4 Tips for Taking a Virtual Apartment Tour

Even if you plan to visit an apartment in-person before making a decision, preparation for a virtual apartment tour can help you spot deal breakers and selling points that matter most.

U.S. News & World Report

Tips for Taking a Virtual Apartment Tour

Facades of typical cast iron buildings with fire escapes along Greene Street in the Soho Cast Iron Historic District, Manhattan, New York City

Begin any apartment tour outside both the apartment and the building itself.(Getty Images)

Even though in-person real estate showings have resumed across the country, the presence and popularity of virtual video tours continue. Often these tours are simply a safe way to preview a property – a way for buyers and renters to see which properties are interesting enough to warrant an in-person visit.

However, leaving aside the wariness of in-person showings resulting from COVID-19 concerns, for those who live far away, virtual tours have become the most effective way to preview a home. While nothing can replace an actual visit to the property, an ever-increasing number of renters and buyers will start looking virtually as they begin their search for a new home.

Beyond the obvious difference between a virtual video tour and an actual visit, there are other factors to consider. With a video tour or FaceTime showing, you can’t wander around freely or inspect the home at your own pace as you would be able to in person. Your eyes are directed by the tour guide and therefore, focused only on what the broker, seller or landlord wants to show you or what they think is important for you to see. This often overlooks what matters to you and may gloss over a home’s possible faults.

Here are 4 tips for making a video tour as educational, informative and illuminating as possible:

  • Start the tour outside.
  • Get to know the floor plan.
  • Spend extra time on views and light.
  • Ask for a close-up.

Start the Tour Outside

Try to replicate the experience of an actual showing. So many times, a virtual tour starts from inside the front door of a house or apartment – as if you magically appeared in the foyer. A full tour should start from outside the home, whether that is approaching it from the road as you would arrive in a car or walking up to the building lobby from the street.

Curb appeal is important, as is seeing what’s directly next to the property. If you are looking in an apartment, this allows buyers to see where you are in the hallway, if you might be next to the garbage shoot and how many neighbors are on your floor that will be sharing the elevator. Starting outside also puts the property you’re considering into proper context within the neighborhood or building.

Get to Know the Floor Plan

Maximizing a virtual tour’s full potential requires some prep work. You should familiarize yourself with the property’s floor plan and key elements. Having a solid understanding of the home’s layout and what you are going to tour allows you to see the bigger picture more clearly.

If you start a tour without any context, it can be very confusing to figure out where you are or to understand the layout and orientation. You are totally at the whim of the tour guide.

Carefully studying the floor plan allows you to identify questions and concerns you may have in advance that can be answered by the tour. Is that hallway really narrow? How big is the bathroom? Is that bedroom with only one window dark? You can address certain things head-on that would be deal breakers or pain points for you. Otherwise, they might get missed.

Spend Extra Time on Views and Light

There are two major things about a home that can’t be changed: views and natural light. These important and unchangeable factors can be especially tricky to gauge on a virtual tour when your eyes are distracted by decor and furniture. The phone camera often does not clearly focus beyond the window, and whether or not a room is well-lit naturally can be hard to judge on a computer screen or mobile device.

While on FaceTime or Zoom showings, spend extra time in main rooms to try and assess these details – even if it means asking the tour guide to pause and point the camera or phone to the window to look around, not just straight out. Have the tour guide tilt the camera up, down and to the left and right to see everything outside central windows. It is far too easy to tilt a camera or phone ever so slightly to minimize the appearance of a partially blocked view, or to have a clumsy camera operator make a great view look underwhelming by pointing the lens down. Ask the real estate agent giving the tour to shut off lights and let you see a room’s natural brightness, just like in person.


How to Buy a House ]

Ask for a Close-Up

One thing that is notoriously hard to judge in videos, as well as photos, is a property’s condition. Yes, if something hasn’t been renovated in 40 years it is clearly evident based on the style of the decor, but a more modern property that still needs a significant renovation can be made to appear in pristine condition. Smaller details that show wear and age are often hard to pick up on, even though they are glaringly obvious in person.

The best way to gauge condition is to ask for slow close-ups and still camera shots of things like the kitchen cabinets, floors in high-traffic areas, the electrical panel and the moldings and baseboards. These are points where an apartment’s true condition can be better evaluated. Ask the agent to open and close kitchen drawers, and slowly pan down on to the wood in the hallway.

Try to avoid touring a property on your mobile phone. To do justice to the property you’re considering, use your computer and adjust the setting to full-screen.

It's hard to replicate the experience of an in-person showing on a screen. However, with the right preparation, smart questions and a little extra attention to detail, virtual tours can be a compelling, informative and safe way to search for your next home.

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