In the Pandemic, Online Home-Buying Picks Up Speed


Their budget is in the $1 million range, with an added cushion built in for construction costs. They plan to complete the entire buying process from California, and they aren’t even sure if they would fly out for a final inspection. “I am personally really worried about the variants and what it means for air travel right now,” Ms. Anderson said. “We are prepared to do everything remotely, including closing from here and any construction work.”

Brokers, who saw most of their open houses shut down during the pandemic, have been quick to adapt to technology as well, with many offering virtual tours and embracing tools like TikTok and Instagram to help market their homes.

But other brokers recommend a large dose of caution before jumping into the online market.

“The first time, it’s all so overwhelming, and tough to grasp how the process even works. And now you’re being asked to compete at a very high level,” said Michelle Kolker, a San Diego broker with Kolker Real Estate Group. She added that first-time buyers, especially those who are shopping online, might not have been made aware, for instance, of the need for inspection contingencies or the benefit of establishing a timeline in which the seller will make agreed-upon repairs.

Zillow, which reports that traffic to its for-sale listings jumped 41 percent in 2020, found in a July 2020 survey that 36 percent of Americans would be more likely to buy a home entirely online. Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow’s president, says the company plans to update that survey next month. In the meantime, traffic to Zillow’s suite of online tools, which include the ability to create 3-D home tours on a smartphone as well as technology that allows remote signing and remote notarization, points to those numbers holding steady.

“We’ve seen an explosion,” he said, adding that in the early months of the pandemic, creation of 3-D home tours on increased 750 percent. DotLoop, a remote signing and notary service that Zillow acquired in 2015, has been one of the biggest pandemic sleepers.

“That was technology that was available but was barely used because the existing process was working, but now all of a sudden if you could avoid getting together, you figured out a way to remote sign,” he said.

Not all first-time home shoppers are enamored with the idea of buying sight-unseen. But even for those who prefer to see before they buy, new technologies are making the mortgage process much more streamlined.


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