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Real Estate Matters:
Virtual Home Buying Requires a Trustworthy and Knowledgeable Real Estate Agent and Home Inspector
By John E. Baer, SRES, SRS
A recent Zillow survey finds 36 percent of Americans would be more likely to buy a home entirely online during the current coronavirus outbreak than to physically see it. A Redfin study released in late July found that 45% of people who bought a home in the past year had made an offer on a home they did not tour in person. That was up from 28% of people surveyed around this same time a year ago.
According to a new joint survey from realtor.com® and Toluna Insights, 24% of 1,300 consumers surveyed say they would be willing to buy a home without seeing it in person, and 30% would be willing to rent one.
Although virtual tours can be a great substitute when an in-person viewing is not possible, there are many unique challenges. No matter how high quality a video is, certain aspects of a home are difficult to convey without seeing them for yourself in person. Virtual buyers do not know if parts of the house smell moldy or like cigarette smoke, nor can they hear planes overhead or the neighbor’s dog barking all day. Additionally, finishes, gutters and windows cannot be fully inspected from a virtual tour. Virtual buyers cannot open closet doors and see how spacious they are, or touch and test appliances. They cannot know if there are electrical, plumbing, dampness, or leak issues, or if the floors are uneven or solid without visiting the home personally. In addition, although a virtual tour is far more accurate than a photo, it is still difficult to accurately determine how much natural light a home gets.
Therefore, more than ever, if you are unable to personally visit a home, it is imperative that you carefully select a trustworthy, honest, and knowledgeable real estate agent. According to a recent report from Properties Online, the top qualities clients want in a real estate agent are honesty and integrity (97%), responsiveness (93%), knowledge of the real estate market (92%), and communication skills (86%). I would add three additional qualities, especially when working with virtual buyers, 1) attention to detail, 2) listening skills, and 3) negotiating skills. Keep in mind, your agent needs to be your eyes, ears, sense of smell, and trusted surrogate.
To begin with, your agent needs to convey to you his or her understanding of what features you want and the degree to which these features are within your price range. This is where the agent’s honesty, integrity, and knowledge of the market are essential. Once the agent finds a property and community that meets the buyer’s criteria, this is where attention to detail become so important. An honest agent needs to communicate the pros and cons of the home. The agent must perform due diligence by making sure all permits and certificates of occupancy are satisfied. In addition to conducting an in-depth virtual tour of the home, the agent should equally convey via video the immediate neighborhood and features of the community.
Equally important when buying a home virtually is to have a contingency on a satisfactory home inspection. When reviewing the report pay particular attention to expensive parts of the home that could be in rough shape, such as the roof or HVAC system. Make sure that there are not serious safety, electrical, mold, termite, buried oil tank, or foundation issues. Only a professional home inspection will pick up these and potentially other homeowner problems. If you decide to buy a property on the strength of a virtual tour and home inspection, make sure that you are satisfied with the inspection results. Alternatively, simply do not make an offer until you have seen the home in person.
John E. Baer, SRES, SRS is a NYS licensed real estate salesperson associated with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Westchester Properties of Scarsdale and Larchmont. In the last two years he earned the “Top Selling Award” seven times in the Scarsdale office. He can be reached for questions at 914/844-2059. His website is www.WestchesterHomes.info.