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As you see mentions of virtual home tours ramping up, keep one thing in mind — they aren't created equal.
Virtual home tours are going to be a hot topic in real estate for the foreseeable future. Given the rise in social distancing, the benefits of evaluating properties from the comfort of your home are more apparent than ever.
First off, let’s clarify what type of “virtual home tours” we’re talking about. The term is used loosely for a variety of different approaches, including everything from slideshows of photos to 360-degree camera views from inside the home. For the purpose of this guide, we’re going to talk about a virtual tour led by your real estate agent, as we believe that this is the most thorough way to evaluate a home. The idea seems fairly simple — when you come across a home you think might be a fit, your real estate agent schedules a showing and takes a video of the property. Piece of cake, right? Not so fast.
The ability to leverage virtual showings in your decision making process relies on the diligence of both you and your agent. Without the right approach, you will find yourself watching a series of cringe-worthy videos, and eventually losing hope that you can find a home this way.
Virtual home tours are nothing new for us. In fact, approximately 20% of our existing home sales happen through them. Through our experience (and a lot of trial and error), we’ve come up with some helpful guidelines to ensure your success. Let’s get started!
1. Get pre-approved.
Regardless of how you intend to tour homes, this is always our starting point. Contrary to belief, the process is not as scary or time-consuming as you might think.
In a matter of minutes, you can complete a pre-approval process, providing peace of mind that the homes you are considering meet your budget. It’s a terrible experience to find a home you love only to find out the financials don’t work, and a crisis that is completely avoidable.
2. Nail down your search criteria.
This one is not as easy as you’d think. Ideally, you want to have a list of 3-5 “must-haves,” or things that you cannot live without. The key to narrowing down what’s most important starts with your motivation. Ask yourself, why are you moving in the first place? What will buying a new home help you to achieve? When you connect your criteria to something that powerful, you will be surprised how quickly you find clarity.
Your agent should be a valuable resource in this stage. Their role here is to confirm your criteria, ensuring that together you are digging down to what matters most to you. They are the sounding board for your home search ideas and will be there to tell you if the ideal home you are imagining is realistic given the area you are looking in.
Regardless of whether you will viewing homes in person or via video, this step sets the stage for the rest of your home buying process.
3. Select your favorites.
When viewing homes online, be hyper-realistic about whether or not the homes you are favoriting or liking are actually a good fit.
For example, the top item in your search criteria is a large back yard for your dog. When browsing through listings, you come across a home with the most gorgeous finishes, yet the home doesn’t have much of a yard. You find yourself so drawn to the finishes in the home that the importance of a yard begins to fade.
Time to pause and reflect on your criteria. Ask yourself, “Is what has drawn me to this home more important than the criteria I’ve created?” If the answer is yes, then the question becomes, “Do I need to revisit my must-haves?” There’s no right or wrong answer here, this is just part of the process. It’s also a great time to loop your agent in for an honest discussion.
Here’s a tip: rank your favorites, or play king of the hill. We do this a lot with clients during showings, and it’s a great exercise to do while browsing homes online. Ranking homes is best when you already have a list built up. It’s also helpful when scheduling virtual tours. Odds are, if a home is at the top of your list, it’s on someone else’s as well, and you’ll want to make a decision on it sooner than later. Playing king of the hill is a great way to build your list. Start with your favorite listing. As you look through others, imagine you can only pick one and replace your favorite as you go. Odds are you’ll end up with more than one favorite, but this is a great way to narrow down the field!
Woah. Hold up. We’ve barely talked about virtual home tours at all yet! What gives?
We’re almost there, we promise. The above steps are the foundation for any successful home search, no matter how you tour homes. You’ll notice throughout the following tips how especially important the process of discovery and preparation becomes when touring homes virtually. Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get to what you’re here for.
4. Plan your tour.
Once you have a few homes you really like, it’s time for your agent to dig in and learn as much as possible about the home(s). Viewing the seller’s disclosure, contacting the listing agent to learn of any existing offers, examining the property’s history for anything noteworthy — these are all being done by your agent once you confirm legitimate interest in a property.
While they are digging in, now is a great time for you to get organized as well. Go through the images and details of the property with a fine-tooth comb. This is your opportunity to map out exactly what you want to see in your virtual home tour.
Consider the following:
- What areas of the home can you not see that you want to see more of?
- What about the floor plan do you not understand from the pictures?
- Are there any pictures that make it hard for you to get an idea of scale?
- What are you seeing in the photos and in the description that is a potential concern?
5. Be specific about what you want to see in the home.
Now that you’ve narrowed your list and figured out what you want to see, it’s important to discuss your needs with your agent prior to the virtual tour. This prepares them to show the areas in question and also helps them to keep an eye out for areas that might raise similar questions. The ultimate goal is to simulate viewing the home through your eyes.
If you are viewing the home live, it will be easier to pivot and point out areas you’d like to see more of. If you are not able to join during the virtual tour, being specific about what you want to see is crucial, as it’s frustrating for all parties when the video doesn’t answer your questions. That leads us to our next talking point…
6. Schedule live virtual tours when possible.
It’s best to think about virtual home tours in the same way you think about a showing in person. You normally set time aside to go out with your agent, so it’s best to create an experience that is as close to this as possible when touring homes over video.
When you are present, it becomes easier to adjust the tour based on your needs, as discussed above. It also gives your agent the opportunity to observe your live reaction, as well as ask and answer questions in real-time.
The most important result of virtual home tours is that you as the client see the property in a way that gives you confidence in making a decision, and being there live is a great way to ensure that.
7. Watch together.
When multiple decision makers are involved, watching virtual home tours together is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page, especially if it’s live. If one of your decision makers is not able to make a live tour, ask for a recorded version of the tour and make the time to sit down and watch the recording together. The person that was able to attend will be able to share details from their live experience, and you can organize your thoughts together.
Watching together also adds some fun to the mix. Cozy up on the couch with some snacks and a beverage and enjoy the benefits of technology!
8. Consider your senses.
When you walk through a home in person, you instinctively take in the home through all of your senses. If the home features certain smells, you pick up on it immediately. If the floor dips in an area, you feel it. If there is a busy road nearby, you might hear noise in person that a camera won’t pick up.
This is often what separates great virtual home tours from bad ones. Your agent is truly your eyes, ears, nose, etc. This also ties all the way back to your early discussions with your agent, as it is crucial for them to have a clear understanding of what you look for when you walk through a house.
Your agent should intuitively pick up on the items you may not be able to judge over video, yet it never hurts to ask sensory questions during the virtual tour to make sure you are covered.
9. Provide feedback to your agent.
While we follow a similar process at a high level with each of our clients, everyone’s needs are different, and the showing process is where personalization is vital. Feedback is especially important when your virtual tour is not live.
The feedback you provide should cover two areas. First, the house itself. The intent is to confirm your interest in the home or remove it from consideration. Discussing your feedback about the home with your agent is a way to gain clarity on how you feel about the home after seeing it over video. The second area for feedback is the video itself. Was the camera oriented the way you wanted? Did your agent move too quickly through the home? Don’t be afraid to provide tweaks — great agents will welcome them. What matters most is you feel confident making a decision on the home based on the tour, whether or is live or a recording.
10. Schedule a second showing if you’re on the fence.
You schedule second showings to confirm a decision on homes you like when seeing them in person, so why not do the same here? If all of the above steps are followed, you’ll find that you are less likely to need to see a home for a second time whether in person or over video, yet there are those times when you’re on the fence about a house and need to see it again.
If your situation allows for it, this also may be the right time to view the home in person. Either way, showing a home a second time is no inconvenience — knowing that you missed out on a home you loved is.
Ready to dive in and start viewing homes?
Regardless of where you stand in your home buying journey, hopefully, you gained a few pieces of insight from this guide. On a final note, remember that your agent will be there to assist you through this entire process, answer your questions, and provide advice when you need it. As you may have noticed, communication is a key theme throughout this guide, so don’t hesitate to get detailed with your agent — we love it when you do!
If our team of expert agents can answer any questions or you would like help getting started, give us a call at 214-267-9222 or fill out a form on the website and we’ll be in touch.