Okay, it’s no shock to anybody that the global COVID-19 pandemic shook up the way people live, work, play and (most importantly, for our purposes) shop.
Even though lockdowns have ended, and people are once again braving public places, the experiences of the last few years seem to have permanently reshaped the way people approach both buying and selling their homes.
While prospective homebuyers were steadily increasing their use of technology in their searches for new homes, the pandemic pushed that trend into maximum drive. Sellers, too, have embraced the digital trend, largely because they find that it helps bring more focused buyers to their door and eliminates a lot of wasted effort.
In other words: House hunting has gone digital, and would-be homeowners need to be aware of what that means for their buying journey.
(Almost) Everybody Is Doing It, So You Can Lose Out if You Are Not
According to the latest research, 97% of all homebuyers accomplished at least part of their home search online, whether they relied primarily on their laptops, their cellphones or a mixture of the two. Only those in the “Silent Generation” (those born in 1945 or earlier) were more likely to rely primarily on a real estate agent and physical searches.
Perhaps even more significant is how homebuyers are using their technology to facilitate their searches. While 41% start looking at properties online before they do anything else, consumers are also using digital technology to:
- Find a real estate agent and research agent profiles
- Learn more about the process of buying a home
- Look at customer reviews on mortgage lenders
- Check out the demographics of areas they might want to live
- Investigate the different types of mortgages available
Finally, one of the most critical innovations to come out of the pandemic is the prevalence of the “virtual tour.” Once more of a novelty, these have become almost indispensable tools for both buyers and sellers simply because they save so much time.
After all, you only have a limited amount of free time to go see homes in person and having a busy life and working can complicate your ability to go to open houses and schedule tours of available properties. Digitally, however, you can browse properties online whenever you have any free time – whether that’s while you’re standing in line at the bank or sitting on your couch in the evening after the kids are in bed.
At this point, you could even lose the chance to make a bid on a property you really love if you’re not looking online. By the time your agent shows you flyers of available properties and is able to negotiate a physical showing, another buyer could swoop in and make a deal after quickly doing most of their research online. This is particularly true in areas where the competition among buyers is high, and the number of available listings is low.
Learn How to Make the Most Out of Your Digital Hunt for a Home
If you’re ready to get started on your home buying journey and you want to make the most of the technology available, that’s awesome – but you also need to be cautious. It’s wise to remember that what you see online can sometimes be carefully curated or filtered to make a property seem better than it really is.
While most buyers should and will make an in-person visit to a prospective home before they commit, you can use these tips to help you narrow down your searches:
1. Get Comfortable with the Tech
Whether you’re using your laptop or your phone for your digital hunt, take the time to familiarize yourself with the technology you’re using. Many apps and websites that assist prospective homebuyers can let you narrow your searches based on things like:
- Zip code
- Dwelling type (single family, duplex, condo, etc.)
- Size of the home (square footage, number of beds, number of baths, etc.)
- Price range
Quite often, you can even set up an account and arrange to get alerts for new listings or price changes on listings that you’ve “favorited” during your search. This can help you stay on top of the available listings and be among the first to know if the price on a home you like has dropped or a new property is up for sale in your desired neighborhood.
You should also find out what kind of tech your agent is comfortable using. It may be much easier to communicate about a property through an app, email or text messages than trying to catch each other on the phone.
2. Get the Most Out of Online Resources
Photos, disclosures and virtual tours are three of the primary tools you have at your fingertips, so make use of them appropriately.
Photos give you glimpses of each property, but they may not always give you the most accurate perspective. For example:
- Carefully angled photos can make a room seem bigger than it is or cut out “problem” areas in a home that might dissuade potential buyers.
- Lots of photos of one area and few of another can mean that some parts of the home have been neglected or are in disrepair. If the outdoor areas are heavily featured, the indoor areas may need work – and vice-versa.
Seller disclosures are also an invaluable online resource. They can tell you things like how old the roof is, whether the stainless steel appliances are staying with the home, the dimensions of each bedroom and other critical details that can help you decide if a home is worth further investigation.
Virtual tours allow you the broadest ability to really see a home without actually going there. Many of these are pre-recorded, and they can let you see a 360-degree view of every room without even having to get out of your pajamas. It’s also sometimes possible to coordinate a virtual showing with your real estate agent, and they can make sure of the technology to focus on specific areas that pre-recorded tour left out.
Finally, don’t forget about digital tools like Google Maps and StreetView. That can help you decide if a neighborhood – not just a house – is to your liking.
Ultimately, you want your house hunting journey to be as easy as possible, and digital technology has improved to the point where it has become an indispensable part of the search.