Can a virtual property viewing ever replace a physical one? Sellers of houses through the coronavirus crisis certainly hope so. Estate agencies nationwide have halted physical viewings of residential properties for now. Valuers, surveyors, conveyancing solicitors and house hunters – like the rest of us – are all holed up at home. But things are still happening, and in ways that might reshape how we buy and sell houses long after the virus is gone.
Looking for a home in south Dublin? It’s still possible to view 12 Laburnum Road in Clonskeagh today. For sale with DNG, house hunters can do a virtual 3D tour without ever leaving their homes.
“People need to see properties to buy properties,” says Keith Lowe, chief executive of DNG. His company is using 3D walk-through technology to continue to get buyers into sellers’ homes.
Such virtual walk-throughs aren’t new, a number of site developers used them to market new residential schemes in recent years. What is new is their rapid ubiquity in response to the recent coronavirus crisis. “We now have over 100 3D videos of homes for sale,” says Lowe. “We will be releasing more every day and we will be doing them for all new instructions we get to sell a house.”
Back at Laburnum Road, a viewer can dally at a 3D viewing to their heart’s content. Visitors move through at their own pace, seeing rooms from all angles. The picture quality is sharp enough to zoom in on floorboards, cornicing, light switches and bathroom fittings. You can also take measurements to see how furniture might fit. The downside may be that there’s no snooping in drawers and wardrobes, and you won’t get the smell of freshly baked bread or brewed coffee, but a major plus is avoiding the busy fray of an open viewing where it can be hard focus.
You’re not distracted by trying to size up the possible competition, and you don’t have to come up with pleasantries when the estate agent asks your intentions.
The estate agents aren’t left twiddling their thumbs either. A live chat feature allows buyers to ask questions, which are referred directly to the DNG branch agent handling the sale.
The other leading residential estate agent in the Republic, Sherry FitzGerald too has launched virtual viewings. House hunters can register their interest to join a scheduled viewing, alongside others, which is conducted by videoconference. After a live overview of the property by an estate agent, attendees watch a pre-recorded house tour.
This is currently of smartphone quality. Questions can be answered live during the tour via a chat feature. Already in train before the virus struck, the method has had obvious merits for sales of tenant-occupied properties where arranging multiple viewings could be a pain for tenants and agents alike.
There’s the added advantage that parties can bid online too by creating a MySherryFitz account. The site is updated to reflect the highest registered offer and the number of bidders providing near-real-time visibility for buyers and sellers.
Sherry FitzGerald Kimmage senior negotiator Darren Spearing says virtual viewings and online bidding is proving popular with the mostly, young tech-savvy buyers on his Dublin 12 and Dublin 8 turf.
“I had nine people at a virtual viewing today which is the highest so far,” Spearing said late last week. “Two of them then messaged to ask for an individual walk-through when it is possible. People still want to walk through physically, but they will probably know whether it’s for them or not after looking at the video.”
People still want to put their houses up for sale too, says DNG's Lowe, whose company is offering free valuations by Eircode. "If someone is thinking of selling, they can call us or send us their Eircode, along with photos or video if they have them. Our agent will look at their house, look at a Google Maps shot of it, give them a value and then go through the sales process with them."
Sherry FitzGerald is offering virtual valuations too. Sellers can send images or videos of their property and the estate agent offers a valuation via videoconference, sharing a screen of similar sold properties in the area to indicate how the valuation is arrived at.
The restrictions of the current pandemic may have brought a boom in business for some innovators. Robert Hoban’s software, Offr, connects estate agents to banks and solicitors making all the documentation required for a property’s sale available online. From booking a viewing to signing contracts, no face-to-face interaction is required.
“Lawyers can upload and download all the legal documents – the contracts, the title deeds, BER certificates and planning permissions – everything that would have to be posted or emailed is now all available through this software which sits on the estate agent’s website.”
Contracts can be signed with no requirement to visit a solicitor’s office, and deposits, with no upper limit, can be paid at the touch of a button.
“We are getting back-to-back phone calls from agents,” says Hoban. “We are working with them to get pre-existing deals switched over to virtual and to set up for all their future properties to be done remotely. There has been a 100 per cent uptake in business.”