In this time of mandatory lockdowns and social distancing, thousands of sellers are still hoping their agents can get them to the closing table. And while the popularity of virtual tours and and virtual showings are skyrocketing, there is another option savvy agents are beginning to deploy — the virtual open house.
THE BASICS: WHAT IS A VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSE?
Across the country, agents are hosting live digital events that potential buyers can attend from the comfort of their own couch. These virtual open houses are typically:
- Scheduled and promoted in advance across various digital channels.
- Casual in nature, with the agent acting as the host.
- Shorter than an in-person open house. The listing agent begins by giving a tour of the property, then answers live questions that have come in from online attendees.
- Ideal for early-to-mid-stage buyers who are ready to start comparing homes, but who want to remain safe during this uncertain time.
- A smart way for listing agents to satisfy their seller clients, while also generating new buyer and seller leads for their business.
Want to learn about other virtual offerings?
Learn the difference between virtual tours, virtual showings and virtual open houses.
HOW CAN AGENTS PROMOTE VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSES?
While the industry is innovating quickly to accommodate virtual offerings — Flexmls just added a virtual open house option for their customers and CRMLS has indicated they’ll be adding the feature soon — it may be awhile before most agents can quickly “flip the switch” to schedule a virtual open house that syndicates across local and national real estate search sites.
In order to drive virtual open house attendance, agents will have to promote the events themselves. As you might expect, Facebook is a terrific place to promote digital open houses, as listing agents can quickly set up targeted ads that market the event to local consumers. (In coming weeks, virtual open house ads will also be available as a Boost ad option. We’ll let you know when that feature rolls out!)
However, after some fairly exhaustive research, we’ve concluded that Facebook Live may not be the best place to actually host your virtual open houses. Let me explain why.
SHOULD AGENTS RUN VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSES ON FACEBOOK LIVE OR ON ZOOM?
Before I go into too much detail or focus on the technology offerings of each platform, I want to acknowledge that Facebook Live is a top-notch tool that agents can (and should) leverage for their businesses. I’ve seen dozens of agents share “day in the life” videos that help humanize the industry. I’ve seen them go live at local parks and walking trails, sharing the parts of their community they love best.
Facebook Live is a spectacular feature. But it’s not poised to be the heaviest hitter for virtual open houses and right now, most agents could use technology that helps them knock it out of the park. From what I’ve seen personally and what I’m hearing from agents who run frequent virtual events, the better option for virtual open houses is Zoom.
Let’s do some side-by-side comparisons of the two platforms.
Feature 1: The ability to collect or require registrations // attendee contact information
One of the primary goals of hosting an open house — whether it’s a traditional open or a virtual event — is to meet with potential buyers and sellers who are beginning to dip their toes into the market. Our internal data from Spacio shows that the opportunity for agents couldn’t be much bigger: 71% of open house attendees are unaffiliated with an agent.
Agents should absolutely use virtual open houses as a lead generation tool, but Facebook doesn’t really allow for this. Even if your Facebook Live event generates 25 attendees, the platform doesn’t currently identify them. That means that unless they follow up directly or ask a question in the comments, you could host a highly successful, buzzy event that generates exactly zero leads.
Agents who use Zoom for their virtual open houses can require registration, which means leads are automatically generated and can be easily uploaded into your CRM for follow-up. It’s possible you may lose a few attendees who would prefer not to give their contact information… but serious buyers will convert in order to get access to the property and the tour.
Note: requiring registration is limited to paid Zoom accounts. However, even on free accounts, you can restrict distribution of the link to join the Zoom conference to only those registrants you collect via a lead capture landing page, for example through HomeSpotter’s Boost or Spacio products.
Feature 2: The comments and Q&A capability
After an agent has given the property tour, the customary next step in a virtual open house is to open it up to questions. And while Facebook Live’s streaming technology is typically excellent, the comment feature leaves a lot to be desired. In many cases, the comments are delayed for the host by 30 seconds — if they show up at all.
Meanwhile, we’ve noticed that Zoom’s chat feature is a lot more reliable. If agents have an assistant or colleague who is willing, they can also deploy them to join via computer and answer the questions directly in the chat — helping to keep the event moving and the attendees satisfied in real time.
And perhaps best of all, if an agent feels that an attendee is getting really excited about the property, they can ask them to stay on Zoom for a two-way video chat after the virtual event concludes. The transition to this video chat is seamless, and allows for the agent to begin lead conversion efforts much sooner than would typically be possible.
Feature 3: Promoting the pre-scheduled event
We expect to hear some pushback from agents who say that it seems odd to promote their virtual open house on Facebook, and to then host the event on a lesser-known platform. But in this very specific case, we found that Facebook’s technology isn’t as integrated as you might expect.
While Facebook allows (and encourages) you to pre-schedule a Facebook Live event, they do not allow you to promote that pre-scheduled event. That means that you’ll have to run separate promotional ads from your pre-scheduled Live event anyway.
And if the ads and event aren’t tied together in any meaningful way on the Facebook platform, then there’s really no disadvantage in hosting the event on a separate platform like Zoom — where you can collect those attendee contacts and begin immediate follow-up.
MOVING AHEAD WITH VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSES
Facebook is notoriously fast at updating features, especially if larger, paying user groups (like the entire real estate community) are lobbying for them. And after speaking with their head of real estate operations this week, I know that they’re looking at all possible options to help Realtors stay afloat during these turbulent times.
While it’s unlikely they’ll make massive changes to their universal privacy settings (such as opening up visibility into Facebook Live viewership), I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them close the gap on Zoom in the coming weeks and months.
For now, my verdict is that agents should leverage Zoom for virtual open houses. When it comes to brand-building, community-building and sharing vital information to local consumers and contacts, Facebook is still the digital king.