The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us in many ways. Employees stayed at home to get office work done and students rely on online learning at home instead of on campuses. This is also evident even in property rental or sale: virtual inspections have been getting favored by many home buyers and sellers, as well as tenants and landlords, since the social distancing measures have become a norm.
Real estate companies enhance their listings from just photos and maps related to the property, adding a virtual 360-degree virtual tour to mimic an actual home inspection and enhance the experience at the comfort of a viewer’s location, whether home, office or on the road. Certain property agencies provide an even more immersive experience featuring a real estate agent stationed in a house and virtually touring a remote prospect buyer/renter around the property. Others conduct virtual open houses and even virtual auctions for good measure.
Although virtual home inspections are becoming a regular option for many home buyers and renters amid the pandemic, some still don’t buy into the idea yet.
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Differences between virtual and traditional home inspection
A virtual home inspection is when buyers remotely inspect a property using digital tools such as cameras and video conferencing software. In contrast, traditional home inspection requires the physical presence and use of tools like ladders, flashlights, and moisture meters. Virtual home inspections are less expensive, more accessible, and safer during pandemics or natural disasters.
With a virtual home inspection, buyers can remotely access homes from anywhere in the world, while a traditional home inspection requires the buyer to be physically present at the property.
Tools and equipment
A traditional home inspection often involves using physical tools and equipment, such as ladders, flashlights, and measuring tape. A virtual inspection, on the other hand, relies on digital tools such as cameras and video conferencing software.
The scope of a virtual home inspection may be more limited than a traditional inspection. The inspector may not be able to access certain areas of the home or identify certain issues that require physical inspection.
Virtual home inspections tend to be less expensive than traditional inspections since the inspector doesn’t have to travel to the property and can complete the inspection more quickly.
During pandemics and natural disasters, virtual home inspections provide a safer option since they minimize human contact and reduce the risk of spreading infections or accidents.
Communication between the inspector and the buyer differs in a virtual home inspection. The buyer may have to rely on digital communication tools to ask questions and receive explanations of issues identified during the inspection.
If you are keen on conducting a virtual inspection on a property you wish to consider renting or buying with a property agent anytime soon, here are some of the things you should do.
Benefits of virtual home inspection
With a virtual home inspection, homebuyers can remotely access a property from anywhere in the world, making it easier to view a property without needing travel.
Virtual home inspections tend to be less expensive than traditional inspections since the inspector doesn’t have to travel to the property, which can save both time and money.
Safer during pandemics and natural disasters
With virtual inspections, minimal human contact reduces the risk of spreading infections or accidents, making them a safer option during pandemics and natural disasters.
Virtual home inspections are typically faster than traditional inspections, allowing for quicker turnaround times for reports and assessments.
With virtual home inspections, buyers can schedule inspections at their convenience, outside of business hours, and from the comfort of their homes.
Virtual home inspections can provide more flexibility when scheduling, as buyers don’t have to wait for the seller to vacate the property or coordinate with the inspector’s schedule.
Understand the platform used for virtual inspections
There are several ways that a virtual property inspection can be conducted. A 3D virtual tour is the most common way of doing virtual inspections and was widely used even before the pandemic.
There are listing sites that already use 3D models for some properties listed on their sites. You can navigate these 3D virtual tours by either using your mouse and keyboard if you are on a computer or by tapping your screen if you are on a mobile device.
Although this feature is accessible online at any given time, usually from a property agent’s website listing, a downside of 3D virtual tours is the lack of interaction with your seller or agent. You will rely on whatever is stated on the listing and what you can see in the 3D models. You must contact your seller or agent through call or email if you need further information.
In light of the pandemic, conducting a virtual inspection through a video call has become a popular option. Real estate agents and sellers can contact you using Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime to show you around the house in real time.
The most significant advantage of using video calls is that you can ask your agent or seller specific questions about the property. This can range from proposed enhancements to bargaining for rates. The only possible disadvantages of this setup are a poor internet connection that can make the video quality poor or a property agent who lacks background information about the property.
Prepare a list of questions and requests
As you are not physically in the house to make the inspection, you should have a set of questions and concerns ready. A review of online listings and observations in the 3D rendering of the property online will help you frame your questions. Here are some of the things you should ask your seller or agent to show and discuss with you during the virtual inspection:
- Quality of fixtures and appliances in frequently used rooms such as kitchen and bathroom
- The overall size of the property
- View from the inside of the house
- Recent renovation works
- The view of the house from outside
- The house’s lawn/landscaping
- Areas that need to be upgraded, improved, or repaired
- View of the houses nearby
- Parking space/garage
- Storage spaces
- Natural and artificial lighting
- What you need to know (ex. security in the neighborhood, nearby landmarks)
- Applicable regulations (ex. restriction on pets, if inspecting a condo unit)
It serves you best to prepare an exhaustive list of questions that will serve you a good gauge in deciding to proceed with this listing. Given the limitations of virtual tours, it is important to take a look at every nook and cranny of the dwelling. You can ask your seller or agent to zoom in on areas to give you more detail. This may require more effort from a real estate agent but is a justified request given that several inconclusive items need verification from someone within the premises.
A competent real estate professional should have no problem with these questions.
Request additional photos after the inspection
When you do a virtual inspection, make sure that you take control and are not dictated by the agent whose main aim is to close the deal. After the initial walkthrough of the house, ask your agent or seller to show you the areas that you want to inspect further. In some instances, they might try to showcase certain parts of the house to shift your attention.
To help you scrutinize the house further, ask your agent to send additional pictures and videos after a virtual home inspection. You can request footage and photos of the areas that you want to see more of. You may want to consider visiting the property yourself if there are unresolved issues.
Will virtual home inspection become part of the new normal?
The real estate industry is seeing a great opportunity in virtual tours as an added touch to property selling. In addition to maintaining social distancing policies, virtual home inspections can create convenience and efficiency for property agents and clients.
It looks unlikely that virtual tours will replace physical and private inspections in the future. A physical visit remains a reliable way to influence a buyer’s decision on a listed property that involves a big cash outlay. Such a decision impacts not only financial aspects such as property taxes or mortgage loans but also how the buyer and his/her family’s living conditions in the coming months and years.
However, a virtual home inspection is going to be a practical option for homebuyers who, in some cases, might not be able to physically visit the property. For instance, an interested buyer from a faraway province or a foreign buyer can conveniently check out houses without having to travel long distances. Virtual tours also widen a seller’s target audience.
While physical and private inspections will always be recommended, there is no denying that virtual inspections are here to stay even in a post-COVID-19 world.