Whether you plan to purchase a property sight unseen or want to narrow the list of properties you’ll visit in person to save time, a virtual tour can be a valuable tool. While virtual tours using 3D modeling and simple videos have been around for years, during the Covid-19 pandemic real estate agents and builders quickly increased their use of virtual visits while in-person tours were restricted by local jurisdictions or sellers. Now that everyone has become accustomed to "touring" homes with a tablet, computer or smartphone, industry experts anticipate virtual tours to become a routine part of many real estate transactions.
While many virtual tours can be found on home listings and builder websites, you can also ask a real estate agent or a new home sales consultant to take you on a live virtual tour via a video chat app such as Facetime or Google Duo or with a video call on Zoom or Skype.
To make the most of a virtual tour online, keep these tips in mind:
- Know your budget before you start shopping. Get a loan preapproval from a lender so you know your maximum borrowing power and come up with your personal comfort level with your housing budget.
- Be ready with your list of priorities. Virtual home buyers should have a written list of needs and wants that you can refer to during the tour. The list will remind you of what to look for during the virtual tour. You can always revise it as you tour more homes, too.
- Take notes as you watch. If you plan to virtually tour numerous homes, it’s smart to take a few notes on what you like or dislike about each property toured to make it easier to compare them later. Virtual home buyers should carefully review notes to get a thorough understanding of each property.
- Make a list of questions to ask an agent after the tour. Virtual tours can’t answer every question about a property and many deliberately skip past some of the essential parts of the house such as the furnace, water heater and storage space. Keep track of what you missed so you can follow up with an agent, order a home inspection if going under contract on a property, or remember to inspect systems yourself during an in-person tour before closing.
If you’re taking a live video tour with an agent, you can also:
- Request a floor plan. When a real estate agent tours a property via video it can be hard to get a good sense of the flow and size of rooms. Request a floor plan if available, as this may help you navigate the property virtually. You can also ask the agent to navigate according to the floor plan from room-to-room or in certain directions allowing you to view ceiling height, window and door locations and many other details during the tour.
- Ask to check out the exterior. The agent may automatically start inside, but you should also ask to experience window views and to go outside to tour outdoor areas, patios, decks, etc., and request to see the property from the road and driveway entry to experience curb appeal.
- Feel free to ask the agent to show you closets, utility rooms and storage areas. During a video tour, the agent may focus on the big things like the kitchen and great room. While it’s important to get a feel for the layout and those rooms, you also need to check on things you would see in person, such as closets for clothes and utilities, a basement or an attic. Ask to have more lights turned on if you need to see more.
- Ask about neighborhood noise and the presence of home scents or odors. One thing you won’t pick up on during a virtual tour is whether the house smells musty or moldy, if there are pet or other odors, or whether there’s a noisy street or loud neighbors nearby. Ask the agent to be your nose and ears.
Many homebuyers say they "just had a feeling" or they "fell in love" with a house the minute they walked in the door. That experience can be hard to replicate with a video tour, so many buyers choose to use these virtual tests to eliminate a few properties. But with some ingenuity and help from an agent, you can get a better feel for whether a property should be on the short list as your potential new home.