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Is virtual homebuying the new norm? Leading agent talks about buying, selling and COVID-19

‘I think it’s the way we’re going. If it’s not, we should be.’
GUE Spotlight_Andra Arnold1_Title image

So much of our lives is online now and the technology available is proving quite helpful. 

With all of the restrictions currently in place regarding health precautions and social distancing, traditional ways of buying and selling real estate have been challenged.

The good news is that technology makes so much possible. You should be able to get enough detailed information about a property online that you feel comfortable moving forward and making an offer, says Andra Arnold, a top real estate agent in Guelph. 

“I believe there should be enough information on every listing that you can tour the home virtually, ask all of your questions, find out about any deficiencies, and be able to decide if you feel comfortable enough to commit to a property—even if it’s just an offer conditional on viewing,” says Arnold. 

This technology is so important even if it weren’t for our current situation, she says. The world of real estate has already changed so much in the last 10 years and many fantastic resources are available. Why wouldn’t we make the most of them?

“COVID is going to be with us for some time. Without going into a home at this moment, your expectation should be that if you want that information you can get it safely,” she says.

“People buy cars online, rent vacation homes online; they buy new construction properties off of floor plans. If you physically have a property that you can showcase every inch of, why wouldn’t you?”

Arnold understands well that the touchy-feely aspect of the process is missing. She loves showing houses to clients. “This was all foreign to me but now that I’m doing it, I think it’s brilliant!” she admits. “I think it should be an added value, something that’s available to everyone.”

There are multiple reasons clients might prefer this. Some buyers are immunocompromised and don’t want to physically enter a house. Some sellers are now more particular about allowing people to go through their home. 

Over the past few weeks, Arnold and her team have done several deals, and many of the decisions made were based on virtual information. This included details they provided to the public through the MLS and their social media outlets. They also had data ready that could be sent off at a moment’s notice; pre-home inspections were done on the client’s behalf and given to the prospective buyer when they did a virtual walk-through.

For example, a member of Arnold’s team did a virtual showing, was on a Zoom call with the other agent and their clients, and provided them with a home inspection. The clients did the full virtual walk-through, asked their questions, and decided to purchase the home conditional on viewing. They visited the house for 5 minutes and bought it.
What should you know about the virtual homebuying experience? 

“It’s very cool and I think it’s the way we’re going,” says Arnold. “If it’s not, we should be. Ask your buyer agent: do you provide virtual showings? Your expectation should be that they are skilled and schooled.”

Arnold is the first to admit that she misses the personal interaction, exchanging energy and being with her clients. Many, like her, are excited to get back to the way it was, but others won’t want to. For some, working virtually allows them to spend more time with their family. They want to be able to look at a house from the comfort of their own home and have enough information that they can actually make a decision to purchase. 

The one thing Arnold has never been a fan of is open houses. “I don’t think that you should have unqualified strangers walking through your home. It can be a security issue and now a public health issue with COVID-19. In a really busy open house, you could have 20 people in at once. We have to be confident in the process.”   

“For a pre-recorded, detailed virtual showing of a property, we had over 700 views of the showing.”

If you’re looking to hire a real estate agent, it’s up to you whether or not you want to use these tools. You may prefer in-person showings and a more traditional listing, but the person you choose should at least be educated about the options available. 

Find out what tools your agent is using, what hardware and programs, which social media outlets, what their online presence is and how detailed it is. Ask if they can provide floor plans and use technology such as virtual staging or virtual renovations. Work with someone you trust, who is knowledgeable and can guide you. 

“If we can’t be in person—I miss hugs and kisses and exchanging energy more than anyone—it’s not worth risking somebody’s health right now. I believe our profession is actually more valuable now than it was beforehand.”

Andra Arnold can be reached at 519-766-6041 or via email at andra@cbn.on.ca

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