Buying a House Virtually? Here's What to Look Out For
If you’ve been thinking about buying a home this year, don’t let the COVID-19 restrictions put a damper on your dream.
While you currently aren’t able to visit most properties for sale in person, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn you don’t have to.
Leading Irish estate agents have ramped up their online platforms to offer virtual viewings that are now wonderfully immersive and interactive experiences.
Many allow prospective homebuyers to explore the property with self-guided 360-degree videos, 3D or real-time walkthroughs, along with live chats with sales agents and, in some instances, a “click-to-purchase” feature enabling buyers and solicitors to sign contracts electronically.
But before you settle down to find your perfect place through your phone, make sure you know how to get the best out of a virtual viewing.
From the comfort of your sofa and with a cup of coffee in hand, it can be easy to let your online tour slide from a serious search for a new home into an enjoyable snoop into hot properties on the virtual house market!
So to help you make the most of your home-buying experience, here are our top tips on how to navigate your way towards buying a property without ever setting foot over the doorstep.
Top Tip #1: Create a “Must-Have” List:
Whether you’re viewing a potential home in person or online, you have to know what you want in a property. Creating a “must-have” list before you book any viewings will not only help you to limit your search to houses and apartments that fit with your needs but it will also make the whole viewing experience more successful.
Your list should include everything from requirements about property layout, number of rooms, cosmetic features such as hardwood floors, and big-ticket items you really want such as outside decking, ample private parking space, bathroom-en-suite, or anything else that might be an additional cost to you if you have to add it after the sale.
Once you have this list drawn up you should go through it with your estate agent before you embark on a virtual tour. The reason being is that they can let you known upfront if the home you’re planning on virtually visiting lacks any of your “must-haves”. If it does, you can scratch it off your viewing list and move on.
On the other hand, if the property is a veritable treasure-chest of your “must-haves” then you don’t need to worry about forgetting to check these during the tour. Instead, you can focus on other important issues and details.
Top Tip #2: Know What You Need to Know:
Virtual property tours can be fun and engaging. And particularly if the building you’re viewing has already ticked many of your “must-have” boxes, you might be tempted to just sit back and enjoy the view.
But it’s just as important to get answers to the questions you would normally ask if you were perusing the property in person.
So, in case you get distracted while checking out your potential new home via zoom, make a list of all the things you want to know about the property.
- How long has the property been up for sale?
- Why is the seller moving?
- How many offers have they had?
- How long have the owners lived there?
- What are the neighbours like?
- What’s the parking situation?
- How busy is the road?
- Are there any issues with the building?
- Which way does the property face?
- What’s the Build Energy Rating(BER)?
- What’s the area like?
Again, the estate agent will probably be able to answer some of these before the tour takes place. Jot down all the information you receive so that you’re in a position to make a fully informed decision when it counts.
Print Your Floor Plan
It’s also a good idea to request and print out a floor plan of the property before you view it.
It can be confusing to move through a building via video. Having a floor plan in front of you as you do can help you see where rooms are located and how they connect.
And if the plan includes room height and width measurements too, even better.
Top Tip #3: Request the most in-depth virtual tour possible
If you’re serious about buying a property you should really request the most in-depth virtual tour possible.
Ask the agent to organise a real-time viewing for you using a video application such as Zoom, FaceTime or WhatsApp. You’ll want the agent – and not the seller - to be on the other end of that video so that they can be your trustful eyes and ears as you then move through the property.
For example, the estate agent can test water pressure in taps and showers, check the light switches and sockets, and take stock of storage space throughout the home.
You can also ask them if there are any strange or musty smells, creaky floorboards, cabinets, wardrobes, and windows that don’t open properly, and anything else that you can’t discern from a video call.
In addition, ask them to show you the views from various windows and close-up of any other features you notice on the tour.
Don’t forget to check the exterior of the house or apartment block too. This includes noting any fire escapes, walls or fencing and what you can or cannot see over them, checking sheds, decking, roof fascia, drains and other features.
Also, ask them to listen out for noises such as the constant barking of a neighbour’s dog or the sound of heavy traffic.
Top Tip #4: Ask as Many Questions as You Need
As the tour is going on, don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as possible. You may feel like you’re being excessive, but estate agents will be happy to answer what they can to give you as full a picture as possible of the property for sale.
Some areas that the estate agent will be able to help you with include:
- What’s Included?
Most houses, even new builds, come with fixtures and fittings so find out what they are and if you can have a look at them – all the better.
These might include carpets, curtain poles and curtains, fitted kitchen or particular appliances, advanced security features, and more.
- Has work been done?
If the property has been modified, renovated or rewired in any way, ask to have a look at the alterations and, if necessary, get your estate agent to request copies of receipts and guarantees from the seller.
- Are there signs of damp?
Damp can be a big problem for a homeowner. So ask the estate agent to look out for peeling paint, ceiling stains, and steamy windows.
Top Tip #5: Check Out the Area
You may already know the area the property you’re viewing is based in. For many people, location is a deciding factor in any home move.
But even if you know the general area, it’s also important to be aware of the immediate neighbourhood you’re planning on living in.
For example, if you rely on public transport to get you in and out of work, how close is the bus stop or train station to the property you’re virtually viewing?
If the area is near a busy road, what’s it like at rush hour or just generally during the week and at weekends?
What other kinds of amenities such as shops, supermarkets, schools, gyms and parks, are close at hand?
You can ask your estate agent some of these questions and, if they’re amenable, they might even drive around while you’re still live on video so that you can see the neighbourhood for yourself.
Otherwise, if it’s possible, you could do a drive-by of the area yourself or ask a friend or family member living nearby to do so.
Using the satellite view function on Google Maps will also give you a good overview of the building, immediate area outside it and any neighbouring properties that might overlook your potential new abode.
Finally, even if you’ve gone through all of the above, don’t be afraid to ask for a second viewing. Buying a home during a pandemic is a new step for us all, and the more confident you can feel about the process the more likely it is you’ll be stepping over the threshold of your dream dwelling with owner’s keys in hand in no time at all.
If you’re thinking about buying a property, Check out our extensive list of properties across Ireland to find your new home today.