Estate agents turn to online tours in the hope of staying in business 


Anyone who thinks this is no time to consider buying or selling a home with the country in lockdown and estate agents’ offices shut, should think again — and head for their laptop. 

Thousands of estate agents have accelerated plans to use digital technology to show off homes to buyers who they hope will remain interested until the virus outbreak subsides.

‘The market will be harder, but with online valuations and viewings via video links, it’s perfectly possible to sell or buy a house now,’ explains James Corbett, of UK Sotheby’s International Realty estate agency (­sothebysrealty.com). 

Thousands of estate agents have accelerated plans to use digital technology to show off homes to buyers who they hope will remain interested until the virus outbreak subsides

Technology allows three main ways for deals to be done even if a buyer can’t visit the property on sale. 

Digital walk through 

These allow prospective buyers and tenants to enjoy a 3D-virtual 360 degree view of a house or flat with the ability to walk from room to room. 

Estate agents create these by placing multiple sensors in each room to measure their depth and height. 

They are then filmed using a special type of camera that creates a ‘doll’s house’ view of the property from outside and walking room to room. 

The end product is viewed on a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer. And one Spanish housebuilder called Aedas (aedashomes.com) uses a system that superimposes an estate agent ‘live’ on the virtual tour. 

He then answers questions from the buyer who is watching on his or her device. 

‘Our properties with virtual viewings are 20 per cent more likely to sell than those using photographs alone — and more quickly,’ explains Guy Robinson from Strutt & Parker (struttand parker.com), an estate agency that’s been using this technology for two years already. 

Another agency, Maskells, (maskells.com) in London, has had significant success with this technology. ‘In the past 30 days, our instructions are averaging 110 views per property and we’ve secured one sale where the purchaser only viewed the property remotely,’ says the agency’s managing director Jamie Hope. 

Safe distance: Estate agents are offering digital walk-throughs meaning seeing the full interior of a house is a click away

Safe distance: Estate agents are offering digital walk-throughs meaning seeing the full interior of a house is a click away

They work in terms of attracting buyers, with some people spending literally millions on the strength of what they see ‘­virtually’ as opposed to in real-life. 

Anyone buying a new-build home may already have seen 3D-virtual tours — they have been used by some up-­market housebuilders since 2015. 

Live streamed tours 

Not all agents could or should go into sellers’ homes now because of the risk of catching the virus, but for those who can do so safely — or if the property on sale is already empty — there’s the idea of a live, streamed tour of the house. 

This can be done easily on an iPad or even an iPhone. Marc Schneiderman of the Arlington Residential estate agency (arlingtonresidential.com) this month conducted one such tour of a West London property to help a local buyer who knew the neighbourhood, but couldn’t attend in person because he was self-isolating. 

‘They were walked through every room including the garage and outbuildings. Then we agreed terms on the sale, subject only to a surveyor’s inspection. 

The buyers are happy to exchange contracts without physically seeing the house,’ says Schneiderman. 

As if that’s not enough, the same agency last year sold a £3million London house to a family living in the U.S., who committed on the basis of just the video tour and emailed floorplans and details, without even being in the same country as the home they bought. 

‘It sounds far-fetched, but you’d be surprised how many people buy a home without seeing it in person, using either a representative to act on their behalf and report back, or relying entirely on technology to see it online,’ says Andrew Skeaping, a London buying agent. 

Owner’s videos 

Consumers don’t need to leave the camerawork to estate agents, however, especially in these locked-down times. 

The high quality of smartphone videos means sellers can make their own short films and pass them to their estate agents to market. 

Property consultant Christopher Watkin has made a YouTube video with tips to make an effective video to entice buyers. He urges owners to look at the three main parts of the house – downstairs , upstairs and the garden — and choose which they want to emphasise. 

He says that videos or photographs should be taken from room corners to show the maximum space, with the phone held about 5ft high and in a landscape format. 

The best looking rooms must be featured at the end of the video so the viewer is most likely to remember them. 

‘Switch every single light on in the house because it’ll make it bright and sparkly,’ says Watkin, who also has tips on how owners can provide their own commentary. 

He says agents can then edit the videos and add still photographs to create a professional looking end product that helps a property stand out from the crowd when viewed online. 

These homemade videos are fast becoming must-haves for agents. ‘We’ve asked all our landlords and vendors to take videos so we can show to prospective buyers and tenants and keep sales and lettings moving.

It’s helped to make our clients feel involved,’ says Charlie Mitchell, of the Winkworth agency in London (winkworth.co.uk). 

And an app called Houso (houso.co.uk) carries listings of properties from Aberdeen to Torquay, mostly with descriptions, photos and videos created directly by sellers, which have been viewed by more than 9,000 people in recent weeks. 

So, it’s not exactly business as usual, but the property world is doing its best to stay in business.

On the market… take an online tour 

London - £4.65m - There is an online 3D tour of this four-bedroom South Kensington penthouse, split between two floors of a stucco period building. Hyde Park, the Royal Albert Hall and Gloucester Road Tube station are nearby. Maskells.com, 020 7581 2216

London – £4.65m – There is an online 3D tour of this four-bedroom South Kensington penthouse, split between two floors of a stucco period building. Hyde Park, the Royal Albert Hall and Gloucester Road Tube station are nearby. Maskells.com, 020 7581 2216

Kent - £385, 000 - Take a virtual tour of this two-bedroom apartment near Tunbridge Wells High Street and the common. It is in a Grade-II listed building and has two off-street parking spaces. Winkworth.co.uk, 01892 519600

Kent – £385, 000 – Take a virtual tour of this two-bedroom apartment near Tunbridge Wells High Street and the common. It is in a Grade-II listed building and has two off-street parking spaces. Winkworth.co.uk, 01892 519600

Devon - £225,000 - Have a virtual wander around Lavender Cottage: a Grade-II listed, two-bedroom thatched home in Silverton, with casement windows, decorative fireplaces and courtyard garden. Struttandparker.com, 01392 229405.

Devon – £225,000 – Have a virtual wander around Lavender Cottage: a Grade-II listed, two-bedroom thatched home in Silverton, with casement windows, decorative fireplaces and courtyard garden. Struttandparker.com, 01392 229405.

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