Although there has been a rise in virtual house hunting during the pandemic, it largely remains an initial step in the home-buying journey, with the final decision being taken only after physical inspection of the property The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way we live and work. The real estate industry has adopted digital solutions that aid buying and selling of properties. Technology has made it possible for customers to hunt for homes virtually while sitting at home. Virtual reality enables one to experience both, the interiors and exteriors of the property. Virtual house hunting enables prospective buyers to visit many properties online in a short span of time, without having to step out of their homes, thereby making the house-hunting process safe during the pandemic.
Virtual house hunting gets a pandemic boost
While the use of digital technologies in Indian realty began several years ago, it has increased since the Coronavirus pandemic hit, in 2020. Developers, agents, individual home sellers, buyers, tenants, landlords and even vacation renters (for long staycations) are all opting for online tours of the properties.
A virtual tour is a three-dimensional, 360-degree walkthrough, which gives one a sense of the size and space of the property. For such tours, a client should ideally use a virtual reality (VR) headset. The augmented reality solution also provides a home buyer with an aerial view of the housing complex.
“Nowadays, clients insist on virtual tours which can be a short video of the house or even a live video call through Google, Skype, FaceTime, or WhatsApp. Besides the tours of the house, the clients also insist on seeing the view that a house offers, such as the garden, pool, main road, building on the opposite side, etc., as well as the recreational amenities such as the gym, walking track or even the car parking area that the complex has to offer,” says Kamal Preet Singh, a real estate consultant from Mumbai.
Benefits of virtual house hunting
Although real estate has always been a physical buying process, the COVID-19 pandemic has restrained buyers from visiting properties. To overcome this, developers have intensified the use of virtual technologies, to showcase their products to buyers. Buyers, in turn, use these tools as an initial screening mechanism. A virtual tour is usually done before a physical, in-person visit. “What makes a virtual tour crucial, is that buyers are able to get an actual and accurate feel of the product, before investing. Today, amid COVID-19, virtual technology is the only way that offers better project detailing and that too, to the entire family, at one time and at one place. Moreover, these tools expand the reach of a project, from within local markets to out-of-town and even international buyers. A good virtual tour can help a buyer make a well-informed purchase. With lockdowns being enforced, developers, brokers, and channel partners have also adopted virtual reality to sell,” explains Manju Yagnik, vice-chairperson, Nahar Group, and senior vice-president, NAREDCO West.
Singh adds that “Although the deal is finalized and the financial transactions are done, only after the physical visit to the property, these digital tours are helpful in shaping the customer thought process, vis-à-vis whether to invest their time and energy to visit the site.”
Apart from offering views of the project, online platforms and websites also allow home buyers to access information about the project, the building, the apartment, and the floor plan. For example, leading online real estate portal Housing.com, employs technology-focused products to reach out to potential buyers, owners, and tenants, including online booking platforms, real-time video connections, and virtual tours.
Says Rasika Virmani of Mumbai, who shifted from a 2BHK to a 3BHK house during the pandemic: “We bought a spacious house from a reputed builder, after seeing almost 20 properties online. One major advantage of virtual home tours is the safety it offers during the pandemic and we also saved a lot of time that would have been spent to see various properties. The entire family was involved in shortlisting the house. It was easier to shortlist the house online. We went for the site visit only once, as we wanted to see the property, decide on the floor and also understand the layout of the flat better.”
Virtual house hunting during a pandemic: Points to keep in mind
A home should be a place where one can feel safe, comfortable, and bond with loved ones. Make a list of features that are a must-have in the house and set a budget for the purchase. Figure out the number of rooms and the type of neighborhood you prefer, as well as the project’s proximity to schools, offices, stations or bus stands, etc. “As a family, discuss and decide the requirements in terms of space, price, type, location, developer, etc. In a virtual tour, everything is glamorous. So, see through their product brochure, product detailing and understand what is on offer. Also, understand the floor plan and design, the amenities the developer is providing, etc., and whether it meets the needs of each and every member of the family. Get a fair idea of the locality and also read through the disclosures and terms and conditions, before signing the contract. There is no doubt that technology is useful and makes our lives simple but be sure of what you are buying,” advises Yagnik.
Apart from ready houses, virtual house hunting is also useful for under-construction properties, where projects can be viewed and deals can be done online. “Buyers can be updated with videos (with the date and time of recording) of the construction status of the project, excavation pictures if the project is in an initial phase of construction, and photos and videos of amenities, spaces, recreation areas, lobby, etc., if the project is completed,” says Yagnik.
Challenges in virtual house hunting
- It is difficult to accurately understand the natural light or ventilation in the house.
- If it is a resale apartment or a furnished house, one cannot check the quality of furniture and fixtures online.
- One cannot get a feel of the neighborhood through virtual mediums. Buyers tend to interact with neighbors and learn about them and gather information about the building, which often helps in decision making.
- The entire transaction cannot be completed online, as one still needs to visit the site and interact with the sales and customer service teams or the seller.
Although it is easier to view the house virtually, most people physically visit the place, before finalizing the property. Also, when it comes to payments, buyers, as well as sellers, always prefer to see the person physically, when it comes to financial transactions of large amounts. “Most clients hesitate to take a virtual leap of faith easily, as personal touch matters. For renting one may still do the deal virtually but when it is a case of resale or new property, buyers physically prefer to view the property before the final decision,” states Singh.
Dos and don’ts of virtual house hunting
- Always try to get a live virtual tour, rather than a pre-recorded version. Check the bathrooms, kitchen, floorings, and walls for cracks, leakages, and for traffic noise, if the house is road facing. etc.
- Rely on reputed property websites. Do a detailed search on the location, the approximate price in that area, and research on the area.
- Check the connectivity to the area, the distance to your workplace, availability of transport, amenities such as hospitals, schools, shops, and safety in the area, especially at night.
- Consider a virtual tour as an initial step of home-buying but take the final decision only after physical inspection of the property.
- Check the legal documents of the property. Visit the sales office/seller and check the title, approvals, and certifications but follow the guidelines for the pandemic -wear masks, use sanitizers and maintain social distancing.