In California, COVID-19 shelter-in-place measures have given rise to creative uses of virtual technologies in order to buy and sell local real estate. Thankfully, there are many great options available to make the home-buying process safe for buyers, sellers, and real estate agents alike. Read on for five innovative ideas to show a home as well as tips for staging for a virtual tour.
Types of Virtual Home Tours
Real estate agents have a variety of options for offering virtual home tours. From slick, heavily produced videos to remote robot walk throughs, there's a marketing option to fit any agent's budget.
Professional Video Home Tour
If your sellers are open to it, and social distancing measures can be taken, have a professional photographer and/or videographer take images of the home that can be edited into a video tour with beautiful photos and music. In pre-COVID times, this marketing tactic was a nice touch for listings. But now, it's even more important to help entice potential buyers as they browse the MLS.
3D Virtual Home Tour
3D Tours take professional photography a step further by using a special camera to capture images that can be uploaded to a software program that will create three dimensional renderings of the home. There are a number of software providers offering this technology, but subscriptions can be pricey. While they are still rare, sometimes 3D tours help better depict challenging or large home layouts in a way that two dimensional pictures and even first-person video tours can't.
Home Seller DIY Video Walk Through
If your sellers are uncomfortable having anyone in their home, or you don't want to spend the marketing dollars on a high production value video, ask the homeowners to do their own video walk through with a smartphone camera. In some ways, this warts-and-all approach could work better with potential buyers because it's a more realistic look at the home. Be sure to offer your clients some coaching on what to highlight as they move through the tour. Offering personal anecdotes of how they use and make memories in the space can really boost the appeal of the home.
Live Stream Your Virtual Open House
Take your virtual home showing to the next level with a one-on-one or broader live stream via FaceTime, Zoom, or another streaming app. Doing the walk through live allows potential buyers the chance to ask on-the-spot questions and get closer looks at areas of the home you might have glossed over in a pre-recorded video. Remember, the goal is to make a buyer feel comfortable that they've seen everything they need to confidently make an offer. The more control you can give them over the showing, the better.
Robots Can Offer Virtual Home Showings
It's not a widespread offering at this point, but robots may eventually become a bigger part of virtual home tour options. Currently, there is one real estate agency out of northern California that invested in robot technology that allows a showing to happen without the homeowner present. Both the agent and the potential buyer can speak to each other over live stream while a remote guided robot roves throughout the home. This is ideal for getting the seller out of the mix so the potential buyer can speak candidly with their agent as they go through the home.
Staging for a Virtual Home Tour
Home staging is an important part of prepping a listing to make the biggest impact with potential buyers. Before the pandemic, agents might spend thousands of dollars hiring professional stagers to temporarily install furniture and artwork that would please a variety of buyers. And even if a professional stager wasn't used, agents would work with their sellers to move around furniture to make a space feel larger, remove personal items like family photos, and declutter knick knacks. The latter can and still should be done prior to your first virtual home tour. But you can also implement virtual staging on your listing photographs, particularly if the home you are selling is vacant.
Virtual staging offers the benefits of traditional staging at a much lower price point. Virtual staging involves the help of a graphic designer to add or switch out interior design elements on images of the home. This same technique can also be used to virtually remove clutter from shelves or fixtures that would be too hard to get rid of in real life. Again, the goal is to eliminate potential eyesores that buyers might fixate on. Virtual staging helps them visualize the space as it could be, not necessarily how it currently is.
In-Person Home Tours in the New World
When the shelter-in-place order is eventually lifted, it will still be up to your sellers to determine their comfort level with having people in their home, so be sure to iron out those details in your listing contract. Be prepared that the old days of a true "open house" are likely over until a vaccine for the virus is created. In the meantime, here are some tips for a safer in-person home tour once those are allowed:
- Limit in-person showings to pre-qualified buyers – just be sure to obtain a pre-qualification letter to avoid fair housing issues.
- Survey all visitors for COVID-19 exposure. Again, to comply with Fair Housing laws, you must ask every person the same questions, every time.
- Maintain social distancing guidelines of at least 6 feet when interacting with sellers or buyers.
- Wait outside while potential buyers tour the home one at a time. Have them remove shoes and wear masks and gloves while touring.
Real estate agents in southern California will certainly face a changed buying and selling experience under the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic. But with a little creativity, they can continue to instill confidence in buyers and achieve closings for their sellers.
Orange County's Credit Union is also making great use of virtual technologies to help homebuyers take advantage of historically low rates while prioritizing Member safety.