Imagine buying your next house without ever stepping foot inside. For many homebuyers caught in the process during this spring's stay-at-home orders, it's a reality. "I have clients who are starting to make their offers contingent on seeing the house in person before the closing," says Lisa Halter, owner of Kingston and Woodstock-based Halter Associates Realty. "It's an entirely new way of doing business, but it's seeing success."
Real estate is just one of many industries grappling with the sudden shift from in-person to digital services caused by the coronavirus pandemic. From retail shopping to farming, many industries have had to pivot their business models entirely. To meet social distancing requirements, many have introduced a suite of bespoke digital services that their customers can easily access from home.
Halter's agency has started conducting virtual meetings, showings, open houses, and even closings. "It's going to be a new normal," she says. "And now that people know we can do it, they might not want to travel long distances just to view a potential home." If you have your heart set on buying a new home this year, here are a few ways to make the most of your research online.
Embrace Digital Tours
In-person viewings provide a wealth of information to prospective buyers, like the feel of the surrounding neighborhood or the flow between rooms inside a house. To help bridge the gap, Halter recommends buyers take advantage of all the digital resources they can find on a prospective property. At a minimum, they should look critically at every photo and detail in the listing, then ask for more of each if necessary. 360º virtual and video tours, which have risen in popularity over the last few years, can also provide a fuller understanding of the property. Ask your agent about your options for getting a tour of the house by video chat, which can help you get to know every nook and cranny in real time.
When in Doubt, Google It
Some ameteur digital sleuthing can also help fill in details usually gathered in person. Google Earth uses high-resolution 3D rendering of the satellite data from Google Maps, which can give you a feel for how close the property is to the nearby highway or neighbors' houses. County government websites usually host tax maps that can help you understand the property's lot lines and they often have separate reports that list recent town and school taxes.
Get Down to the Nitty-Gritty
To get a realistic picture of what everyday life would be like at your new home, Halter recommends opening up an honest conversation with your agent. Ask for any recent land surveys, examples of utilities costs, and whether cell service or internet is available and consistently reliable. "Many people want to buy a house in the country right now, but that doesn't always include access to the internet," Halter says. These details should be pinned down before you put in an offer. This is especially important if you want to work remotely, which is a new trend that looks like it's here to stay.