an agent isn’t available. New constructions can be “previewed” before completion. Relocation to a new city is easier.
The real estate industry expects virtual tours to become a standard part of buying and selling. As technology improves, they may someday resemble an immersive video game.
But for major investments like property, most still consider an in-person walkthrough essential. Virtual tours can do a lot, but they cannot replace the experience of being there.
Interest in sites like Zillow points to demand for self-service browsing. But when the time comes to pull the trigger, human expertise still rules. Savvy agents will embrace virtual tools without losing the personal touch.
For a life-changing purchase like a home, online tours help narrow the options. But buyers should still approach remote buying with great caution.