Virtual tours 101 - what you need to know

Virtual tours 101 - what you need to know

In-person open houses are a thing of the past (for now), and we’re all being asked to stay at home and minimize our contact with others. But if you’re looking to buy a new property, how can you find a place you’ll love without seeing it yourself?

That’s where virtual house and condos tours come in. The pandemic has forced all kinds of digital innovation, and virtual tours are rising to the challenge, helping buyers make a lot of decisions that used to be based on physical showings.

Of course, I don’t think virtual tours will ever completely replace actual visits, but they’re a great supplement to the real thing, and their growing popularity during COVID-19 is changing how we buy real estate in Toronto.

Virtual condo layout

What is a virtual tour?

Let’s start off by making sure we're all on the same page with what “virtual tour” actually means. I've seen a lot of different things presented as virtual house tours or virtual open houses. Some listings will have a slideshow of still photos and call it a virtual tour, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

For me, virtual tours are ones that use video. They can range from DIY walkthroughs to professional 3D tours with 360° views. They also include live-streamed virtual open houses where you can join in on a live showing. But no matter what tech is being used, there are a few key things to keep in mind as you look.

Virtual home tours have their advantages

They’re a huge time saver

Buyers can narrow down their lists a lot faster and physically see only the places they’re really serious about. So instead of going to see 20 properties in person over days or weeks, you can move through 20 tours in an afternoon, then minimize in-person visits to your top few choices.

You can house hunt from a distance

You could be looking at a property across the street or across the country: with virtual home tours, the experience is the same. You can minimize travel, and if you're a couple living in two different cities, there’s technology that makes it possible to tour properties together.

Sellers can minimize the number of people in their home

If you’re a seller, the last thing you want these days is dozens of people coming through your home. Using an agent that will invest in a great virtual experience will cut down on the number of tire-kickers you’ll get, and narrow things down to the most serious buyers.

But...virtual tours aren’t perfect

You can't touch anything

Yes, you may be able to see the great-looking hardwood floors. But what do they feel like under your feet? Do they squeak when you walk on them? What is the state of the floor under the area rug in the living room? You can only figure out that kind of thing in person.

It can be hard to conceptualize a space

Picture a space based on renderings and virtual tours can have its challenges. (It's why most pre-construction developments include model homes and suites.)

You can't get a sense of the neighbourhood

Virtual tours tend to focus on interiors, and won't give you much information about the general vibe of the area, what the amenities are like, or the true quality of the finishes in the building’s common areas.

Condo living space

7 ways to get more info than a virtual tour can provide

  1. Ask lots of questions

    Here are some questions I’ve counselled my clients to ask:

    • When was the tour recorded? If it was made before the current owners originally bought it, you’ll need to take that into consideration. Old images or tours won’t show you the current state of the property or let you see issues like damages.

    • Can you zoom in on x? If the tour is live-streamed, ask the agent to open doors, turn on showers, and give you a more detailed view of closets, kitchen drawers, storage areas, etc.

    • What are the amenities like? Even before COVID, virtual tours didn’t typically cover those due to building policies, privacy issues, etc. And of course, right now many amenities are closed. So get as many current photos and details as you can.

  2. Get social with the locals

    A lot of condo buildings have Facebook groups, and they can be a great source of info you probably couldn’t find anywhere else. Those social media groups aren't created by marketers: you'll get the real scoop on what it's like to live there. Online neighbourhood groups are useful too - that’s where you can get a good sense of an area’s vibe, what kind of people live there, and ask any questions you might have. I find that Toronto neighbourhood groups are quite active: you’ll need to request access, but once you have it, you probably won’t have to wait long for an answer.

  3. Talk to the property management company

    They’re also a great source of information about the building. You can ask about things like building makeup (Is it mostly owners? Renters? Airbnbs?), unit turnover and much more. Work with your agent to get a copy of the status certificate of any property in which you have serious interest.

  4. Ask for accurate measurements

    Floor plans and square footage estimates are a great start, and some virtual tours have really good measurement tools built right in. But if you think it might be a tight fit, it’s always a good idea to verify if your king bed and side tables will fit in the bedroom. If you’re unable to visit in person, then work with your agent to get a trustworthy source to go in and physically measure the space.

  5. Ask if they've done a home inspection

    During COVID, sellers want to minimize the number of people in their homes, so it’s getting more common for them to already have a home inspection for prospective buyers to look at. Home inspection reports are vastly more popular for freehold homes than they are for condominiums, but it may be worth the ask.

  6. Check out the view

    Listing photos and tours will often only showcase the view from an upper floor if it’s a nice one. Be sure to click on the “view location and nearby amenities” feature in the listing to see what’s nearby: if you don’t want to look at a highway or a unit in another building, this is a good way to figure that out before an in-person visit.

  7. Use Google Maps to scope out the neighbourhood

    Before a property goes on your must-visit shortlist, this is a great way to see if you like the neighbourhood - and a quick way to rule out an otherwise perfect-sounding place.

The real estate market is definitely evolving with COVID, and technology is playing a much bigger part than it ever has. I believe the way we're using virtual tours now is going to change the house-hunting process permanently. They’re much more mainstream than they used to be, and we’re almost at the point where they’ve become an expected marketing tool. Virtual tours have become part of our new normal, and I don’t anticipate that will go away, even once the pandemic is over.

Got questions about virtual tours or anything else real estate related? Connect with one of our agents anytime!

Brendon Cowans

Brendon heads up’s team of sales representatives, driving the culture of service excellence our agents are known for. He’s there to support them as they support our customers, leading strategy, recruitment, training, sales enablement and more.

A top performer who has been with the company since its early days, Brendon is a driven REALTOR® and savvy investor who prides himself on creating great experiences for clients, colleagues and the agents he oversees.

Join 18,000 subscribers and get market news, insights & expert advice delivered straight to your inbox