By Michael Repka
COVID-19 has had a profound, and possibly lasting, impact on the way real estate is marketed in the Bay Area. Overall, the number of people physically visiting a listing is down by approximately 67%, yet the percentage of those visiting buyers who do make an offer is up substantially. The reason: Most buyers are filtering the listings via online tools, such as narrated videos, interactive 3D tours, and links to the disclosures. Although the way agents market homes has changed, the importance of marketing has never been greater.
In March of last year, the local real estate associations prohibited “Broker Tours,” which were scheduled opportunities for real estate agents to visit properties as they came on the market without an appointment or the need to use a lockbox. Similarly, traditional real estate open houses were also restricted.
What we found was that potential buyers did a large amount of their research and filtering online and then scheduled times to see only the properties that truly piqued their interest.
High-Quality, Narrated Video Tours are Imperative
Given that fewer buyers are seeing homes in person, many are relying upon online tools for filtering. We have found that our personalized, narrated video tours are instrumental in conveying the feel of the property and for highlighting many of the subtle features that may be missed in a mere photograph or un-hosted video. This phenomenon has grown so strong that any seller who is working with an agent who does not provide a narrated video tour online is at a tremendous disadvantage.
Self-Directed Three-Dimensional Tours are also Extremely Useful to Buyers
Just as the narrated video tours help buyers understand the character and features of the property, the self-directed, three-dimensional tours enable potential buyers to answer more practical questions. This may range from the overall floorplan, to details such as the location of the washer and dryer, closets, and windows.
Alternatives to Open Houses
Early last year, Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties issued a prohibition against having multiple parties and/or multiple agents in a house at the same time. The real estate industry took this as a blanket prohibition against open houses.
However, our legal interpretation of the rule was more nuanced. Although we did not place open house signs, encourage visits from curious neighbors, or allow multiple parties in a home at the same time, we did continue to schedule blocks of times on Saturday and Sunday where people could come without a pre-scheduled appointment.
We found that this was far more convenient for potential buyers.
Not surprisingly, a few competing real estate agents complained that this gave our listings far more exposure than their listings. The then-president of the local Realtor® association was very diligent in visiting one of these instant appointment windows and determined that we were in full compliance with the applicable rules.
In addition to being in full compliance, we designed this system to provide an enhanced level of safety for visiting agents and potential buyers alike. If we had more than one group at the property, we would ask the second group to wait outside. In between visits, we would use Lysol to wipe down anything that the first group had touched.
Virtual Open Houses
Another tool we found very effective was our virtual open house format; however, we found that the technical challenges required expert help. In order to broadcast a virtual open house of my listings, which I hosted live, we had to bring in an IT company to set up multiple Wi-Fi repeaters and have two people manning the computer. As I walked through the homes presenting the details, online visitors were able to ask questions in real time, which were fed to me via an earpiece.
Generally, we scheduled these virtual open houses a day or two before the walk-up instant appointments so that interested parties could come in person.
The Likely Lingering Impact of COVID
Much like Zoom-type technology is likely to impact business efficiency long after this pandemic is behind us, buyers will continue to filter potential properties extensively via online tools. Therefore, when selecting a real estate agent, it is important to look at their website and consider how well they are able to present their properties online. At a minimum, this presentation should include:
- Comprehensive, narrated video tours highlighting features of the property and the surrounding area;
- Self-guided three-dimensional tours with an interactive floor plan;
- High-quality photography;
- Links to the disclosures; and
- A way to schedule an in-person visit.
While the end of the pandemic may finally be in sight, some of the recent enhancements to real estate marketing are likely here to stay, and may prove beneficial for years to come.