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Two-thirds of US homebuyers purchasing properties sight unseen, according to survey

More Australian homebuyers have been purchasing properties without making physical inspections over the past year and buying sight unseen is something that has become even more prevalent in the US since the onset of COVID-19.

According to a survey commissioned by US real estate brokerage firm Redfin, almost two-thirds of US and Canadian residents who bought a property in the past year made an offer without having physically visited a home first.

The survey of more than 1900 homebuyers across 32 major markets, which was conducted in November and December, found 63 per cent of buyers bought homes without seeing them in person first, up from 32 per cent the previous year.

The previous high point for buyers making an offer without visiting a home was in July last year, when 45 per cent of buyers made an offer despite not physically seeing a property.

In her recent predictions about the 2021 housing market, Redfin’s chief economist Daryl Fairweather said the survey results were further evidence that “the virtual home tour is here to stay”.

“Homebuyers who are searching for a home out of town and don’t have the time or ability to view the home in person will use virtual tours as their primary means of viewing a home,” Ms Fairweather said. 

“The increased use of this technology, coupled with more people relocating, mean the sight-unseen trend will continue, and the majority of homebuyers will make offers sight unseen during their search for a home in 2021.”

According to the survey data, requests for virtual tours have surged this year, from less than 1 per cent of Redfin tour requests at the beginning of 2020 to about one in 10 today. 

Similarly, monthly views of 3D walkthroughs on Redfin.com have increased by 563 per cent since February.

The massive upswing in the popularity of virtual tours and 3D walkthroughs is a trend Sunshine Coast-based company boxbrownie.com’s Strategic Relationship Manager Peter Schravemade discussed with Elite Agent earlier this year.

At the time, he said the company had adapted its offering to facilitate 3-D renderings for display homes and off-the-plan projects that were still under construction. 

Following a soft launch in September last year, Mr Schravemade said demand quickly spiked, with the company producing more than 1000 renders and virtual tours in less than six months in the US alone.

Like Australia, much of the virtual homebuying activity has been fuelled by an increase in internal migration due to the flexibility offered by remote work options.

Connecticut-based Redfin agent, Mary Ellen Wisneski said live-video home tours had gone from “futuristic fantasy to an everyday part of the homebuying business”.

“Over video I’m able to show my buyers closeups of anything in the home and describe peculiar details they can’t experience in 3D walkthroughs or photographs – it’s like they are actually there with me,” Ms Wisneski said.

The survey found 27.8 per cent of Redfin.com users were looking to relocate in 2020, an all-time high and up 2.3 percentage points from 25.5 per cent the year prior.

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