“Virtual” vs. “Analog” (In-Person) Showings

I certainly understand the temptation — in a worsening Pandemic — to substitute a virtual home tour for the real thing.**

But, prospective Buyers should be aware that there are some critical limitations.

Here’s my “Top Ten” list of things that are difficult (if not impossible) to detect online:

One. The neighbors are noisy.

That’s a little easier to stomach if the offending neighbor lives in another single-family house next door.

But, what if it’s a condo or townhome, with at least some shared walls?

Two. There’s a fire station down the block. A busy fire station.

Yeah, such things show up on Google Maps.

But, they don’t capture how big or little the nuisance is (feel free to substitute, “train tracks,” “freeway,” or “neighborhood bar”).

Three. The ceilings are low.

Maybe it’s because I’m 6′ 2″, but I know from personal experience that a finished basement with 8′ ceilings (or higher) feels fine, but just a foot less can instantly make me feel claustrophobic.

Similarly, there are some 1 1/2 story homes with spectacular upper level Owner’s Suites, ample overhead, and a wide staircase to access it.

But there are also lots of 1 1/4 stories homes masquerading as 1 1/12 stories lacking those attributes.

You’ll have a hard time telling which is which online, especially if the home is well-staged and photographed.

Four. The finishes are sub-par.

When you’re actually standing in the Dining Room, it’s obvious whether the floors are old-growth maple or Pergo.

Online . . . not so much. 

Ditto whether the windows are high-quality, double-hung Marvin (or Andersen or Pella) vs. cheap, vinyl replacements; the Kitchen counters are granite vs. laminate; and/or the appliances are LG, not Wolf or Subzero (nothing wrong with the former, but it’s like the difference between Toyota vs. Lexus).

Deafening (Marketing) Silence

Of course, you’d expect that upper bracket properties loaded with fine finishes would loudly trumpet that fact in their marketing.

Meanwhile, homes lacking those amenities are hardly going to shine a spotlight on that.

Five. The home smells.

Whether it’s due to too much “aromatic” home cooking (Kitchen), excessive heat and humidity (a musty or mildewy basement in Summer), and/or pets (current or former), no online tour — at least not yet — conveys odors.

Six. The place is dark.

With enough artificial lighting, any room can look bright in marketing photos — even if it’s a condo looking out at a brick wall.

Want to know for sure?

Visit the home during the day, with all the lights off.

Seven. The home is located in a cell phone or wi-fi “desert.”

You’d think any home in the middle of a big city would be a cinch for good connectivity today.

Unfortunately, I know from first-hand experience that there are plenty of city blocks where, due to too few cell phone towers and/or hilly terrain, reception is underwhelming.

Eight. The floor plan is non-sensical.

The giveaway?

You seem to keep running into walls — and the home isn’t that big!

Nine. There’s no place to plug in your computers.

Just because a century-old home no longer has knob-and-tube wiring doesn’t mean it can power a juice-sucking microwave or a gigantic flat-screen TV.

Or have enough grounded, 3-prong outlets for a modern Kitchen or Home Office.

Ten. [High-rises only]: There’s a 5-10 minute wait for an elevator.

Unfortunately (again), the discoverer of that daily headache was yours truly, when I lived on the Upper West side of Manhattan (literally another century ago).

Related risk: the elevator and/or assigned parking is two football fields away, at the end of a very long hall or garage.

Or . . . the unit is right next to the elevator.

Honorable Mention

–[Northern climates]: the homes is prone to ice dams.

That can be the case when a low-pitched roof also has lots of water-collecting valleys.

But, that’s not what excited, emotional Buyers usually focus on.

–There’s no water pressure.

Nothing is a bigger bummer than finally crossing the home purchase “goal line,” unwinding after a full day of unpacking . . . and discovering that the Master Bath shower has the water pressure of a melting ice cream cone.

Or the shower/bath water takes five minutes to finally heat up.

–[Older homes]: There is foundation settling and/or the floors are uneven.

Online Buyer Beware

Of course, good home inspectors will often spot one (or many) of the above issues.

By then, however, the Buyer has already signed a purchase agreement, handed over an earnest money check, and expended lots of time and emotional energy pursuing the home.

For all of those reasons, my (very) strong counsel to prospective Buyers is to view properties in person whenever it’s possible — and safe — to do so.

Next best: follow up a promising “virtual” showing with an in-person (“analog”) one.

**After the 2008 Crash, so many foreclosed homes flooded the market that Realtors devised the term “traditional sale” to distinguish  bank-owned sales from regular ones.

I suppose the parallel to a “virtual” tour would be an “analog” one.

See also, “What to Do About the Pornographic Statue* on the Neighbor’s Front Lawn“; “Stuck in “Housing Pergatory”**“; and “How to Tell That a Home Has Pronounced Settling Without Going Inside.”

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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