Speed your house buying up with virtual tours and online research

With annual house price growth up to 7.1% in April 2021, and prices up by 2.1% month on month – the largest rise since February 2004 – the outlook for the housing market looks “fairly buoyant”, according to research by Nationwide.

It also reported that the stock of homes on the market is “relatively constrained’, which means that if you are searching in sought-after areas, you may find that they are snapped up before you even have a chance to arrange a viewing. 

Below are a few tips on the speedy research you can do before physically visiting a property or making an offer.

Take a virtual tour

See if you can arrange a 360° virtual tour of the property – all you need is a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer and an internet connection. 

Make the most of help from an agent on the tour, so you can get as much information as possible – for example, agents at ihometrade.com can answer your questions via FaceTime, Skype or Zoom while you’re on a 360° virtual tour.

And you won’t be inconveniencing anyone if you want a second or third tour or to show family or friends your potential house purchase.

Make the most of maps

You can also use Google Maps to get a Street View of the property you’re viewing virtually. It can prove useful when a virtual tour focuses on the interior of the property and you want to get a feel for the street itself.

Street View can be very revealing – homebuyers viewing a house in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, on Rightmove earlier this year found that Google’s cameras had captured the moment when armed officers and police cars were outside the property after a street fight broke out between two families. 

You can use Google Maps to check how far the property is from local schools, Tube or railway stations, and supermarkets.

Google Earth will give you an overview of your street – you can see the gardens and the street that backs on to them, so can get a sense of how much privacy you will have and how near you would be to neighbouring houses.

You can go on government or environmental websites, and key in the postcode and address to check the long-term risk of surface, sea, or river flooding in an area. 

You don’t have to be the owner to search for details of a property on the Land Registry, though there is a small fee for this. You can look up the Title Register, where you can see how much the owner paid for the property; the title plan, so you can see an outline for the property’s boundaries; and a flood risk indicator, showing whether the property falls within a sea or river plain and the chance of flooding. 

Figure out the floor plan

After the 360° tour, a floorplan is a key tool in helping you to visualise a property’s layout and how each room relates to the next. It will help you to work out whether any potential improvements to the layout could be made – for example, could an en-suite bathroom be reconfigured so there is direct access from the hallway or perhaps a large bedroom could be divided to make way for a home office? 

Check the dimensions of the rooms too and compare them with your existing home. Plan in large items of furniture, such as a sofa or dining table, to see how well they would fit in or whether you will need to budget for new furniture. The floor plan can reduce the risk of making an offer on a property that is too small for your needs. 

Dig deeper locally

Your local council can be a good source of background information on issues such as whether there are any applications for planning permission, or public footpaths, nearby. 

You can also join a neighbourhood social networking group, such as Nextdoor or InYourArea, to get an idea of what’s going on in the neighbourhood, local businesses and the type of goods being bought and sold – for instance, are yummy-mummy prams and home improvement services on offer?

Check out house prices

You will want to know whether the house is on the market at a fair price – and you can check its past bought and sold history and sales data for similar-sized properties in the street. 

You can do this on Rightmove by keying in the postcode or street on the site’s ‘UK sold prices of properties’ page, and then you can filter by property type or the year it was sold.

Also check the Rightmove Price Comparison report, which brings together historic price data so you can search nearby streets, narrowing it down to the type of property to get an idea of the local market.

On Zoopla, you can key in a postcode to get an estimated price for houses in a particular street and see sold prices, including old ad listings.

Also keep an eye on the UK’s house price indices – like Nationwide’s at the start of this blog – to be aware of house price trends both nationally and locally. These include the UK House Price Index, where the Land Registry tracks sold house prices, market reports from the Halifax and asking price data from Rightmove.

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