An arm holding up a phone camera that shows the living room of a home

Step one: Make sure you have the view flipped.

This week Washington governor Jay Inslee announced new restrictions on social and economic activity to curb the spread of Covid-19. In the real estate realm, that meant only one change to business as pandemic-usual: a ban of in-person open houses, which had returned in early October.

Many realtors won’t mourn that loss. To abide by counties’ different gathering limits, agents had to track the number of people strolling through homes and ensure these home shoppers were donning masks, a juggling act that seemed “like a hot mess,” says Kim V. Colaprete, the managing broker of Team Diva Real Estate at Coldwell Banker Bain. It was kind of an unnecessary one, too, since smaller property tours were allowed.

Crucially, those intimate, appointment-only showings can continue. But the rollback on in-real-life open houses will undoubtedly launch more virtual activity in the weeks to come, perhaps even from some technophobic holdouts. They do exist. “Covid or not, there's a ton of people who are still in denial about the fact that having a strong online marketing plan for your listing is something we need to be doing more and more,” says Colaprete, citing the amount of people moving to Seattle from distant lands.

Digital marketing has long been Team Diva’s game. Colaprete’s Seattle-based squad offers some forms of online content that buyers have come to expect—copious amounts of interior photos, drone shots of the property, three-dimensional tours—and some, maybe, they haven’t, such as blogs for every listing and lifestyle videos.

The broker describes them as “pieces of a puzzle” that gives buyers a good sense of a home before they’ve ever walked through its doors. Photos are the “hook”; yet, she adds, people might ask, “‘Does it really look like that in person?’” A three-dimensional tour provides 360-degree views of the home’s layout and proportions, but it can be “clunky.” A lifestyle video allows agents to plug their favorite elements of a home, quasi HGTV-style. They still don’t allow home shoppers to ask questions and peek into that corner closet in the background.

Live video tours can remedy many of those shortcomings. Buyers can see a home in its natural light, and at a natural angle—as experienced browsers know by now, photos taken from the back corner of a room can make any space look much bigger than it is. Property hunters can also fire off questions, either verbally or in a comment section.

Virtual open houses are essentially a collection version of that experience. Team Diva has used a streaming platform called Be.Live, as well as the more common Facebook Live, to host these remote events for the first time in 2020. Its guinea pig, a house in Wallingford, yielded a purchase at 12 percent over the listing price. And shortly thereafter, a California couple bought a West Seattle home sight-unseen following a virtual open.

Colaprete isn’t sure if the livestreams sealed those deals; again, they’re just one part of the team’s marketing efforts. But she can offer some surefire advice for anyone who’s new to the virtual open house experience.

For Agents

Limit your face time. You don’t want to be a ghost voice, but your viewers aren’t here to see you. Get that camera flipped around so people can view the damn kitchen (or move out of the way if you have someone filming you).

Keep talking. Colaprete says traditional open house guidance is to “let the buyer enjoy the house on their own.” But on camera, “you have to be able to talk people through the space.” Silences are, in fact, awkward.

Schedule creatively. Normally an open house might run for a few hours on a Saturday. But prospective buyers don’t need to travel or find sitters for a virtual open. Colaprete and company have held some on Thursday nights. They usually keep them to an hour or less.

Follow up. People may ask questions in the comments that you can’t address immediately. But this is the internet; your open house is a recording, not a fleeting experience. Go back and respond to those queries in the thread if you can’t have someone else on your team answer them in real time.

For Buyers

This is your production. Don’t be shy about requesting weird camera angles. Everyone else is wondering about the cabinet space, too.

Bookmark. As mentioned above, these open houses will live on Facebook or another platform in perpetuity (or until our tech overlords decide otherwise). Feel free to go back and look at the living room again, or check if the realtor ever got around to answering your question.

For Sellers

You’re not off the hook. Keep your Wi-Fi connected once you’ve moved out. Otherwise your realtor’s livestream will have to rely on random cellular service. That’s an easy way to age your home 10 years.

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