Virtual property viewings became hugely popular in the surge in the property market that followed the initial pandemic lockdowns and are now an established way of looking around a property.
There are three main ways to view a property virtually, as follows:
A video tour, prepared by the estate agent
This is a pre-recorded video of a professionally filmed walkthrough of the property, pausing to look around each room. You will usually find this type of video along with other property particulars in the listing on the estate agent’s website.
A virtual viewing where you can explore yourself
Virtual viewings allow the viewer to look at each room from different standpoints, move around the home as if they are walking through it and even check small details such as where sockets are located and how large the space for furniture is.
It is a pre-recorded option and you can go back to it as often as you want and look at the property from many different angles. You might find that you would like to look more closely at some areas than is possible, but overall it will give you a good idea of the feel and space of the property.
A live interactive virtual property viewing
A live video viewing lets you watch as the agent or the seller goes around the property with a camera. This gives you the advantage of being able to ask questions and request a closer look at certain aspects of the property. For example, you might want to inspect inside cupboards or see the view from the windows.
If you are able to take advantage of this option, you should do some preparation first so that you have a good idea of exactly what you want to see and the questions you would like to ask.
How to use a virtual viewing
A virtual viewing is a good way of gauging whether you want to spend time going to a see a property. In fact, for investors who might not live nearby, in some cases they choose to buy based entirely on a virtual viewing.
We always recommend seeing a property in person before you buy, but the following tips will help you decide which properties are worth investing time in going to see them.
Look at the property in conjunction with the floor plan
The estate agent’s listing will often include extensive information, including floor plans and room measurements. Have a close look at these to see whether you can spot any issues that you would like a closer look at.
Make a list of questions, before and during the viewing
Write down all the questions you have beforehand so that you don’t forget to ask anything and make sure you have pen and paper to hand during the viewing so that you can make a note of anything of concern that comes up. It will be helpful for your solicitor to be aware of certain issues, for example, if there is an extension at the property or an area of parking that you need to establish belongs to the house in question, so jot down any possible concerns so that you can refer them to your solicitor in due course if you decide to go ahead.
Look for works that might have needed planning consent
Certain property additions may have required planning consent and building regulations approval. Ask the estate agent to show you in detail around any extension or conservatory so that you have a good idea of the extent of any additions and how they work with the rest of the property, for example, whether a conservatory can be completely closed off from the house and whether it has a separate controllable heating system that can be turned off in isolation.
Ask the agent to show you the structure from the outside as well, to include the roof. You should check that the roof of the addition is no higher than the property roof and have a look at the materials used to tile it and whether they are in keeping with the rest of the roof.
You can also have a look at how close to the boundary the extension or conservatory is, as these issues can all have a bearing on whether planning consent was required or whether an addition falls within permitted general development.
Check the floors and ceilings
It is easy to forget to look up and down when you are in a virtual viewing. Make sure you inspect the floor and ceiling for signs of any issues such as damp or cracking.
Look for light switches and electrical points
Small details such as lighting, switches and electrical points can be overlooked on a virtual viewing. Check that the overhead lighting is adequate and that switches and sockets are in easy to reach and logical places.
Ask the agent to zoom in
Don’t be afraid to ask the agent for a really close look at anything you feel might be an issue or spots that are not immediately visible, such as inside of fitted wardrobes or cupboards.
While you might feel awkward asking to see in such detail, it will save you and the agent time if you discover any potential problems that mean you do not want to buy the property at this stage rather than later on.
Check the roof
You can ask the agent to go outside of the property, both front and back, and look at the exterior. If they are able to stand back far enough, you may be able to have a look at the roof, chimney and guttering. Look for missing tiles, cracking or other damage on the chimney and guttering that might not be attached securely or that could be blocked.
If you ask the agent to look at the ground beneath the guttering, you may be able to spot signs of overflowing water, which will indicate that the guttering needs clearing or repairing.
Looking around the garden
Have a look for infrastructure such as drains and electrical earths as well as at gates, fences and hedges. Well-maintained boundaries play an important part in good relationships with neighbours, so try to see whether any maintenance is needed and, if so, make a note of it so that your solicitor can raise it with the seller’s solicitor if you decide to go ahead. Finding out who is responsible for hedges and fences before you buy can avoid disputes later on.
Have a virtual walk around the locality
At a separate time to the virtual viewing, have a virtual look around the area using Google Streetview. While this won’t be completely up to date, you will be able to look at the nearby buildings and other areas to check what is there and what condition the locality is in.
You should be aware that there could be building work taking place that will not be on Google Streetview however and if you are serious about buying the property, take a drive or walk around the neighbourhood in person. This will also give you the opportunity to check for noise and smells that you won’t be aware of virtually.
A virtual viewing can be a great way of carrying out an extensive initial investigation into a property you are interested in. It will help you rule out homes that need too much work or that don’t fit your needs.
But you should be aware that some issues might not come across accurately via video, such as light levels, colours and telltale signs of damp. Nothing can substitute actually being in a property, getting a feel for the street, smelling the inside and walking through the rooms in person.
The virtual viewing will give you a good idea of whether you want to take matters further and it can help you avoid wasting time and money on a survey or home report if you can establish that there are issues you are not prepared to take on.
It can also help you identify matters that you want to raise with your solicitor if you do go ahead. If you ask us to represent you in a property purchase, you can let us know about issues such as extensions, conservatories, new windows, potential rights of way or nearby public land and we can investigate the legal aspects for you, to include requesting copy planning consents, windows guarantees and relevant information from the local authority.
For more details about the buying and selling process, request our free conveyancing and property guide.
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