Home buyers turning to virtual viewings of property during circuit breaker period

Huttons Asia property agent Charlyene Choo conducting a virtual viewing of a condo unit. PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHARLYENE CHOO

SINGAPORE - In August, Mr Fawzi Jaafar will step into the three-room Housing Board resale flat in Ang Mo Kio he bought last month for the first time.

The 40-year-old bus driver and his wife decided on the $230,000 resale unit after watching a pre-recorded home tour video shot by the seller.

Like Mr Fawzi, some home seekers are relying solely on virtual viewings to inspect potential homes before buying them as circuit breaker measures that are in force till June 1 prevent people from viewing houses in person.

The social distancing restrictions, which curb in-person home viewings, contributed to a plunge in the number of HDB resale flats and private non-landed homes sold in April.

Just 423 HDB resale flats changed hands in April, a 78.3 per cent dip from March's numbers, according to estimates from real estate portal SRX released on May 8. This is lower than the 2,160 flats resold in April 2003 during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak.

Likewise, condominiums and private apartments resold last month dropped to 309 units from 723 units in March, according to estimates from SRX released on Tuesday (May 12).

Mr Fawzi and his wife had looked at photos and videos of more than 20 properties since late last year. By the time they decided to shortlist potential homes, the coronavirus had broken out and they could no longer view houses in person.

As the couple were urgently looking to move out of their rental HDB flat in Marsiling, their property agent, Ms Susan Mariam from OrangeTee & Tie, suggested shortlisting their options through virtual viewing during this period.

Said Mr Fawzi: "This is a big purchase so, of course, we watched the video and looked at the photos many more times afterwards, feeling both excited and worried."

The flat fulfilled his two main requirements - it is within his budget and needs minimal renovation, he noted.

"We liked what we saw in the video and had a good feeling about the unit, so we decided to go for it," he said.

Property agents typically set up a video conference call on platforms like Zoom, where sellers do a walk-through of their home in real time while the agent introduces the home to the buyer.

Alternatively, sellers can also shoot a video home tour to send to the buyer.

Huttons Asia property agent Charlyene Choo, 35, has conducted at least five real-time viewings through Zoom during the circuit breaker period.

She sold a unit in a new condominium development in Tampines last month after letting her buyer view the unit through a 3D walk-through virtual showflat. It was the first such sale in her nine-year career.

"In the beginning, even us agents didn't believe it was possible to sell a house entirely online. But over time, I realised that if agents are fully prepared and can address all of the buyers' concerns, there's really no reason why they cannot buy online," she said.

Property agent Brandon Zheng from ERA Realty said prior to the circuit breaker period, most home seekers were already relying on videos and photos as a primary filter before deciding whether to physically view a unit.

The main difference now is that this is the only option available.

Mr Zheng, who has six years of experience, acknowledged that buying resale units without an in-person viewing is not for everyone.

"Property is about having the touch and feel; it's about how the buyers feel when they first step into the house. Some want to know who the neighbours are, whether the unit feels hot or if you can hear traffic noise," he said.

He has sold three HDB resale flats during the circuit breaker period, of which one was transacted after the buyer watched a pre-recorded video of the flat.

"If the buyer is urgently looking for a unit or is already planning to do major hacking, then they could be more willing to take the risk," he said.

Content strategist Wang Liwei bought a four-room HDB resale flat opposite Holland Village after watching a home tour video of the unit posted on YouTube last month.

The 35-year-old bachelor had viewed three other HDB units - two in person and one online - before settling on his final choice.

"The buying process is more tedious than deciding on this flat, which is not a corridor unit, is in a good location and has a view, which are my main criteria," he said, adding that he did not mind not viewing the flat in person as he intends to do major renovations and is familiar with the area.

Real estate professor and director of the Institute of Real Estate and Urban Studies at National University of Singapore (NUS) Sing Tien Foo said the circuit breaker period has intensified the use of virtual viewings as people observe safe distancing rules.

Virtual viewing practices will likely continue in the post-Covid-19 period, he added, which could supplement property agents' marketing efforts.

"Singapore's buyers are quite used to buying houses off the plan and are more receptive to virtual viewings of new developments (that are still under construction)," he said.

But he believes home viewings will return to normal after the circuit breaker measures are lifted, especially for resale properties.

He said: "Real estate agents may find it more effective through face-to-face interaction to persuade potential buyers in making their housing purchasing decisions, and the personal touch is hard to be replaced by the virtual tool."

Tips to make your home look good during virtual viewings

Huttons Asia property agent Charlyene Choo said preparation starts even before you jump on the video call on your phone.

Before the video call:

- Send clear high-resolution photos of your home, along with the floor plan, to the buyer to help him get a sense of the unit.

- Declutter and clean your home to make it look neat and tidy. Toilet bowl covers should be placed down, beds made and laundry kept.

During the video call:

- Hold your phone in landscape format. Throughout the call, hold it steadily and move slowly to avoid distortion or screen lag.

- Start from either below the block or at least from the lift landing on your floor to give the buyer a sense of the surroundings.

- Start with the living room, then the master bedroom and go to all parts of your home, including the storeroom and service yard.

- When doing the walk-through, stop and show off the best parts of your home. For example, open the kitchen cupboards to show how deep it is or how spacious the storeroom is.

- If the Wi-Fi signal in your house is weak, consider switching to 4G instead.

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