The rise of the virtual viewings

By Annabel Dean, Partner, Farrer & Co LLP

In the same way that many aspects of life became digital when the pandemic hit in March 2020, virtual property viewings, which had been relatively uncommon, saw a huge surge in popularity. Although travel and social contact is now more possible, the desire for a virtual viewing endures.

In the UK, it remains a seller’s market. Stock is scarce and in some parts of the country it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to agree an offer to purchase a property unless you are immediately able to proceed. The ability to view a property by video means you can see the property without delay – there is no wasted travel time and the scheduling of an appointment becomes much easier.

The question we are often asked is whether viewing a property only virtually presents an increased risk, and what our clients can do to protect themselves. The answer is generally no, so long as you select an excellent professional team.

There are various options in terms of a virtual viewing. First, you can use the selling agent’s video tour. These can vary in quality and some will of course only show you the best parts of the property (similar to a digital property brochure). However, some of the more sophisticated technology can allow you to direct the camera and view the property from every possible angle. The second option is to ask someone to attend on your behalf and attend a live video tour. The video tour could be hosted by the selling agent, or by someone else attending on your behalf, such as a buying agent.

Employing a buying agent has become more or less essential in certain sectors of the market – e.g. the Cotswolds or certain areas of London or at particular price points. More and more properties are changing hands off market and a buying agent can help source those off market deals and assist with negotiating a price. An excellent buying agent will take the time to get to know their client (i.e. the buyer) incredibly well. They will understand their needs and desires and may have physically toured some properties with their clients. This means a buying agent is well placed to host a live video tour (where appropriate) and to advise and supplement any virtual viewing. In basic terms, a buying agent can of course provide the second pair of eyes to highlight points which might not be evident from the glossy video tour, e.g. the fact this beautiful house is, in fact, located on an arterial main road. A buying agent can also provide professional advice on any alterations which might be considered as a way to increase the value or the usability of the property in question. Furthermore, as a fall-back, they can provide some advice about likely resale values and marketability. This could be incredibly important in the worst-case scenario where you decide after acquisition that, in fact, you do not like the property.

Another key tool in any virtual property buyer’s box is the appointment of a thorough and experienced building surveyor. We always recommend that our clients obtain a full structural (and, in many cases, a mechanical and electrical) survey. An expert residential buildings surveyor is well worth his or her fees, and a trusted surveyor is a must for inspecting the structure of any of our clients’ properties. They will take the time to interrogate the property, its structure, any likely required maintenance and the overall usability of the property – key considerations when purchasing any property.

Finally, an excellent solicitor who can coordinate the enquiries raised by you, your buying agent and the surveyor and obtain answers to all relevant enquiries from the seller’s solicitor will mean you ensure that, despite having never seen the property in reality, you are confident of your purchase.

Used correctly, virtual viewings can be an excellent tool in this difficult market to allow a buyer to secure the best available property in the quickest possible time.

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