In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, home buyers and sellers are adapting to a new normal in real estate. Instead of open houses and in-person walk-throughs, many home listings now offer virtual home tours.
If you’re inexperienced with video calls (and let’s be honest, even if you’re a pro), the idea of buying a house you’ve only seen on a screen might seem outlandish. How a person can even reliably tell what they’re seeing in a home just by taking a virtual tour?
Most importantly: Ask lots of questions.
To help you avoid ending up in the final stages of a deal only to encounter a bad surprise (cue those mystery smells or unmistakable water damage), we’ve compiled this list of must-ask questions during a virtual home tour.
Virtual tours typically involve real estate agents showing interested buyers a home on video. These walk-throughs are meant to give buyers the best possible alternative experience to seeing the property in person. Rather than walking through the home yourself, you see it from your phone or computer screen.
Don’t let the tour end without getting these answers.
Nothing will ruin your rosy outlook on a new home quite like a mysterious smell, which is why it’s so important to find out about them early on.
“This is a great question, and certainly one that’s essential,” says Brandon Brown, broker and owner of BayBrook Realty. “Nobody likes the “M” word, which is mold— and sometimes vacant homes, or deferred homes, may have a musty smell that could be attributed to a larger problem, like water damage.”
Besides lurking mildew smells, be sure to ask your real estate agent if the previous owners had pets or if they were smokers. While this doesn’t necessarily mean the house has odors, the answers will prepare you for the possibility of treating unwanted smells later on.
No matter how good the video quality is, it can be hard to see the finer details, like if the home you’re touring has any damaged surfaces, walls or floors.
“Buyers should look for unknown issues the home may have that they may need to repair in the future,” says Scott Campbell of RE/MAX United in Cedarburg, Wis. “Heavy worn traffic patterns on floors or excess stains can be expensive to replace.”
Another thing to have your agent do is walk the length of the floors and stairs and make sure nothing feels creaky or loose — especially if you don’t have any immediate plans to redo the floors.
This includes finding out the last time the roof was replaced, and if any other significant work has been done to the house recently.
“Replacing a roof is a high-ticket item,” says Brown. “I’ve seen roof warranties last as long as 10 years, so knowing the roof’s age and if warranties are transferable would be a great question to ask. Knowing ahead about repairs is also a great idea, and allows buyers to prepare their offer accordingly.”
Again, unless you plan on replacing all the appliances (or troubleshooting dead outlets), you’ll want to find out what you’re working with.
“These are good questions because most of us rely on devices that require regular charging,” says Campbell. “And appliances are expensive to replace. But if you know the age of the appliances, then you can have some confidence they won’t need to be replaced right away.”
One last thing you’ll want to ask about are the noise levels and natural light in and around the home. A house might look amazing online, but if there’s a busy street just outside or a lack of natural light, it might not be the dream home you were expecting.
“Everyone loves natural light,” says Brown. “So it’s worth asking if a home is darker or sits lower in a community where the sunlight hits for shorter periods of time.” And according to Brown, it isn’t just homes near busy streets that are affected by noise pollution.
“Oftentimes you could be high up on a hill, but the noise below from a freeway or major road will impact a buyer’s decision,” he says. “Other times hearing outside noise will bring buyers’ attention toward the quality of the windows, and they would factor in the costs to replace from single pane to dual pane in their purchase offer.”
Just like you would in an in-person home tour, you’ll want to make sure you see everything in a virtual tour. This includes closets, balconies, outdoor spaces, and if you’re shopping condos — shared community spaces. Take a good look and make sure these spaces line up with your needs and expectations.
If the video quality isn’t great, ask your virtual tour guide to snap a few photos and text or email them. You might think you’re being a pain, but seeing everything is the only way to know if a house is worth the time and effort to pursue.