Buying property remotely can be a risk—even if it looks great on paper, there’s more to a property than photos and appraisals can reveal. But what do you do when it’s hard for you to travel to the property for a physical walk-through?
Today’s technology has made video walk-throughs popular, whether to get buyers interested in visiting the property or as a substitute for touring the physical property in person. Many real estate websites suggest taking the time to create a video tour to go along with the listing since it helps buyers fall in love with the property before they ever step foot upon it.
However, there is simply no substitute for physically touring a property. Think of video as an excellent preview or teaser; what it doesn’t reveal may be just as important as what it does.
Why you might be tempted to use video walk-throughs when buying an investment property
Video walk-throughs have been popular for a few years now since they’re a good marketing tool—in fact, that might be what attracted you to a property in the first place. Photos can only go so far, and the video does present a more cohesive view of the interior and exterior. Video walk-throughs certainly give you a better sense of scale and proportion, as well as lighting and movement, than photos and measurements alone.
When the property is remote, there are external factors like COVID-19 preventing a visit or you won’t be able to travel to it before it goes off the market, you might be tempted to trust the video.
Beware of that sense of urgency: even if the property seems like a diamond for cubic zirconia prices, you can’t be sure that a video will show you everything you need to know. Sometimes letting a potentially great real estate investment go to a local buyer is a better option than buying a property and finding out that there are multiple problems—all of which you could have identified had you just visited the property beforehand.
Problems with video walk-throughs
- They show you what they want you to see. This might seem obvious, but video walk-throughs are glossy, produced videos that only show certain parts of the home—especially the most attractive features. A video tour isn’t going to walk over to that weird splotch on the ceiling and look at it with a critical eye; you’ll be lucky if you get to see the ceilings at all unless the realtor feels they’re a selling point.
- You can’t hear, touch or even smell the surroundings. Visiting a property is a sensory experience. Videos can be edited so you never hear the constant construction going on next door, the sirens going down the block or the screaming baby upstairs. Nor will a video walkthrough offer you a sense of smell, which is important for identifying red flags like mould, mildew, urine and other deal-breakers. You won’t be able to walk around and see if the floor creaks, if the windows feel drafty or if any cabinet doors or drawers stick.
- You won’t get a good sense of the location. Unless you’re already familiar with the exact location, it’s hard to get a feel for the location from a video of the property. (Granted, some video walkthroughs do offer aerial drone videos of the surrounding area, but that’s still a remote view that won’t be as helpful as it is visually appealing.) Whether you’re buying a residential or commercial building, there’s no substitute for walking around the neighbourhood at different times of day, on different days, to see what you can expect when you sign on the dotted line. That pristine apartment building might have loads of appealing amenities, but if it’s in a loud, high crime area, in the middle of a construction zone or somewhere with other undesirable qualities, it might not be the quality deal it looked like in the walkthrough.
- You can’t linger, backtrack or get a three-dimensional view. One of the benefits of a physical property walkthrough is the ability to stop and inspect everything about the building—good, bad and ugly. Video walkthroughs don’t allow you to stop and linger in a particular room, go back to something that you want to revisit or look around the whole room. They also prevent you from getting an accurate sense of scale; perspective can be distorted in both photos and videos. Think of it this way: you might logically know Notre Dame cathedral in Paris is huge, and you’ve probably seen photos throughout your life—but it’s hard to comprehend how vast the interior space is when you’re not standing right there.
- You can’t zoom in to inspect certain features. Finally, as noted above, you can’t stop the video walkthrough and zoom in to inspect features or flaws; you might be able to pause the video and enlarge the image, but that doesn’t make for a good inspection. Whether it’s water damage on the ceiling or you’re interested in how you could use a certain niche, a video won’t allow you to critically experience the property.
There are a couple of solutions, of course: first, you could send a trusted person in your stead with a list of things you’d like them to evaluate and report back upon. If you have a colleague, friend or family member who knows what to look for, this is the next best thing to being there yourself.
If you don’t have someone you trust to inspect the property for you, another alternative would be hiring someone local to the area to do the same thing. If you’re in a time crunch, you may not want to take the time to interview potential agents—but someone with real estate experience could give you a helpful critical analysis.
Whatever you choose, consider video walkthroughs the trailer that gets you in to see the whole movie—never rely on the preview alone.