Editor’s note: The housing market is slowing, but it hasn’t stopped innovators from debuting new technology and communication systems of use to the real estate industry. The Web 2.0 boom is rearing its head and providing new ways for the industry to communicate with clients and market home listings. In this three-part report, Inman News gives an update on some of the hottest technologies in real estate: mapping, video and blogging.

Editor’s note: The housing market is slowing, but it hasn’t stopped innovators from debuting new technology and communication systems of use to the real estate industry. The Web 2.0 boom is rearing its head and providing new ways for the industry to communicate with clients and market home listings. In this three-part report, Inman News gives an update on some of the hottest technologies in real estate: mapping, video and blogging. (Read Part 1 and Part 3.)

Online real estate video technologies are injecting more realism into virtual tours.

There are several video companies targeting the real estate sector, with offerings ranging from simple do-it-yourself tools to full-service packages and a common goal to make for-sale houses and real estate services come alive on prospective buyers’ computer screens.

“The technology and trends are everywhere you look,” said Frank Buono, executive vice president for VideoOpenHouse, a division of Rochester, N.Y.-based CGI Communications Inc., a video technology company that operates the VideoOpenHouse.tv site. “Everything is going in that direction. Our country and our society is such that we like things in sound bites — we’d rather watch things on television than read about them in the newspaper. Is video more impactful than words and pictures? Certainly.”

The progression of multi-media technologies is melding the Internet, televisions, computers, phones, cameras and PDAs in new ways. And consumers seem to be embracing this digital amalgamation. MSN Video had an audience of 9.28 million unique visitors in March, according to Nielson/NetRatings, while YouTube had 9.05 million, Google Video had 6.25 million and iVideo had 4.34 million.

About 24 percent of Internet users view online video at least once each week, the Online Publishers Association reported in March, and about 40 percent of consumers have visited a Web site mentioned in a video or clicked on a related link surrounding a video.

Real estate professionals have latched onto video, said Buono. “Of all the programs we do with cities, the real estate industry is by and large our most popular industry.” CGI also operates Mayors.tv a venture that has created videos for hundreds of local governments and businesses across the country. The company is 18 years old, and it has offered online video services since 1999. The company has created a technology that automatically detects the best format and connection speed for video playback.

“Most of our videos initially were produced for municipalities,” and that work evolved into videos on education, healthcare and industry, he said. “What we learned very quickly was that real estate agents and the real estate community loved what we were doing.”

The latest CGI venture, VideoOpenHouse.tv, allows agents to personally record video messages describing amenities in a for-sale home. They also have the option of allowing the company’s professional staff to record the video messages. The company sells software, hardware and service packages that range from $2,500 and up. Lower-cost packages enable individual agents or brokerage companies to generate up to 25 videos, and the package also includes the creation of a video business card that features a brief video introduction and contact information.

Agents use a Web camera and software provided by CGI to record video messages for brief descriptions of rooms and views, and these video messages are displayed online along with a corresponding photographic images and a text description of property details.

The videos can be sent by e-mail, viewed on handheld devices, and displayed on the agent’s and company’s Web site, Buono said, and the videos can feature an agent’s real estate logo. CGI’s videos can also be found at the Google Video search site and appear under the company’s eLocalLink brand.

Real estate professionals can edit the online presentation using online tools that CGI provides. It typically takes about two weeks from the time an order is placed to the initial setup and operation of the video tour tools, Buono said.

Stats on video views are also included in the service. Real estate professionals who send out videos via e-mail can choose to receive an immediate response when a recipient views the e-mail video, he said, and CGI also provides data on which Web sites are leading consumers to view the videos. For custom videos such as high-end residential properties, CGI can assign a professional videographer to capture video, Buono said.

WellcomeMat, another real estate video technology company, offers a real estate video search capability, basic video editing tools and a directory of videographers. Video, said WellcomeMat co-founder Christian Sterner, “is the ultimate ball of fire. If you have a video of the space that you want to sell, the only people who show up in person for the physical walkthrough are going to be people who have checkbooks in their pocket. It saves every party that is involved in any real estate transaction a ton of time. With me, I know if I’m in a place I could consider home within a few seconds of walking in the front door.”

Video can help real estate searchers and agents alike to cut down the time spent searching for homes, he said.

Sterner said he was drawn to the concept of video for real estate listings after reading a business profile about a New York City rental broker who shot video of all of his listings. In many cases, people would sign a lease without visiting the property, Sterner said. “I thought this … is what people should be doing — uploading video on to the site and qualifying people that way. The video would be the ultimate qualifier. I think broadband has reached a point where it has penetrated the majority of the marketplace.”

The WellcomeMat site welcomes all — for-sale-by-owner sellers, residential and commercial agents and brokers, and rental agents. Sterner said a classified advertising model is planned for the site, with a pay-per-listing charge of less than $1 per day for each video listing displayed at the site. A mapping capability and a custom URL for each video are also under consideration for the site, he said, and a communication platform for home sellers and videographers is in the works.

Sterner’s own background is in video production for Sony Electronics, and the WellcomeMat headquarters is in Boulder, Colo. “We are not doing a lead-generation model,” he said. “We find a lot of times buyers get turned off by that,” though a simple visitor counter may be added to the video listings.

Video files uploaded to WellcomeMat must be limited to 100 megabytes or less at this time, and sterner said he recommends keeping the run time between three to five minutes, with 10 minutes as the absolute maximum. The video editing tools at the site allow sellers to overlay a text description of house amenities that can be viewed as the video is playing.

“I would say the comfort level is growing (with video). Realtors realize in order to differentiate themselves now — with growing inventories and rising interest rates — video is the next step,” Sterner said.

PropertyPanorama.com, a real estate virtual tour company, this month is launching Panorama Video, a service that will combine photographs and property information with an audio track to create online video presentations. Rather than live video walkthroughs of a home, the technology will be based on still photographs.

“The user … enters the property information and the pictures that they have taken of the listing. Our software then automatically uploads these items to our servers, where we stitch the pictures together into … panoramas,” according to a company description. “Next, we assemble the property information, still pictures, scrolling panoramas, and (360-degree) panoramas into both a virtual tour and a panorama video.”

Users can choose from a variety of music to air during the video, and can also submit a portrait photo and banner to display during the video. The company draws from a network of independent contractors to capture images for the virtual tours and videos. The monthly subscription cost for a PropertyPanorama.com services is $24.95, which includes unlimited virtual tours and videos, and the company offers a pay-per-tour option that offers a virtual tour and a panorama video for $14.95 or 10 virtual tours and 10 videos for $100. Videos are submitted to the Google Video site.

Other sites, such as PodcastMyProperty.com and PodcastMyFSBO.com, also offer to produce digital video files from still photographs and basic property information and submit the video files to Google Video. These two sites create an audio track to accompany the images. VHT.com and AdvancedVideoTours.com are also among sites that offer real estate video services.

Inman Stories, which is a part of Inman News, offers full-service real estate videos produced by professional videographers that range from agent and broker profiles to luxury-home presentations. Inman Stories draws from a database of 2,000 filmmakers and can produce videos for locations around the world.

Coldwell Banker is using video to educate consumers on a variety of real estate topics. The company offers online videos on “Buying Your First Home,” “The Housing Market and Interest Rates,” “Effectively Working with an Agent,” and “Preparing a Home for an Open House.”

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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