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How to buy a home ‘virtually’ in lockdown – without getting duped


We spoke to the experts to find out how to buy a home sight-unseen, without ending up with a dodgy, termite-ridden, mouldy money pit located next to a cemetery.

Buying a property "sight-unseen" is actually not a new concept. In fact, it's something many property investors have done for years.

But property investors base their property-buying decisions on facts and figures. There's (ideally) no emotion in the equation: just an answer to the question, "Does this deal stack up?"

Now, home owners are starting to buy property after only having virtual inspections, too.

Since the pandemic has forced millions of us to property surf from our couches, and the property market is booming, purchasing a property virtually is the only way for many aspiring home owners to buy.

Buying a home without stepping foot inside it beforehand comes with some risks, though.

So, we interviewed a bunch of property experts and asked the question: How can you safely buy a home in a virtual setting, without being duped into buying a dud?

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Tip #1: Do a live video tour

It can be hard to get a feel for an area if you're not able to visit it in person.

Things like the streetscape, the neighbourhood, how close the property is to cafes and public transport are all possible to research online. But, there's nothing quite like the context of seeing it for yourself.

Once, I looked at a property interstate and it seemed to tick all the boxes. It was only once I did a Google Street View search that I realised it was literally right next door to a large mechanic – smack bang in the middle of an industrial strip.

"Oh, yeah, this is an industrial street. There are houses the next street over, but this street is all trades," the agent confirmed when I called him on it. Funnily, that never appeared in the listing...

Real estate agent David Sullivan says buyers who can't actually be there in person should ask the agent to take you on a personal video tour.

"Ask the agent to do a video call and show you around the street and neighbourhood," he says. It shouldn't be pre-recorded, as that gives them the opportunity to edit out any of the 'ugly' bits.

"Also Google the suburb for schools, shops and crime rates," Sullivan says.

moudly roof

Tip #2: Engage professional "eyes and ears"

David Sullivan, who is co-founder and Brisbane Inner North sales agent at One Percent Property Sales, says he's noticed a massive uptick in the number of buyers from interstate who want to own property in Queensland, but they're not allowed across the border.

"We're seeing an increase of buyers buying property sight-unseen or virtually," he confirms, "especially buyers from New South Wales and Victoria purchasing in Queensland."

His number 1 tip for budding buyers? Never take the property at face value.

You need to double check that everything is structurally sound and in good condition, ideally by engaging professionals to be your "eyes and ears".

"Be sure to include a building and pest inspection as part of any contract, unless you're buying off the plan, and make time to take a call from the building and pest inspector while they are at the property so you as the buyer have an idea of any potential problems," he says.

"If you have a family member or friend who can attend an open home or even the building and pest inspection, this is a good option too."

Are you shopping for property virtually because you're eyeing a big move? You're not alone: close to one-third of all Aussies are keen to move somewhere completely new, as working from home opens news doors!

Cemetary overlooking the ocean in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Tip #3: Do your research before your virtual tour

Technology such as video walk-throughs, virtual tours, interactive floor plans and virtual staging that showcase the details of the home have become more popular, says Edin Kara, prestige sales and marketing consultant at Ray White Sovereign Islands on the Gold Coast.

"These digital tools allow for potential buyers … to experience a virtual tour anywhere, any time," he confirms.

But, you shouldn't take what you see at face value, he warns.

"I recommend that buyers prepare themselves before the virtual inspection. Things like: have a good look at the floor plans, go through all the professional photos on the listing and then write down notes of things they may want to look into further or ask questions about, which may not come up in the photos," Kara says.

Echoing Sullivan's advice about a real-time virtual tour, he adds that buyers should "definitely ask their agent to do a live Facetime or virtual video".

Cat smelling a plant

Tip #4: Make sure it passes "the smell test"

When preparing your list of must-ask questions, don't be afraid to get personal, Kara says.

"I am happy to be a buyer's eyes, ears and even nose," he says.

"I welcome questions such as 'What does the bathroom smell like?' and 'What outside noises can I hear from the bedroom?'"

These are the types of things that can make or break your experience of living in the home, so be thorough!

While virtual tours can be a great substitute when an in-person viewing is not possible, Kara admits that certain aspects of a home are difficult to convey without seeing them for yourself in person.

"I'd say you should be wary of agents who may not give the full details or rush through things," he adds.

Messy house

Tip #5: Verify everything

"Double check. Always double check. And trust but verify, if means of verification are accessible."

This is the advice of Marites Idea Novis, founder and managing director of QFirst Investment Property Group.

"Developers and builders nowadays are getting more and more creative and they can provide virtual tours in which you can see the finishes with just a tap of your screen," she says.

"But some [agents] ... will tend to sugarcoat, leave out some details or give the clients an overwhelming amount of choice."

Novis says a good real estate agent will strike a solid balance by keeping you informed without overwhelming you.

"I make sure to research and get every detail from the microscopic up to the major. Clients will ask a lot of questions, even more when they can't actually be in the property, so we make sure we are well-informed," she says.

"The last thing we want to happen is for someone to be scammed by overly glamorous marketing. Home buying is a huge decision, so it's important to be extra careful with it, especially when navigating over the Internet. It's really important to choose the right agency, so you can be assisted and assured every step of the way."

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