While sheltering-in-place orders have proven their ability to physically sideline homebuyers across the U.S., real estate agents have turned to feature virtual property tours online to showcase and enhance their listings. Once relegated primarily for luxury, high-priced homes, video tours have become an essential tool alongside standard photos and a floor plan.
As helpful and alluring as these videos are for the online shopper, buying a home is more complex and requires a multifaceted evaluation. After all, home videos or virtual tours are selling tools that the listing agent produces to sell a property – the goal is to feature the home in its best light.
The hope is either that a buyer makes an offer, sight unseen, or the video inspires the buyer to come for a visit or as a refresher for those who have seen it in the past. Regardless, a virtual home tour is a great supplemental offering, but for the wise consumer, it should be used as a piece of the puzzle – not the full picture.
Here are some key points a homebuyer should consider about a home that a video tour cannot capture:
- The senses.
- Nitty gritty details.
- Building and neighborhood.
- Intel on the property.
Light, views, smells and noise are all important aspects of a home that cannot be captured by a video. If the video triggers a visit, these are key areas to investigate. Homebuyers have passed on a home they loved because of cigarette smoke creeping in from a neighboring unit or because of the noise from the constant yapping of a nearby dog.
For most buyers, a floor plan is helpful in understanding the flow and general layout of the space. Scale, ceiling height, room size and how it all comes together is usually something buyers best experience firsthand. It can give the house a personality that works (or doesn't) with your own. It's like online dating – what looks like love online might be a toad in real life.
Nitty Gritty Details
Small defects, cracks on the kitchen countertop and watermarks on the ceiling do not reveal themselves in a video tour. Even a home inspector will not focus on minor wear and tear issues. It is up to the homebuyers to see it for themselves to understand the condition of what they are buying.
Building and Neighborhood
When buying an apartment, the appearance of the lobby and hallways are just as meaningful as the surrounding neighborhood of a single-family house. Does the building look well run? What goes on around the home holds a lot of value as well.
Intel on the Property
When you're home shopping online, the lack of human interaction means you don't necessarily get the insider information on the home and seller that could be valuable during negotiations. When interacting with a selling agent in person, a relationship forms, which could be to your advantage when negotiating, or at the very least, a source of relevant information.
When buying a house, you always want an inspection to determine the condition of the roof, heating and cooling system, mechanicals and other parts of the home. In New York City apartments, where home inspections are less common, inspecting the HVAC system can still be worthwhile. Do not let a beautifully produced video with elegant music convince you that the home is perfect and forgo the proper due diligence.
When people are quarantining across the country, searching for real estate online from the comforts of home is the only option for a prospective buyer, as in-person appointments may not be possible. As a result, video tours exist to enhance the experience of viewing the property online, but it is important to remember that they are a selling tool. In the end, a virtual tour doesn’t show the full picture, and no one should purchase their largest asset without knowing everything about a property. As wonderful as technology is in our lives, nothing takes the place of experiencing a home in person.
Improving real estate transactions with tech
Buying or selling a home is an easier process with the help of technology – specifically apps that offer quick communication and lots of information for research. Mobile access to details, documents and professionals doesn’t only help homebuyers and sellers, it also makes just about any real estate-related process faster, benefiting property managers, real estate agents and anyone planning a home renovation. Read on for apps that can make your real estate research and transactions easier, faster and more accurate.
Corrected on March 4, 2020: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the credit reporting agency partnered with Zumper. TransUnion works with Zumper to provide credit information.Best for finding a rental: Zumper
Best for finding a rental: Zumper
(Courtesy of Zumper)
If you’re searching for your next apartment or rental home, Zumper offers a database catering to those looking to lease rather than buy. Zumper is best suited for people in major cities, since the widest variety of available rentals are found there, but users can find ample information on rentals in smaller markets, too, such as Charlotte, North Carolina, and Boise, Idaho. Additional features in major cities include the ability to book tours and make an offer to a landlord through the app.
Best feature: Through a partnership with TransUnion, you can run a credit report and submit it with a rental application directly through the app.Best for buying and selling: Zillow
Best for buying and selling: Zillow
(Courtesy of Zillow)
Zillow is one of the most recognizable brands for property information and has more than 100 million homes in its database. The company has expanded into instant offers for fast sales, mortgage lending and real estate broker services. The Zillow app is a mainstay for those seeking homes for sale or rent, and if you're a seller, you can use it to update the property description and list of home features as well as add new photos to showcase the property.
Best feature: If you’re looking to both buy and sell, the Your Home tab allows you to store your current property’s details, update information and track its estimated value over time.Best for real estate agents: DocuSign
Best for real estate agents: DocuSign
Electronic signatures on key documents are becoming the norm in real estate transactions, and DocuSign is one of the most popular platforms for creating, sending, receiving and organizing documents. The app is aimed at professionals and business owners, so you likely don’t need to download it if you’re a homebuyer, seller or renter who only needs to sign a few documents to seal a deal. However, you may recognize the DocuSign logo when you’re sent a form for an e-signature, which means your real estate agent, attorney or landlord likely has the mobile app.
Best feature: While this isn’t a feature exclusive to the app, DocuSign offers special plans and pricing for those in the real estate industry, including a $20 monthly plan for members of the National Association of Realtors.Best for reaching real estate pros: Redfin
Best for reaching real estate pros: Redfin
(Courtesy of Redfin)
National brokerage Redfin offers property and listing information for homes throughout the U.S., and it also has agents in more than 90 markets to represent buyers and sellers. Redfin's nontraditional model allows for lower commission fees and the convenience of working with multiple people who can help market your home, host open houses and take you on home tours.
Best feature: You can schedule house tours with a Redfin agent through the app without having to make phone calls or send emails to ask for available times.Best for renovating: Houzz
Best for renovating: Houzz
(Courtesy of Houzz)
When it comes to interior design and renovation projects in your home, the Houzz app helps you plan, seek advice, find professionals and furnish the space when your project is complete. Save inspiration to your own ideabooks on the app, which make it easy to organize different projects throughout your home.
Best feature: Looking to work with professionals? You'll have access to profiles, information on their expertise, photos of previous work and reviews from former clients. While you can contact professionals directly through the app, their websites are also linked on their profile pages to help you find even more information.Best for property managers: Buildium
Best for property managers: Buildium
If you're a property manager or landlord, access to property information, vendor payments and tenant details helps you stay organized and on top of tasks. You have to subscribe to Buildium to use its services and mobile platform, but there is a free trial option if you’re interested in trying it out first.
Best feature: Buildium covers everything from tenant background checks to online rental payment and payments for contractors. Everything is accessible on the app, so you can reference details as needed.Best for learning the lingo: Real Estate Dictionary
Best for learning the lingo: Real Estate Dictionary
(Courtesy of Farlex Inc.)
The real estate industry is full of jargon that you may not understand if you’re not an insider. By keeping the Real Estate Dictionary app by Farlex on your phone, it’s easier to have in-depth conversations with real estate agents, home inspectors and contractors.
Best feature: Real Estate Dictionary’s platform is set up so you can search real estate-related terms. When you type in a word, related words and phrases come up to help you narrow down the right term.Best for neighborhood information: Trulia
Best for neighborhood information: Trulia
(Courtesy of Trulia)
Most users of the Trulia app are looking for their next home and are interested in property details. Trulia's individual property profiles provide photos, listing information and home features, as well as statistics and local opinions about the neighborhood – for example, whether it’s dog-friendly or if neighbors tend to decorate for the holidays.
Best feature: Neighborhood data on the app includes reviews from local Trulia users who live there, plus how many other homes in the immediate area are for sale, crime and local school statistics and more.Best for calculating a mortgage: Mortgage by Zillow
Best for calculating a mortgage: Mortgage by Zillow
(Courtesy of Zillow)
This app offers calculators for monthly payments, the total cost of a home based on your budget and refinancing options. It also provides information on current mortgage interest rates across multiple lenders. The ability to both calculate information for your own mortgage and shop around for the best mortgage option makes it superior to other apps of its kind.
Best feature: It’s a simple detail, but the app menu displays the current average 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage interest rate, with a line graph showing how it’s changed over the course of a few months.Best for planning your home: magicplan
Best for planning your home: magicplan
Whether you’re trying to figure out how to arrange furniture in a room or looking to design an addition to your home, the floor plan design capabilities on magicplan offer a user-friendly experience with a heightened level of detail. You can include the location of electrical outlets, different styles of windows, appliances and furniture to make a rendering and realistic plan for your space. Contractors can also use the app to estimate pricing based on completed floor plan designs.
Best feature: Once you’ve created your floor plan, you can export it as a PDF and even get an online 3D model for use outside the app.The best real estate apps to download in 2020 include:
The best real estate apps to download in 2020 include:
- Best for finding a rental: Zumper.
- Best for buying and selling: Zillow.
- Best for real estate agents: Docusign.
- Best for reaching real estate pros: Redfin.
- Best for renovating: Houzz.
- Best for property managers: Buildium.
- Best for learning the lingo: Real Estate Dictionary.
- Best for neighborhood information: Trulia.
- Best for calculating a mortgage: Mortgage by Zillow.
- Best for planning your home: magicplan.
After earning a degree in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania, Arriz worked in wholesale sales for several top fashion designers in New York City. While her business sense, tireless work ethic and integrity fuel her success, most importantly, she believes wholeheartedly that one’s living space should be not only an investment but also a home and sanctuary.
Arriz has resided on the Upper East Side for over 30 years and currently lives in Carnegie Hill with her husband, three children and her miniature schnauzer, Lucy.