Before the Coronavirus pandemic struck virtual viewings were just another tool among many used by agents to market properties.
But although the Covid lockdown has promoted this emerging technology from nice to have to essential, no one is arguing that people will buy or rent homes after just a virtual viewing.
One major London developer, who wished to remain anonymous, said it had only secured one sale via a virtual viewing since offering them across its newbuild sites just before the lockdown.
And there’s a lot of hype around virtual viewings – both agents and developers want to be seen offering the technology but do they really believe in it? We spoke to a trio of agents and developers to find out.
Steve Walker, MD of estate agency Collinson Hall in St Albans
“We have had to ensure a safe environment with appropriate social distancing measures in place over recent weeks, but buyers are still very cautious so I think the way we now have to conduct physical viewings could be the new norm,” he says.
“Covid-19 has brought the property industry back to the golden age of selling style – quality over quantity and virtual technology has played a role in that.
“Our clients using virtual tours as part of the vetting process to help reduce time wastage on travelling to multiple properties that weren’t what they were expecting.
“As a result, people who are visiting our homes physically again are now a much better quality lead than they were before.
“Pre-lockdown, we would have to chase people for their feedback whereas now, there is such a ‘competitive’ feel in the air making buyers want to act quickly.
“For example, on a viewing recently, a couple we were showing around a town house at Gabriel Square in St Albans, asked us if the people waiting at reception were due to visit the same property as them.”
Victoria Creber, Sales & Marketing chief at developer Galion, Somerset
“I don’t expect physical viewings to stop, as buyers – owner occupiers in particular – still want to feel, touch and see a home,” she says.
“But I do think the role of virtual technology has evolved over recent weeks, moving away from being beneficial at a time when people couldn’t actually see a home, to becoming a key stepping stone for booking in a physical viewing – which in turn brings us a higher quality buyer.
“We have found this is happening because buyers are using virtual tours to vet properties first, in order to find the most ideal home(s) for them to view physically.
“WhatsApp has been the most popular method for our clients, where they can see what the build quality is like, and understand more about what Galion is all about, whilst also asking questions on the phone.
Antony Crovella, Sales & Marketing chief at Meyer Homes, London
“Originally, virtual viewings were there to help developers and estate agents continue marketing their homes throughout troubled times,” he says. “However, their role has now changed – and it’s here to stay.
At Meyer Homes, for example, we used Facetime or WhatsApp, but we have also invested in video gaming software, Revvis – which allows buyers to not only walk around and interact like they would in a video game, but to also design the interior and garden in real time.
“Both methods have been extremely successful. We are finding that the offer to viewing ratio is much higher than it was pre-lockdown. “Buyers still want to view a property before committing, but they are using our virtual tour offering to cut down their initial list of interested properties first.”