Virtual home tours are helping COVID-conscious home buyers and sellers

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Houston's real estate market is hot, again, after rebounding from a sharp decline in April and May.

The Houston Association of Realtors says overall sales were up more than 14%, over last June when there was no pandemic.

Some of that is attributed to pent-up demand while no one could go out and shop for much of anything. However, a fairly new tool is helping buyers and sellers connect.

For many, shopping for a home has really changed in the last several months. Clicking through online listings seems so much safer, and would-be buyers may have noticed the opportunity to take a 'virtual tour'.

They appear as video walk-throughs to more controlled presentations that let users go where they want, look around and see things from a variety of angles. Dallas-based says virtual tours have become an invaluable way for people to shop.

"3D home tours, for the first time ever, have enabled people from the comfort of their home, and some would say, the 'safety' of their house, to really understand the physical layout of a home," says founder Alex Doubet.

But the value of a 3D tour may depend on the cost of the house. The feature can cost hundreds of dollars, to produce, and may not always be a wise expense for more moderately-priced homes.

In Katy, realtor Chris Hiller says the market is booming, right now, with tight inventory and plenty of interest in homes with the right features. The virtual tour may be helpful for sensitive buyers and sellers, but Hiller doesn't see much need for it, right now.

"We're still doing business, very much, the old-fashioned way," Hiller says, "We have a lot of visitors to our open houses.  We are doing a lot of in-person showings. And, of course, as an industry, we're following very strictly, COVID safety guidelines."

While a virtual home tour may be helpful, it is not fool-proof. One would-be buyer complained she gets 'lost', or turned around, in the presentation. However, it can be a good place to start until buyers can visit, in person, and decide whether they've found a new home.