Would you buy a house without setting foot in it? How to make the most of virtual house viewings

Like many things, online house viewings are becoming part of the ‘new normal’ – but there are definitely things to consider.

Pre-pandemic, it might have been unthinkable to buy a house without having a proper look around it first. But according to a survey by online estate agent, one in six potential buyers say they’d now be willing to make an offer after just a virtual viewing.

Just as much of our work lives and social lives have shifted into the virtual world in the wake of the pandemic, the same is true for the housing market. According to Purplebricks’ poll, more than a third of buyers and sellers expect virtual viewings will soon be the house-hunting norm, with a fifth believing you can get everything you need from viewing a property virtually.

“Since the easing of lockdown restrictions on the property market, the use of virtual viewings has definitely increased, as agents are now directing prospective buyers to view the property virtually in the first instance,” says Mark Hayward, chief executive of NAEA Propertymark, the estate agents’ professional body.

“While it’s still not common for a property purchase to be made solely off a virtual viewing, estate agents can’t give their properties a flattering filter and make the viewings into a Hollywood production. They must show all homes warts and all. This means it’s possible to go ahead with the purchase without a physical viewing, if the prospective buyer is comfortable doing so.”

What should you look for and ask about during a virtual house viewing?

So what does a prospective buyer want from a virtual viewing? The Purplebricks research found they’d like a detailed walkthrough of the entire space, plus a sense of any issues or repairs needed, brightness of the rooms and storage space. The functionality of the space, a sense of ambience or a feeling about the house and the décor, were also important.

Kate Watson-Smyth, interiors expert and author of the Mad About the House books and blog, says: “First impressions on a house viewing are often about the atmosphere and an indefinable sense of that x-factor, which puts a smile on your face without you really knowing why. While participating in a virtual viewing, that feeling will be more elusive, so you need to concentrate on the practicalities.”

Here are Watson-Smyth’s tips on what to look for on a virtual viewing…

1. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover

Try and look beyond the décor – too ugly and it might put you off, and too pretty and you might forget to look at what’s really going on in a room. The décor can easily be changed; you need to be looking at the ‘bones’ of the house to decide if it’s right for you.

2. Make sure you ask questions

While inspecting the structure of the property, ask are there lots of original features? Does the fireplace work? Where are the radiators positioned in the rooms, and will your sofa have to sit in front of one? Are there floorboards under that carpet?

3. Warm windows

Check the windows – are they double-glazed, UPVC? These things can be expensive to add or replace, so find the answers before you commit. If the property isn’t double-glazed, this will impact the temperature in the room, and the single-glazing will inevitably let out a lot of heat.

4. Orientation is key

Find out which direction the property faces – north or south? South will be hot in summer and the sun might shine directly in (lovely, but it will fade your sofa), whereas a north light will be steady all day long.

5. Try to see outside

Can you see views from the windows? This is a key factor to consider in a flat, as you might be looking over a car park or busy shopping street. This may also help you work out if it’s noisy, which is often one of the biggest deterrents when it comes to buying a house, and something that might be hard to establish on a virtual viewing.

6. Look at the lighting

See if the lights are on. Does the room need the lights on all day, or is it filled with natural light? You don’t want a gloomy, badly-lit room if it’s one you’ll be working from.

7. Consider furniture size

Don’t forget to look at the size of the furniture – is that a two-seater sofa or a three? How big do you need it to be to meet your needs? How many people can sit round that kitchen table? Count the kitchen cupboards (and compare with what you already have). Is the fridge big enough and if not, is there space to add a bigger one? What’s the state of the oven and might it need replacing soon?

8. Essential room for storage

One of the main things people forget to ask when viewing a property is where’s the storage? Storage is always key, so make sure you keep an eye out in every room. Start with the hall – where are their coats? Where do they keep the big, awkward stuff, like the vacuum cleaner and the ironing board?

9. Look especially hard at the kitchen and bathroom

Bathrooms and kitchens are the rooms we most often want to change, but they’re also the most expensive, so you might have to live with what you buy for a while. If that’s the case, have a close look at all the kitchen appliances, and in the bathroom try to see the state of the grout and limescale.

10. Ask about water pressure

What’s the water pressure like in the shower? If it’s a live viewing, ask the property seller to turn it on. Is there room for a bigger shower, or a freestanding bath?

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8th Oct 2020
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There will be many more "dud" homes for sale , as cash strapped first time buyers will not be able to employ a surveyor to really check out their intended purchase. It's all very well and very admirable to check out the "visuals" but sometimes there may lurk very expensive repairs not seen by the inexperienced

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