Real estate is no exception when it comes to industries that have had to adapt their business models due to COVID-19. Prior to social distancing, real estate ran as a high-touch, relationship-driven model that thrived through in-person interactions. With new measures in place that prevent group gatherings, real estate professionals have to get creative to keep servicing their clients.
While many agents had already started incorporating tools like virtual tours into their sales and marketing strategies, new restrictions for in-person showings and a temporary halt on open houses have tipped the scales for the adoption of these technologies across the field.
Now that the new rules of engagement are becoming clearer, agents are seeking out these tools and using them widely. Buyers and sellers are also adjusting to them out of necessity. While they don’t replace the in-person element, these tools are helping keep the industry afloat through unpredictable waters.
5 tools real estate agents are using to keep the housing market going during social distancing
1. Virtual Showings
Companies across the world have been using video conferencing software, like Zoom, Skype, and WebEx, to recreate their workplace from home. But what do you do when your workplace is the home? (More specifically, multiple homes). Requests for virtual home tours have skyrocketed across Canada and nimble agents are now livestreaming their open houses and conducting one-on-one showings with the very same tools as people in traditional offices.
- Interactive Home Tours. With nothing more than their smartphone in hand, agents can virtually walk prospective buyers through a home. It doesn’t compare to being able to feel the weight of a carpet underneath your feet, but it does allow interested parties to ask the agent to zoom in on the carpet in real-time and describe it to them in detail. Buyers can also provide live feedback to agents and sellers via text or even emojis – certainly an interesting way to express one’s opinion about the bathroom fixtures.
- Virtual Open Houses. Unlike one-on-one showings, agents are now scheduling livestream open houses for larger groups that run anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour on a given day. Prospective buyers can join the virtual tour live, filmed from the house by the agent, beamed through their smartphone and promoted via the agent’s website, mobile, and social media channels. Some agents are now investing in more sophisticated camera and livestream equipment to improve the quality of the showing. This can include lavalier microphones (the ones you pin to your lapel) and a handheld stabilizer for your phone camera to get steadier shots.
2. Virtual Neighbourhood Tours
When clients can’t get out of the house to explore a potential new neighbourhood on foot, some agents are strapping on a GoPro camera and touring the area on their behalf. This way, clients can get a feel for what it’s like to take a stroll through the streets and imagine themselves doing the same once life returns to a semblance of normalcy.
3. Facebook Live Buyers Events
Facebook Live Buyers Events are one of the more creative marketing concepts to gain popularity during quarantine. The idea is to have the agent “host” a fun live event on Facebook or Instagram in the listed home, like cooking a delicious meal in the kitchen, or setting up a musical performance in the living room. It puts a fresh spin on touring the home and helps people imagine what it would be like to cook their own meals and host their own events in their new home.
4. Enhanced 3D Staging
Even before COVID-19 upended regular life, the 360-degree virtual tour was already a widely adopted real estate marketing tool. Agents who invested in high quality cameras, like a GoPro or Ricoh Theta Z1, were able to post interactive tours of their listed homes online to great effect.
But a key component of sales – staging the home with professionally curated furniture – has taken an understandable hit during quarantine. This gap has left room for virtual staging and interior design software to have a moment. Top virtual staging platforms generally work by charging per photo, and give clients the ability to virtually fill the rooms in their listed home with both existing and new furniture. Some platforms even allow clients to make digital revisions to flooring, cabinets, and carpets and offer complimentary retouches if the pixelated love seat in the basement needs to be swapped for a virtual sofa. The silver lining here is that clients can go more upscale with their virtual furniture than they may have been able to manage for the real thing.
5. Screen-to-Screen Sales and Curbside Closings
Clients know the anxiety of the offer process. That’s when their agent rolls up their proverbial sleeves and head to the war room to negotiate a potential home sale. These negotiations are still happening; only the sleeves have to be rolled up from behind the safety of a screen. The process of conducting offers virtually – whether by FaceTime, Zoom or other – has been dubbed “screen-to-screen selling” or “virtual negotiation” and only requires a screen and a video conferencing tool. Doesn’t measure up to the real thing of course, but this method allows the ball to keep rolling.
The tricky part is when it comes time to close. Normally, a closing involves numerous documents to be signed by the client with a “wet signature,” meaning the signatures have to occur in person and before witnesses. A few allowances have been made to ensure these transactions can still legally take place. For starters, provincial notary associations have amended regulations to make virtual signatures permissible during COVID-19.
Social distancing has also given rise to the “curbside closing,” a transaction where buyers and their agent show up in their own cars and meet outside the house with their legally approved documents, which have either been signed virtually or in-person through a window or with parties in different rooms. They’re met in turn by a company closer, who collects the right documentation from the buyers. All parties are advised to take proper precautions, including masks, gloves, and keeping safe physical distance as much as possible. It may diminish the moment of excitement for the buyer, but in the end it’s better than having the deal fall through.
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