Guest blog: Is sight unseen the future of selling homes?

28 September 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, most industries have been unable to escape the urgent need to adapt services for an increasingly online world, and real estate, which has traditionally conducted business in-person and on-site, has certainly not been left untouched by this. 

The industry has seen the majority of renting and selling processes either put on hold, moved online or with added safety measures, but despite lockdowns and restrictions, the demand to move homes has still been there for many people.

This has seen an incredible increase of virtual viewings and led to growth in buying or renting ‘sight unseen’, without viewing the property.

Reserved Reluctance

The industry has typically seen a reluctance to shift estate agencies to online, as many of the processes behind selling or leasing a property have historically required in-person functions to secure a sale or lease. Buying or renting ‘sight unseen’ has traditionally been seen as risky and reserved for more established estate agencies, institutional investors and firms selling and renting prime properties.

Before the internet, the likes of Zoom and Facetime, and virtual tours, buying or renting sight unseen was typically handled through static images of the property or having an agent representing the client and viewing properties on behalf of them.

While many have found successes in this, there has continued to be hesitations from not only agents but also clients in this approach. However, the emergence of virtual tours, online contracts and overall improvement to available technology, has seen this hesitancy being slowly chipped away at, but not completely.

This is also possibly reflected by millennials, who grew up with the internet, reaching the point in their lives when they’re ready to take the first step on the property ladder - according to research conducted by real estate brokerage Redfin, millennial homebuyers are more likely to buy a home sight-unseen as compared to older buyers.

Risks + Benefits

One of the main risks for house-hunters in getting a property without seeing it is finding issues that are not typically seen in photos or virtual tours - such as pests, traffic noises or even infrastructure issues - which could result in agencies receiving lawsuits from an unhappy buyer post-purchase.

However, not only do virtual tours provide more attractive online offers, there are many benefits when it comes to selling and renting sight unseen for agents whose physical viewings have been limited by social distancing restrictions.

One benefit is extra capacity by taking away the physicality of viewings, resulting in more time available for agents to conduct even more online viewings, focus on winning listings and benefit from only the most qualified house hunters viewing a property in person. There is also a great environmental benefit of this as well, due to the reduction in fuel being used to get to and from property viewings.

Another benefit from enabling ‘sight unseen’ through virtual tours, is agents having the opportunity to reach a wider audience and create a global appeal for their properties. While many sight unseen transactions are taking place in the prime world, there are many other markets that are benefiting from being accessible online, such as for those pursuing a job in another country. This also provides the opportunity for those house-hunting locally and agents to stay safe in the current climate by limiting contact and minimizing risk.

Watch Matterport’s latest webinar, “House Hunting Online: Can you sell a Property Sight Unseen?” to find out more and hear from four global real estate professionals on their experiences of selling and renting sight unseen.