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Buyers who are serious about acquiring their dream home during this time, might prefer to purchase without ever setting foot into a home – and who can blame them? On the one hand, safety is a real concern, but on the other, all major agencies are geared to make choosing a home these days as easy as click, check, pick. 

“Virtual viewings” or enabling home seekers to view a property in detail on the internet, have recently come to represent one of the most important tools in the estate agent’s arsenal of marketing offerings, says Basil Moraitis, Pam Golding Properties area manager, Atlantic Seaboard. 


Shortlisting choices  
“What the virtual world offers is the opportunity for the buyer to fine tune and hone the search for the ideal property without having to physically view a literal laundry list of available properties. This protects the seller from being exposed to numerous unqualified buyers and also allows the buyer an opportunity to remotely view several properties from the leisure of their own home,” he says. 

This way the buyer can create a shortlist of top contender properties for final inspection, thereby minimising the risk of exposure for the buyer, too. 

According to Chris Cilliers, CEO and co-principal, Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in the Winelands, a professional virtual tour such as Matterport conducted by a skilled operator is really like the all-seeing eye. 

“It enables the viewer to see every nook and cranny of the home, turn it upside down, take measurements, see the doll-house view and really gives a great idea of the look and feel of the property.” 

She thinks a Google Earth view of the home is also vital to see exactly where the home is in relation to other homes, and whether there are any issues that may have an influence on the value of the home, such as a nearby construction site.

Not so picture perfect

But it’s not perfect. “Some of the newer virtual tours done on mobile phones etc, may not show every aspect of the home and all these things are also very dependent on an operator. The problem of agents not being able to match the quality of a professional photographer is also an issue with virtual tours. If the operator skips areas or doesn’t get the correct flow, the virtual tour will not give the viewer all the correct information,” Cilliers says.

Virtual viewings also don’t replace the legal requirement for the buyer to physically view the property. “There are indeed several legal consequences to buying a property without viewing it. Much of the law of the sale of immoveable property has evolved out of the concept of taking delivery or transfer of the property in the same condition in which you physically viewed it. So physically viewing and inspecting the property is integral to the way in which properties are bought and sold in South Africa,” Moraitis says.

And another thing, “FICA regulations also specify that a person who purchases a property which they haven’t viewed must be flagged as suspicious. It’s an interesting discussion to see whether virtual viewing would be deemed acceptable in terms of these regulations,” Cilliers says.


Tread carefully
Though technology makes it possible, Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO, RE/MAX of Southern Africa, also cautions buyers who purchase a property without coming to view it in person and recommends that they be very thorough before signing the legally binding offer to purchase. Goslett cites a few potential pitfalls buyers should pay attention to when purchasing a property at this time:
Add a Covid-19 clause: Special addendums addressing coronavirus are being added to real estate contracts to protect buyers and sellers from the various unknown factors of purchasing property under these circumstances. “These may cover events such as delays in home inspections because inspectors aren’t able to enter the property, or slower repairs because only one contractor is allowed in a building at a time. Clauses also may address what happens if one of the parties has to go into quarantine or allow buyers to exit the contract if they lose their job prior to closing. Speak to your real estate professional and make sure you’re covered,” Goslett says.
Ask the seller about the condition of the home: “Under the voetstoots clause, sellers must repair or disclose all defects to buyers if they are aware of them. But, buyers are only protected if they can prove that the defects were deliberately concealed from them by the sellers. This is why it’s imperative to ask the seller as many questions as possible about the condition of the home. These include things as small as broken door hinges and sticky window frames, to larger concerns such as leaking pipes, faulty electrical outlets, and the condition of the roof,” Goslett advises.
Request room dimensions: A photograph or video can sometimes make a space appear smaller or larger than it actually is. Before you buy, ask for the dimensions of each room. To get an idea of how large these spaces are, measure your current rooms and compare them to the dimensions of the new home.
Much can be finalised beforehand
If you want to limit the time spent during a physical home viewing with an agent for health and safety reasons, a wealth of information can be requested from an agent before a site visit – such as room dimensions – or ascertained online. According to Cilliers, an agent should be able to supply you with, among other things:
  • Home plans
  • A copy of the title deed
  • Detailed property description with sizes, rates, levies etc
  • Estate rules for homes in developments
  • Google Earth link to the property
  • Links to video, virtual tour, web listing and photographs of the property
  • Area information, average selling prices, most recent sales, schools, access to major routes

Before entering

Moraitis understands buyers’ health and safety concerns about visiting someone else’s house with people they’ve never met before, and explains that the industry’s got you covered.

“The real estate industry has implemented a very strict set of protocols which govern the interaction between clients, both sellers and buyers, vis-à-vis the estate agent and between the clients themselves. Every single viewing needs to be preceded by a comprehensive questionnaire and evaluation of the health of the agent and the client. The signed acknowledgement forms and questionnaires are then approved by the agency’s Covid compliance officer before the viewing or meeting may take place,” he says.

Agents are also required to follow strict guidelines as to social distancing and limits on viewer numbers at any one time. They are aware of the need to avoid unnecessary handling of the property and fixtures or fittings, while always attending to sanitisation of surfaces which may have been physically handled in the inspection process. “Any agent who fails to adhere to these protocols and safety guidelines is flouting regulations and exposing their clients to unnecessary risk and exposure.”

Stick to the professionals

And for safety reasons, it’s probably not a good idea to visit homes of private sellers just yet. Although many private sellers may adhere to similar safety precautions as agents, there may be more chance that the buyer could be exposed.

“Most private sellers will not have access to virtual tours, professional photos etc so the buyer may have to spend more time in the property and have more interaction with a person whose health status is not known. Similarly, for the seller, they’re allowing a person into the safety of their home who is un-monitored and could potentially infect them and their family,” says Cilliers.

A client viewing with an agent would be traceable thanks to the information which the agency insists on before taking the client to the house.

“This makes tracing much easier should it be necessary. With a private viewing it may be difficult to trace people if someone in the household should get sick and they need to be notified. Over and above the Covid aspect, private viewings also have a risk of physical security when you allow someone into your home without really knowing who they are. Covid just adds another level of risk,” she says. 


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