Buyer and tenant appetite for online property viewings has been growing in recent years. But the need to observe social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic has super-charged the public’s interest in online tours.
Whether or not this change is permanent, virtual tours and viewings look set to dominate the market landscape for some time yet. We take a look at how agents are making them work for their businesses.
Live video tours, pre-recorded video walk-throughs and 360-degree tours have all been used to great effect in recent months – with sales having been achieved via virtual viewings alone.
They all sound the same, but can be very different. Live accompanied video tours are conducted on platforms like Zoom or on a smartphone but tend to be lower quality, while video tours are recordings of the same thing.
360-degree tours are normally much higher quality and, consequently, more expensive as they require better tech and enable viewers to ‘virtually’ walk through a property as if they were playing a shoot-em-up game.
“It’s been a case of innovate or lose out,” said Chris Woodford, senior partner at Woodford & Co in Oundle, Northamptonshire.
“We’ve been conducting virtual viewings with great results. One landlord came to us because his tenancy was coming up for renewal, but his agent said they weren’t doing any viewings during lockdown. We said ‘no problem’, secured the next tenancy for him and have now taken over management of the property.
“We don’t use virtual viewings across the board. It’s more a case of trying to be as adaptable as possible in order to get properties sold and let.
“I’m doing everything I can to keep this business alive at the moment. Most of our vendors are very receptive to the idea of virtual viewings, because obviously they’re motivated to get their house sold.
“But some of them have had their worries in the current climate about myself or one of my colleagues coming into their property, and obviously we totally respect that.
Woodford & Co has been offering virtual viewings for several years, largerly due to demand from Americans looking for rental properties because of the nearby US airbase at Molesworth.
“It’s a great way to give them a flavour of a property before they visit in person to make their final decision,” he says.
“We also secured a £3.5k-a-month tenancy for a client currently living in Luxembourg, with an option to buy during the 12-month rental period. All done over FaceTime with the help of a friend of theirs here in the UK,” said Chris.
“I wouldn’t expect someone to buy a period property if they hadn’t actually set foot in it – particularly as you go higher up the value ladder – but virtual viewings work really well for investment purchases and modern properties,” he added.
The advantages are clear in terms of saving time and reducing risk, but how do you define a virtual viewing?
“In my view, a virtual viewing is one that includes some kind of actual interaction,” said Woodford.
“So that might be the viewer asking questions as I show them around a property via a WhatsApp video call, or them directing me towards areas of the property that might be of particular interest.”
While 360-degree house tours have been part of the estate agency scene for several years now, additional virtual services from 360-degree tour platforms have seen a huge spike in popularity in the last few months.
“We’ve experienced a 1,000% increase in sales since the beginning of lockdown,’ said Andrew Nicholls, CEO of EyeSpy360.
Andrew believes this surge in demand for virtual tour services signals a radical shake-up of the property industry. “Agents need to have a complete rethink of their business model,” Andrew added.
“Some people think things will just go back to normal, but COVID-19 has sparked a massive change in our industry. Agents need to differentiate and innovate to survive.”
But with so much uncertainty in the air, how much difference can virtual viewings make to such a sluggish market?
“People still want to buy, sell and rent houses,” said Andrew. “And our services are allowing this to happen. I really believe virtual viewings can save the market because they are keeping things moving during a really difficult time.
“And as we move out of this crisis, my prediction is that virtual viewings will become increasingly common. The ‘new normal’ will see first and second viewings conducted virtually, with only the final viewing being made in-person before an offer is made.”
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