Are Virtual Tours the new Real Estate Viewing Paradigm?

Will virtual tours be part of the new normal?

There’s no time to sugarcoat: COVID-19 is changing the way real estate agents across the country conduct business. 

With social distancing in full effect, shelter-in-place plus stay-at-home orders haunting the nation, real estate professionals are hastening to find new ways to keep their business moving forward. Open houses have long been an advantageous tool for generating buyer interest, but now that the doors to listings have been closed to large groups, agents are turning to technology.

Many of the homes listed in the housing markets today have a 3D virtual walkthrough tour and buyers can also schedule video-chat tours with an agent or homeowner. However, as more states have mandated Americans to stay at home to help contain the virus, open houses have been suspended altogether. In some states, like Connecticut, Ohio, and Illinois, real estate has been considered an essential business, which has allowed some in-person showings to proceed.

At the moment, a virtual tour is the closest thing you can get to an in-person showing. Being one of the countries with the most number of COVID-19 cases, the US’ real estate agents are implementing this as an alternative to physical showings. Many home buyers are staying home as a result of the pandemic but are still shopping for homes by utilizing virtual tours.

But interested buyers can’t help but think: How can I get a sense of what an apartment really looks like from just videos and photographs? How does anyone move into an apartment without ever visiting it?

Real Estate IQ digs deeper into the controversial issue of whether or not virtual tours would really be enough before renting a new home.  

Premature Launch

Before we take a look back, let us first define a 3D Virtual Tour. 

A 3D virtual tour is a high technology collection of slowly rotating images that allow a viewer to navigate around a property, exploring every corner of every room, in the comfort of their own home. It is the closest thing to actually being in the property and provides a much better sense of what a property is truly like. A good virtual tour will have wide-angle views of rooms, highlight the main selling points of the property, and use good quality images throughout. Virtual tours are even better when viewed with a virtual reality headset.

Back in 2015, virtual touring was a disastrous passion project for some real estate professionals and less than 2 percent of customers used it. Now, it seems the world is finally embracing the beauty that a virtual tour has to offer.    

Virtual 3D real estate tours are not new, but they’re drawing a lot of attention now that COVID-19 has limited real estate professionals’ ability to market and show properties. If you’re a real estate agent who hasn’t started to incorporate technology into your business model, now’s not the time to stall. Now is the time to start learning how.

The upside of 3D Technology

Nine out of ten surveyed renters report they watch videos when searching for a new apartment home. That’s 90% of the potential pool of tenants/buyers. The survey, sponsored by Home.com and ForRent.com, also reported more than four out of five apartment seekers (81%) prefer to view YouTube videos and 69% choose Google+ visuals. 80% access virtual tours and videos from a Facebook page.

What makes video such an appealing medium? Visual media provide a realistic “three-dimensional” view of the property. It’s easier to picture personal furnishings and belongings in a dwelling while watching a video than it is looking at still photos or simply reading a description. Convenience is another motivating aspect on the matter. Here are some benefits of virtual tours for attracting buyers in the housing markets:  

  • Saves Time

Taking a look at the property before scheduling a walk-through saves time, a precious commodity for many people today. Virtual tours save tenants time by helping them narrow down the number of properties they need to view in person. The much greater detail and information provided by virtual tours enable viewers to eliminate properties that are not suitable, from the comfort of their own homes.

  • More Competitive Edge/Comprehensive information drive

It is a well-known fact that potential tenants spend most of their time online when searching for a property to rent. It is also widely accepted that virtual tour technology is extremely popular with viewers which makes them focused on a property for much longer. This is because it is more engaging, more accurate, and provides more useful information that enables viewers to see into every corner of every room and makes the flow and layout of property easier to understand.

  • Reduces the number of property viewings

Only those viewers with real intentions of renting will make arrangements to view a property in person. People interested in viewing the property for any other reason will be satisfied with a virtual tour. This will reduce the overall number of property viewings that are required. This is particularly useful for reducing disruption and inconvenience to the lives of current tenants who may still be occupying the property that is being viewed.

  • Attracts distant viewers

Virtual tours are extremely attractive to clients who live further away. It saves them time and money by substantially reducing the number of properties they will need to view in person. However, a property mustn’t be rented based on a virtual tour alone. A professional real estate agent will always want to conduct a property viewing with prospective tenants, firstly to get to meet them face to face and secondly to ensure they have seen the property as a whole.

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But not all videos are equal. While the luxury market is full of well-produced montages, the same can’t be said of the rental market. Many videos are short on useful information. Some show blurry footages of a hallway or other common areas. Others are dark, show cluttered apartments from odd angles, or zoom in on certain features without showing the whole room. The experience is certainly not uniformly enlightening, and if that’s all you’ve got to go on, it means taking a chance with a lot of money at risk.

Your virtual tours may not lead to sight-unseen purchases, but they will motivate buyers to come to view your properties once the nation can return to business as usual.

Make or Break Question

Many real estate professionals believe that virtual tours coupled with COVID-19 appendices will lead to a rise in the number of properties that are purchased sight unseen. Others see these virtual tours as an epic fail mechanism that’s unlikely to actually increase the number of homes purchased during these tough times arising to a relevant debate whether or not the real estate industry should shift its dependence from the traditional method to a more unconventional way.

It is safe to say that on the rental side you may find some sight unseen deals. Leases are happening virtually. And as of now, movers are considered essential staff, so as long as the building does not prohibit moving, the rentals are probably going to start happening. There could be less interest in the sale market because it’s a much bigger decision to buy something sight unseen. 

Only time will tell how virtual tours will gravely affect real estate investing. But for now, buyers are still searching for properties and browsing the listings they see online. Any method you can use to market and show your listings virtually will get potential customers’ attention. Your virtual tours may not lead to sight-unseen purchases, but they will motivate buyers to come to view your properties once the nation can return to business as usual.

Ultimately, virtual tours are probably here to stay, even once the state loosens the lockdown. Gone are the days when you have to gather at least 20 people together in one apartment and help you make a decision. It will be a matter of getting used to it. Only time will tell if virtual tours will prove to be a long-lasting strategy, more so if it will permanently become the real estate presentational paradigm in the times ahead. 

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Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/ https://realestateagentu.com/

Disclaimer: The blog articles are intended for educational and informational purposes only. Nothing in the content is intended as legal or financial advice.

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