A virtual home tour may be a mainstay in today’s real estate market, but that wasn’t the case just a few years ago, according to Dina Goldentayer, real estate agent and executive director of sales for Douglas Elliman in Miami. “Looking at a home virtually, and even more so in the luxury market, didn’t happen much before the pandemic because buyers wouldn’t feel comfortable making such a large purchase over FaceTime,” she says. “Now, it has become standard operating procedure.”
At least one statistic indicates the rise Goldentayer is referring to: The National Association of Realtors saw a jump in reliance on technology to market homes. This includes the use of virtual tours, which went from 17% before March 2020 to 27% in 2022.
Still, buying a home online, even with a detailed virtual tour, doesn’t always tell you everything you need to know about the property before you make an offer. “There’s a whole new set of questions buyers need to consider,” says Goldentayer.
Here are the best tips from real estate agents on what to ask when looking to buy a home virtually. Don’t sign the proverbial dotted line until you read this.
1. Skip automated tours
Many virtual home tours are pre-recorded. Skip these recorded versions and ask the listing agent to lead a FaceTime tour instead. “Automatic displays are designed to portray the property at its best and cost a lot of money to create,” warns Jack Pearson, a real estate agent with Compass in the Hamptons. “That doesn’t necessarily mean you see the whole picture of the house.” Pearson says nothing can replace the value of a live tour where an agent walks you through each room and may stop you to ask questions about a particular feature or request a second look at the master bedroom or other space.
2. Ask about the noise level
Do airplanes regularly fly overhead? Do the neighbors have a dog that barks incessantly? Is it near a place where public events are held? And if you are looking for an apartment, is it near the residents lounge or under the gym or pool? Goldentayer says it’s essential to ask about a property’s noise levels. “It could be her dream house, but the excessive noise could make it impossible,” she says. “It’s a factor you wouldn’t know about unless you asked the real estate agent detailed questions.”
Pearson likes to gauge how much noise a property sees by asking the real estate agent to take a quiet walkthrough. “Basically, you have the agent walk you through the house without speaking so you have a chance to hear the noise,” he says.
3. Test the water pressure
Water pressure in showers and sinks in a future home is a priority for many buyers. “People are obsessed with water pressure, especially when it comes to showering,” says Goldentayer. “You can’t turn on the faucet to tell when you’re looking virtually, so it’s important to have an inspector test it.” Do this mini test: turn on the faucet, then flush the toilet and see if the water pressure changes. He also recommends checking for plumbing issues during the inspection period, which usually occurs within the first week of your lease, a period of time when your deposit is usually still refundable.
4. Take a look at the closet and storage spaces.
Virtual tours tend to skip closet spaces, according to Pearson. “You might see that walk-in closet in the master bedroom, but you don’t see any closets in the guest bedroom, pantries, and kitchen cabinets and storage areas,” she says. “It is imperative that the real estate agent guides you through these spaces.” After all, it would be an unpleasant surprise to move and discover that you have nowhere to store bulky winter clothes during the summer or that you need to build extra shelves in the kitchen for all the pots, appliances and dishes. Alternatively, you may find that you have additional cabinets that can easily be converted into a vanity or even a walk-in closet.
5. Take advantage of technological systems
The house could have fancy features like electronic shades, state-of-the-art surround sound, or an automatic projector. But these attractive eye benefits become costly burdens if they don’t work, or if you don’t know how to use them. A standard inspection rarely tests such services, but Goldentayer recommends hiring an AV specialist to test them for you. “It’s a separation inspection, but it’s worth it,” she says.
6. Don’t forget the outside
Pearson says that most virtual tours focus strictly on the interior of a property and exclude the exterior of the home and barely look at the front and backyard. Make sure the real estate agent shows you all the outdoor areas in detail so you understand their design and how they can fit into your lifestyle. If the property has a pool, for example, you need to know how close it is to the house, to the neighboring house, and if you have room to add an outdoor kitchen. You should have an idea of whether you will have a low maintenance landscape or need to add privacy fencing. Ask the agent to enlarge the facade so you can see what kind of condition it is in. “You want to look at each edge several times to get the general idea,” says Pearson.