A few years ago, the thought of buying a house without seeing it would have seemed completely impossible and implausible. But over the last 18 months, the number of sales going through without the buyer ever setting foot in the property increased.
Statistics vary, but it’s believed that between 20% and 33% of buyers put an offer in on a property without seeing it in real life. This number is on the increase and could reach 50% in the coming years if trends continue. So what’s behind it?
What’s driving it?
The trend had already been observed back in 2017 when a Redfin survey noted that the number of unseen purchases increased by 19% on the previous year. But it was the COVID pandemic that was the real catalyst of change. Lockdown and working from home gave many the possibility to relocate out of big cities, to larger homes, and away from schools.
The shift to doing things online meant people became more flexible with where they needed to be located. This, combined with low interest rates and house prices, made it the perfect time for many to invest. But across most of the world’s countries, lockdown made it impossible to conduct in-person viewings. So, the number of online-only sales increased.
An online process
Buyers can now manage the entire house buying process online. First, the potential buyer can check their financing options via sites such as Trussle, which is an online mortgage advice and comparison service. This allows them to weigh up different offers and see which terms work best for them. From there, they can use a property searching website to look for the right property in their preferred area. Traffic to these search engines has increased significantly in the last year and a half, as more people decide to take the property hunt process into their own hands.
In the near future, stakeholders will also manage the entire contract exchange process online. Smart contracts take care of the whole sale, including escrow, contracts, due diligence, legal matters, and signatures of all involved. This significantly cuts costs and time in the sale process.
VR and AR
The use of virtual reality and augmented reality will be instrumental in driving up the number of unseen purchases. VR allows individuals to take virtual tours of a property in their own time. There's no need to arrange dates and times, rather they can access when they like and for how long they choose.
It will also provide for buyers to experiment with decor and interior design, and even put in their own furniture in virtual form to see how it will look. When this technology becomes mainstream, it will revolutionize the way the real estate market, including renting, works.
In the not-so-distant future, it's likely we will see more people opting to buy their houses unseen, with the help of technology. As a result, the traditional role of the estate agent could be diminished as consumers look towards automation and on-demand services instead.