Buying a property without seeing it in person is hardly ideal. But, in the new world created by COVID-19, virtual touring is becoming increasingly common.
Here are 10 ways to help your buyers land a property they’ll love — whenever they see it live for the first time — while keeping yourself from being the person they blame for selling them a property they hate.
1. Be specific and realistic about wants/needs and expectations
We all try to establish upfront what buyers want and need from their next property before they begin their home search. That’s even more crucial if they’re only seeing properties online. As agents, we rely on visual cues when we’re viewing properties with our clients to give us our bone-deep understanding of what buyers hope to find (and what they wouldn’t have if you gave it to them).
Without your buyers beside you, discovering that information is going to take in-depth conversation — and a lot of it. Even then, you can only see the things that jump out at you, smell the scents you notice and hear the sounds that annoy you. There is no guarantee your reactions will mirror theirs, and they need to know that.
2. Measure furniture before it’s packed
Instead of buying furniture to fit their new home, most clients try to buy homes that fit their furniture. So, buyers need to provide you the measurements of their must-have pieces so you can tell whether they’ll fit through the door and into their prospective new home.
Advise them to keep those measurements with them instead of packing them away in a box. They’ll need them at the other end of their move.
3. Buyers need to master online search tools
Whichever listing site your clients use, encourage them to look beyond the property photos. On realtor.com, for example, the map feature offers various views of the property along with overlays providing additional information on schools, crime rates, distance to services and so on.
Google Earth enables buyers to view the neighborhood from varied levels. Buyers may try to pass on the job of exploring the neighborhood to you. Don’t let them.
4. Use phones for interactive visual tours
We’re all getting a bit more accustomed to this new way of “showing” property, but it’s crucial to use virtual tours as buyers zero in on properties they may decide to purchase. The pre-purchase “tour” (which you may need to do several of) is aimed first at giving them insight into the way the home’s rooms relate to each other.
At the end, your clients should be able to sketch a rough floor plan. After that, your visual tours should focus on details such as how well-lit various spaces are, whether there are cracks in ceilings or walls that don’t show up in photographs, finishes in kitchen and bath, and so on.
5. Bring in the surrogates — with tape measures
Ideally, your clients have friends or family members who can view properties on their behalf and take the measurements your buyers need most. You want to bend over backwards to accommodate these folks, even if they need to measure a single window. These folks are gold — for your clients and you.
6. Write contingent offers
Sellers, naturally, are wary of accepting offers from people who have never seen the property. So, you may not want to make an offer contingent on your buyers seeing it. But the standard inspection contingency (and loan approval) periods provide opportunity for an on-site visit by the buyers or their surrogates.
Even buyers who have toured properties in person need to revisit them during the inspection period. So, urge your absentee buyers to visit, if at all possible, personally or through surrogates during the inspection period.
7. Talk to the inspectors
Home, pest and other inspectors make great surrogates. And buyers almost never use them that way, despite every inspector welcoming questions. You’ll do yourself and your buyers a favor if you press absentee buyers to talk one-on-one with the authors of the inspection reports you need them to read and understand thoroughly.
8. Prepare buyers to walk into a smaller, uglier reality
Not seeing a property firsthand before closing just about guarantees reality won’t compare with the mental image homebuyers have created of it. The property will look smaller and emptier. It will look shabbier, as virtually all pre-owned homes do. It will smell like someone else’s home.
And the neighbor’s house will be a disturbing shade of school-bus yellow, which appeared much lighter on Google Maps. They will feel like they paid too much. You can’t change those feelings, but you can assure buyers they’re normal — preferably in advance.
9. Grid paper rules
Despite your best efforts, your buyers may still feel let down when they walk into their new empty house. Help them cope by stocking the entry with a pad of grid paper, a tape measure, a ruler and several brand new sharp pencils. Let them know their first job is to measure the rooms and create a scale drawing of each room on the grid paper. Their second job is to haul out their furniture measurements and start arranging furniture on paper before their moving truck pulls up.
If you have a handyman you rely on, share contact information with your buyers. In other words, give them the tools to see that the house they just bought can be the home they love sooner rather than later.
10. A great agent is the key to success
Representing buyers purchasing properties sight-unseen is one of the most difficult challenges any agent faces, because so much can go wrong. Plus, you can easily get sucked into viewing endless numbers of properties, sketching multiple floor plans to email your buyers, and getting mired in the search without ever approaching the finish line.
In general, you don’t want to take on absentee buyers unless they face a near-term purchase deadline, and they understand what you can do and what you can’t.
Agents, for the most part, are can-do people. We’re not accustomed much to focusing on what we can’t do. But in the case of absentee buyers, that’s a crucial step in defining your role upfront. You can only do you; you can’t be them. And everybody needs to accept that.
Nicole Solari is owner and managing broker of The Solari Group in Solano and Napa Counties in Northern California. Nicole runs one of the highest producing brokerages in all of Northern California.
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