In-person viewings might feel risky—here’s how to make a virtual house tour feel like the real thing.

By Lauren Phillips
July 08, 2020
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In our new age of social distancing, even mundane activities such as going to the grocery store or spending the day in the park as a family can feel perilous and stressful. Our lives are shifting to try to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect ourselves and others, and all kinds of activities are becoming unavailable or being deemed an unnecessary risk. One that you may not have expected to change: house and apartment tours.

Almost overnight, house- or apartment-hunting has become a virtual activity done through live or pre-recorded video. Instead of walking through the place you’d like to live in someday, you watch a video and look at pictures, and while you might be able to see it in person before move in, in some competitive housing markets, a video might be all you get before you make an offer or apply.

If you need to move—maybe your lease is up, or you’ve already sold your current home—you want your next place to feel like home, even if you step into it for the first time on moving day. House-hunting and moving during coronavirus aren’t easy, but if you don’t have a choice, here’s how to make the most of your search for your new home when you can’t see houses or apartments in person, whether because of safety concerns, local regulations, or logistical challenges (cross-country moves are common as people relocate because of job loss or health reasons, after all).

1

There are plenty of ways for photos and videos to be edited or misrepresented so what you see on the screen might not be real. The only way you can be sure you’re seeing the real place is to work with someone you trust. If you’re talking to multiple agents about different apartments or houses, do a little research to make sure they’re all licensed and with reputable companies or agencies. If you’re working with one realtor to find your dream home, ask around for recommendations to make sure your agent is well-regarded. This person may be going into houses and recording video or taking photos for you, so make sure it’s someone you can rely on.

2

Even with a live video tour, seeing a place through a screen is very different than walking through it in person. (What looks like a small room through a lens may actually be enormous, and vice versa.) Rachel Stults, a housing expert with Realtor.com, recommends getting a floor plan with dimensions, if possible, ahead of time, so you can get a sense of room sizes and ceiling heights. (Bonus points if you measure your current space, too, to visualize what’s too small for your belongings.)

3

Ask your agent to focus on every detail. You want to know the age and brand of the appliances, where the outlets are and how many there are, what the closets look like, and more. Leave no nook or cranny unturned, Stults says.

4

Request that the agent do a lap outside the house, and pay attention to more than just the curb appeal.

“You’ll want to see the exterior—and the yard—from all angles,” Stults says. “Have the agent point out any wear and tear on the deck or siding, foundation cracks, landscaping needs, and length and condition of the driveway and walkways, especially if you’ll be shoveling them in the winter.”

Don’t forget to look around any extra structures, such as sheds, garages, or pools, too.

5

During your virtual tour, ask for a moment of silence from the agent—so you can listen to the noise. Is there loud traffic nearby? Planes flying overhead constantly? Dogs barking up and down the block? You want to be aware of any noise pollution early on.

6

Ask your agent to take a good whiff of the place. “Pet and cigarette odors can be a big turn off that can seep into porous surfaces, while mold, mildew, and musty odors not only smell bad, but could signal larger issues,” Stults says. Lingering odors won’t carry through the screen, so ask your agent to sniff around a bit and report their findings.

7

“You don’t want your neighbors to watch you brush your teeth every night,” Stults says. “Ask your agent to show you any windows where neighbors might be able to peek in.”

Have them point the camera out windows that face streets, other houses, and more; you may be caught off guard by the view straight into the neighbor’s bathroom.