When we say a virtual house hunt can be as good as the real thing, we really mean it. And the experts agree. Take Jarrett Martin, a REALTOR® in Athens, Georgia, who hasn’t let the changing real estate climate in 2020 make him miss a beat.
Just recently, Martin tells us, he helped a New York City-based client purchase a midcentury modern home in Athens. The buyer couldn’t travel to see the home in person, so Martin hired a photographer who specializes in 3D home tours to help the buyer really “see” the space. The client was blown away and had the idea to share the 3D tour with his interior designer. The designer then was able to come up with a plan for remodeling based only on the 3D photography.
In the end, the whole transaction took place with only Martin, the photographer, and the final home inspector stepping foot in the house. With a few creative tricks like this up his sleeve, Martin hasn’t let the changing home-buying landscape slow him down. And for buyers who may be embarking on this journey for the first time, he shared some key wisdom to make the most of the virtual house hunt. (And check out an excerpt from the 3D tour that sealed the deal below!)
One thing Martin says hasn’t changed when it comes to house hunting in 2020 is the importance of working with a trusted real estate expert. If you’re just starting your search, Martin suggests reaching out to your existing social network for a word-of-mouth agent recommendation and reading their past client reviews online. Then, get in touch with the agent directly to ask about their current policy regarding in-person and virtual viewings to make sure it’s something you’re comfortable with. If it’s a match, let the (virtual) house hunt begin!
Any house hunt can feel like a wild ride for buyers, but that’s become especially true in recent months. The first thing Martin advises his clients to do is stay as up-to-date as possible on listings in their preferred neighborhood online and vet any potential listings of interest with their agent as soon as they’re identified. “Your real estate agent will tell you what is available, but reliable data helps squelch those super exciting moments that turn to disappointment when the perfect house is still showing ‘for sale’ online when, in fact, it has been under contract for three weeks,” he says. Take advantage of online 3D tours when they’re available to get a sense of a home’s layout and flow and use street views for a glance at what the neighborhood is like. With local markets and the home buying process itself evolving at a rapid pace, it’s more important than ever to be an involved buyer from the very beginning of your search.
It’s also more important than ever to be honest with your agent (and yourself) regarding what you’re looking for in a new home. For many buyers, those needs have changed rapidly in the past months and continue to evolve. If you’re working from home, for instance, a house or apartment with space for a home office and high-speed internet may now be essential. Ask your agent to research details that may not be apparent in the initial home listing, such as the internet service providers that provide coverage in the neighborhood. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that the home is wired for a 100% fiber optic network. That could turn out to be a major selling point.
Another step to take before or during your first virtual tour is to ask about the age of major components such as the home’s HVAC, water heater, and appliances. Your agent can look up this type of information in the Seller’s Property Disclosure or simply check the serial number on each component. For houses, you should ask about the age and condition of the home’s roof and plumbing and hire a licensed roofer or plumber to assess the situation before the final inspection. Similarly, for condos and co-ops, your agent should be able to find out the age and condition of the building’s facade and elevators. Asking these sorts of questions as soon as you’ve found a house or apartment you’re interested in will help you avoid (or budget for) any major repairs or special assessments down the road.
Martin also suggests buyers keep in mind that with virtual showings, your agent will be your eyes and ears. “When virtual showings take place, agents should be on even higher alert and point out aspects of a property that buyers would have seen at an in-person showing,” Martin says. “For instance–what is the topography of the lot? How close are the large trees? Is there some functional obsolescence to the home’s layout? Basically, the agent performing a virtual showing should be putting on their high-definition goggles and pointing out everything they can.”
If you’ve virtually found your dream home and it’s finally time for an in-person showing, Martin suggests bringing a notepad, measuring tape, camera, disposable gloves, and a mask! The night before, come up with a list of outstanding questions to ask during the showing, and don’t be shy about checking on anything you couldn’t check on virtually, such as water pressure and internet speed. There are a number of apps you can download to your smartphone to check upload and download speeds of the home’s current WiFi setup, and most sellers won’t mind sharing their network’s log-in credentials for a quick speed test if it helps seal the deal. Just be sure to ask for that information ahead of time so your agent can have it handy during the showing.
Before you move, it’s wise to look into all your options as far as internet service providers go, especially since switching to a new provider often comes with its advantages. For instance, Verizon Fios is currently giving new customers a free Amazon Echo Show 5 when they sign up, which could instantly help turn your new home into a smart home. You’ll also be able to integrate your other smart-home accessories with the Verizon 100% fiber-optic Fios network to help ensure they don’t go offline. If you’re working from home, being prepared to set up your internet in your new home as soon as you move in is essential. But even if you’re not, doing so will help you feel right at home—faster.