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For more than two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has compelled people to explore virtual options when it comes to their day-to-day transactions, including property buying. With international and domestic borders shut for much of that period, most people who wanted to buy property interstate were left with little choice but to do so from the comfort of their couch.

Virtual property buying is hardly a new concept, but it definitely became more prominent amid the pandemic as most people were forced to stay at home.

The challenges of virtual buying

Being able to sit on your couch while participating in an online auction or inspecting a property via Zoom sounds great, but it doesn’t outweigh the challenges that come with transacting virtually.

Buyer's agent Michelle May said there is a huge difference between doing transactions online and in-person, particularly at auctions.

“As someone who’s attended and bought at hundreds of auctions, I can tell you that nothing can quite prepare you for an online auction,” she told Your Investment Property Magazine.

“Technical difficulties and bugs alone are a considerable challenge. I’ve had to face pre-registration issues, log-in challenges and even screen freezes mid-auction.”

There’s also the psychological side of things. Many buyers participating in an online auction typically can’t see who they’re up against, making it challenging to stand out as a “formidable” opponent.

“The takeaway? Try to build a strong relationship with the vendor agent before the auction,” Ms May said.

“Being in contact with them during the auction helps navigate technical difficulties and ensures your bids are always heard — that's only one buying tactic for buying virtually.”

Ms May said getting advice from a broker and conveyancer to understand the market you are buying into is another good move when participating in online auctions and buying virtually.

“Consider the things you don’t see during a virtual home tour and make sure you’re prepared to ask questions. Think of all the questions you want to ask: the non-negotiables in the home and the extra details you want to see prior to the home tour.”

The technology behind virtual buying

The Investors Agency co-director Bobby Haeri said most buyers rely on the good old smartphone.

“The trusty smartphone is the most effective — we recommend people record videos and send them through messaging apps or email as opposed to just doing a video call,” he told Your Investment Property Magazine.

Having a recorded walkthrough of the property allows buyers to revisit the property as many times as they want.

“There are many companies now doing virtual walkthroughs, which enable buyers to click through the property with a 360-degree view of the property,” Mr Haeri said.

"Just be mindful that with photos you sometimes miss any defects on a property.”

For Aus Property Professionals director Lloyd Edge, a live video walkthrough of the property is also necessary, as it allows buyers to ask the seller or agents about potential issues.

“Live video tours can support us in setting realistic expectations on what our client will be able to purchase with a ‘real life’ example,” he told Your Investment Property Magazine.

“We can refer back to these and use this as a reference point in comparing against other properties, whereas without you can’t really compare two properties side-by-side when you’re physically inspecting one, or it has been sold.”

The downsides of virtual property transactions

Mr Edge said there are several downsides to virtual property transactions, including the inability of buyers to “feel” the presence of the house they are interested in.

“We’re missing the element of smell and feel, as we aren’t physically in a property — we can’t smell if the property is musty, or has been smoked in for years, just as we can’t feel how well or poorly a home might be insulated,” he said.

“However, these obstacles can be overcome by simply asking these questions, and asking for more in-depth details upon virtual inspection, as well as asking for assurance of these items in writing, as is required by law for real estate agents to not give false or misleading information.”

Mr Haeri said these downsides are the reason why virtual transactions are only recommended for investors and overseas buyers.

“The biggest advantage of virtual inspections is being able to purchase efficiently around the country, which, for any serious investor, is a must,” he said.

“[Whereas] buying as an owner-occupier is very emotional. The purchase needs to feel right, it needs to feel like a home when walking through the property,” he said.

The future of virtual buying

Ms May said the pandemic has made virtual activity in the property market a viable option for many Australians who are dreaming of having a home or venturing into property investment.

“It may even become a local buyers’ first inspection method of choice,” she said.

“If the property passes, buyers will book in an ‘in-person’ inspection, thereby cutting out time wasted on the wrong properties.”

Mr Edge also believes that virtual property transactions will remain relevant post-pandemic.

“A lot of time can be saved by pre-viewing properties via virtual inspection and physically attending those deemed suitable. Our clients are often located interstate, or even at times overseas, so having access to saved video walkthroughs will remain beneficial for our clients,” he said.

“If anything, it actually gives them more opportunity to see more of their investment. [Pre-COVID] many facets of our transactions with clients all over Australia and the world was already heavily done virtually.”