The 4 Most Important Things To Consider When Looking At Online Home Listings

Real Estate

Most people wouldn’t make their decision about starting a long-term relationship with someone based solely on their dating site profile, and the same holds true for deciding whether to rent or buy a home. But there is plenty of value to real estate listings — if you know how to look at them.

While many renters and prospective home buyers have put their lease and purchasing decisions on the back burner, traffic is strong for online listings and video tours. 

The number of walkthrough videos on the New York City listing site StreetEasy, more than quadrupled between February and March as social distancing restrictions put the traditional real estate market on hold. As of last week, daily video views were up eight times on rental listings and three times for sales listings on the site, which is owned by Zillow.

We asked real estate agents what to focus on, and how to see through digital enhancements, when you’re browsing listing websites for the perfect match. 

“I compare looking for an apartment to dating,” says Joel Moss, a broker with Warburg Realty. “You know when you like someone. No one has to tell you. There is just a click. The same thing happens when a buyer is looking for an apartment. No one has to tell you that it’s the one. In the same way, I imagine an online presentation similar to online dating. At some point, you will still need to see it in person.”

Agents say they have seen many cases of clients getting excited about a property listing, only to be disappointed when they walk in.

“This happens all the time,” says Warburg agent Allison Chiaramonte. “The three big disappointment areas my clients usually have are the views are not being as good as represented, (the) condition being far worse or the apt feeling much smaller than it did in photos.”

Look beyond staging

Just as people can use Photoshop to enhance photos of themselves, listing agents often use virtual staging in their listing photos if the property is vacant.

“Many buyers have a hard time visualizing a less-than-attractive listing without the virtually staged photos,” says Warburg broker Noemi Bitterman. “However, when the property is staged, I recommend looking at the walls, (and) the condition of the floors under carpets, windows, outlets. These will give a good indication of the true condition of the property.”

Study the floor plan, but don’t rely on it

Floor plans are great for showing the bones of an apartment, including the exposures and flow of the layout, says agent Marilyn Blume of Warburg. You should also be able to tell which walls are load bearing, if you’re interested in renovating, and see where the pipes are located if you want to add a washer and dryer or slightly move kitchen appliances.

But floor plans don’t tell the whole story of how much light a property gets. 

“For the exposures, it is best to speak with the listing broker to find out what the views are — open views, facing another building, (or) a courtyard,” Blume says. 

How to gauge size without square footage

Not all listings include a home’s square footage, so Moss has some tricks for determining size.

“In order to tell the size of an apartment, I usually look at the bed, coffee table and refrigerator to see if they look proportional to the rest of the apartment,” Moss says. 

Videos show more

It’s easier to hide more when a listing only includes photos, notes Chiaramonte.

“If you look at listings enough, you start to know the signs of a listing where the images are deceptive,” Chiaramonte says. “I always think it’s telling when bathrooms or kitchens are not shown as it usually means the home is older and not in as good condition as you might think. It’s harder to hide true conditions in kitchens or bathrooms.”

Videos and 3D tours can provide much more insight into a property.

 “You can’t stage a video in the same way you can a picture, and things like view angle or bed size, which can be very easily manipulated in still photos, are more honestly depreciated in video,” Chiaramonte says.

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