SAN ANTONIO — After more than a decade in broadcast news, Cynthia Lee was ready for something new. So about a year ago, she became a real estate agent. But she found she wasn’t quite ready to leave the cameras behind.
Along with a former colleague from the Fox television affiliate in San Antonio, where Lee had been a reporter and anchor for 12 years, Lee founded a production company that makes video home tours for agents.
"I don’t regret leaving TV news — I was done," she said. "And I do love real estate. But I’m having a ball. I’ve kind of found my niche."
Although she spends her days selling houses (with $3 million in transactions in her first year, she said) as an agent for Kimberly Howell Properties, she and business partner Heather Chandler also run Videocast Now in San Antonio.
The team creates home tours that range from slide shows of still photos with voice-overs, to video walk-throughs conducted by Lee. They also make promotional video bios that agents can send to prospective clients.
The endeavor took off quickly, she said. In its first year, Videocast Now has created over 40 of the slide show packages and about 20 of the on-camera walk-throughs that she described as "HGTV quality." Business is good enough now, she said, that they’ve hired help to write scripts and help with production.
During a recent conference of the National Association of Real Estate Editors in San Antonio and in a subsequent interview, she shared her ideas on what makes video presentations work — both in the news business and in real estate.
"Don’t be afraid to try something different," Lee said. "At one point, my station got rid of the anchor desk and made us stand next to each other. Everyone in the business made fun of us, standing up to read the news.
"But before long, other people were standing up and doing the news, too," she said.
In real estate videos, "we took the mundane idea of the virtual tour, and asked, ‘What can we do differently?’ " she said. In some of her tours, this has translated into bringing along an interior designer to discuss the house with her on camera, which adds to the pacing of the video.
"The designer also creates the vision that so many people lack," Lee said. "Her purpose in one video was to say, the sellers made this room into a playroom, but you can turn it back into a dining room."
During one shoot at an upscale home, two women wearing leotards quietly went through a yoga routine at poolside in the background while Lee and the home’s listing agent extolled the virtues of the $1.5 million house in front of the camera.
Cynthia Lee video sample.
"That made people remember that video," she said. "I got comments of, ‘Oh, yeah, the house with the yoga people.’ "
That house later sold to a buyer who first saw the video online in Mexico and asked to tour it, she said.
She shared some video tips:
1. It’s not necessary to shoot the whole house
In fact, being selective is better, she said.
"It doesn’t matter how much the house costs — all houses are good candidates for videos if shot right," Lee said. "But only shoot the best rooms in the house."
Editing the house down to its best parts is also a cost consideration, Lee said. "Here in San Antonio, real estate agents are, well, cheap. They don’t want to pay a lot for this."
She said she and Chandler decided they could make their production economically viable because they’re able to work quickly. She’s usually able to wrap up a shoot at a house in about an hour, which reflects her news background, she said.
"I get in — boom, boom, boom — and we’re out," she said.
Costs range from $159 for the slide show to $899 for Lee’s onsite tour of the house.
But that doesn’t necessarily all have to come out of the agent’s pocket, she said; sometimes sellers will pay half, and sometimes mortgage brokers will share the cost in exchange for a brief ad at the end of the video.
2. Get the production quality right
"The biggest thing is to have good audio," she said. "You can have the worst pictures, but if people can hear talking clearly, they’ll keep watching."
This can require investing in a quality microphone and skillfully dubbing in royalty-free music, she said.
And pay particular attention to what can be heard off-camera, she said.
"You’d be surprised how much you can hear airplanes overhead, noisy trucks, people coughing, the … man working next door," she said. It’s distracting and drags down the whole presentation, Lee said.
The best real estate videos are only about 90 seconds long, she said. "We can get away with three minutes, maybe four, but shorter is better," Lee said.
In terms of lighting, never interview anyone on camera who’s backlit because it will cause glare on-camera, she said.
3. Put the finished video everywhere
Her company’s videos go on the local multiple listing service, Facebook, Twitter, etc., she said. They also offer an optional texting service — passersby can text a code posted on a for-sale sign and see the video tour of the house on their phones, she said.
"I know this sounds cheesy — but you have to be yourself on camera ," said Lee.
"When I started in TV news, I tried to be Diane Sawyer," she said. "And I failed. I was memorizing what to say on-camera, and it showed."
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.
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