What’s the Difference Between Virtual Tours, Virtual Showings and Virtual Open Houses? When Should I Use Each of These Offerings?

As more and more Americans enter self-isolation or mandatory lockdowns, agents across the country are mobilizing to offer virtual tours and events that help buyers and sellers remain engaged in the market. 

But many agents (and their clients) aren’t well-versed in the differences between virtual tours, virtual showings and — here’s a new one — virtual open houses. Here’s how each of those differ, and our best practices for those just getting started in the virtual space.

VIRTUAL TOURS

Virtual tours are videos that showcase the best features of a property. 

  • Most online search portals and real estate websites allow virtual tour links or files to be attached to the search experience, so they are easy to find. 
  • The quality of these videos varies greatly; some are simply a slideshow of listing photos set to music, while others are true video files or even 3D scans that allow the viewer to virtually navigate the house.
  • While virtual tours have been around for years, many real estate search apps, including HomeSpotter, tend to highlight premier virtual tours — those that go above and beyond the traditional slide show. 
  • We expect many other tech companies to add a virtual tour field to their apps and sites as these videos become more necessary and popular in the coming weeks.
  • Agents who don’t typically pay for professional video tours can record their own low-budget tours on a cell phone. Even though it may not seem ideal, isolated buyers may prefer this type of walk-through over static photos as it provides a more authentic in-home experience.

What are the best practices for virtual tours?

  1. Be sure that you offer something unique within your virtual tour, so that it is not just a slideshow of traditional listing photos. Videos or 360° home tours like those from Matterport or Realvision work best. 
  2. If you record a virtual tour on your cell phone or a recording device, be sure to add narration as you walk from room to room. Focus on drawing out the best features of the property. 
  3. Even if you nail the first take, go back to watch it. Pay attention to angles and lighting. Does the video truly show off what’s special about the property? If not, work to add more natural light or to step back so the rooms don’t seem cramped. 
  4. If you are posting a self-recorded video with narration, be sure to use a captioning tool so viewers don’t miss out on any of your insights.
  5. Some portals or real estate technology companies have limited integrations with video-hosting sites. To ensure your video can be added and promoted, upload it to a major site like YouTube or Vimeo. 
  6. Given the reduced opportunities for open houses in this time, consider running ads to promote your virtual tours and attract virtual “visitors”. Need help? Check out the new virtual tour ad template and landing page from Boost by HomeSpotter.

VIRTUAL PRIVATE SHOWINGS

Virtual private showings are live, one-on-one viewings for a single prospective buyer. 

  • A virtual showing uses a live video feed from either the Seller, Listing Agent or Buyer Agent depending on the rules and orders in place where the property is located. The authorized individual who is permitted to be physically in the house takes the buyer through the property over a real-time video call.
  • Most online portals are not yet set up to accommodate this request, so buyers and their agents may have to facilitate these showings independent of an online booking system. (Redfin is one notable exception — they now allow buyers to request a video-chat home tour in their app; the company saw requests for these virtual showings go up by 500% last week alone.)
  • Virtual showings can be easily conducted over smartphone video calls, using native features like FaceTime or Google Duo. If your client would like the ability to review the footage later, you can set up a call via Zoom; their technology allows you to record video footage and save it locally or the cloud.

What are the best practices for hosting a virtual private showing?

  1. The individual authorized to be in the home should show up 15-30 mins early, as you would for a regular showing. Turn on the lights, open up curtains and explore the property for must-have features or flaws you want to address with your buyers.
  2. Have the camera operator record a short video so you can see what your buyers will see. Make notes of any small defects or issues that your buyers may have a hard time seeing on screen and go close up on them once you are live. The camera operator can also take photos of these issues to send as a follow-up after the call has concluded.
  3. If you’re a novice to remote video calls, call a friend to test your FaceTime connection or to check your Zoom link is working properly.
  4. Plan your route through the house with the camera operator — you want to be certain that the buyer can easily understand the layout. Typically, you’ll begin through the front door and focus on the main level living spaces and kitchen before heading to the bedrooms. If the house is a split-level or has multiple entrances, be sure to backtrack to take them through the garage or each entrance so they have full context. Some people struggle with spatial awareness, and the flow of a house is hugely important. Don’t rush through this step!
  5. If the seller has left out any documents or disclosures, be sure to have the camera operator snap a photo and add them to your files so you don’t lose track of them. You may also want to send them before the call so that you and your buyer(s) can review and discuss them live.
  6. Keep in mind that the buyer may have a hard time feeling that “love at first sight” feeling from afar. Pick out 2-3 features that you know are important to them, if the house has them, and be sure to point them out specifically as you go through. Whether it’s the charming built-ins in an older home or the fact that your hot-rod collector client could eat off the garage floor, you’ll want to help heighten the excitement for buyers who feel a little lost in the process.
  7. As the call concludes, discuss potential next steps. Be sure to help them understand the current regulations for in-person showings, based upon the orders and rules that are in your city or state. Explain how you can help them view a property in person while practicing safe social distancing — if that is still possible in your area. 

VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSES

Virtual open houses are when a listing agent hosts a virtual event that is attended by many prospective buyers. 

  • Agents who use traditional open house events to promote their listings should leverage these remote events during this time of social distancing.
  • While some MLSs are innovating quickly to allow virtual open houses, it may be a while before this feature is available in most markets. To build attendance, agents will have to independently promote their own virtual open house events.

What are the best practices for hosting a virtual open house?

  1. Don’t forget that the same goals you have for traditional open houses apply to virtual open houses as well. First, you want to use the virtual open house to generate buyer and seller leads. Second, you want to demonstrate to the home seller that you’re invested in marketing their listing.
  2. As you may have guessed, the best way to promote virtual open houses is via Facebook, where you can run targeted ads to potential buyers in your area. (Be sure to stay within HEC guidelines as you set up your ads.)
  3. Prefer we run your ads for you? Check out the new virtual open house ad template and landing page from Boost by HomeSpotter.
  4. Keep in mind that you’ll want to capture information on visitors to your virtual open house just as you would at a physical open house. You can use Spacio’s external registration link feature to capture this information, then be sure to leverage your existing follow-up plans to keep in touch with your new buyer prospects. (Keep in mind you may want to tweak the language in your communications slightly, to reflect the online nature of the open house.)
  5. While Facebook is a great place to promote your virtual open house, it’s NOT necessarily the best place to host it. Amongst other things, Facebook Live provides very little visibility to agents into who attends and is therefore counterproductive to your goal of directly generating trackable leads. We recommend using Zoom or another virtual platform that allows you to capture attendees. 

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

Many real estate experts are predicting that the effects of COVID-19 could be long-lasting and that consumers may begin to prefer virtual tours, showings and open houses even after social distancing feel like a distant memory. At HomeSpotter, we believe that the future is likely to consist of a healthy balance of in-person and virtual showings and open houses.

By embracing these new-ish offerings now, you can impress and engage current customers and set yourself up for future success. But be sure to focus on the one thing that won’t change, no matter how this all plays out. Show your value to leads and clients, and act as their best resource and advocate, beginning at the initial connection and continuing through the transaction and beyond.

About Aaron Kardell

Founder and CEO of HomeSpotter

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