Video chat lets agents’ smartphones do the walking for clients

More buyers getting first peek at homes through streaming video
online poll by Opinion Stage

John Goetz, a real estate agent in Bloomington, Indiana, recently showed about 10 homes to a couple who were planning to relocate to the area from another city.

The couple, who had taken time off from their busy schedules to visit town for a day, didn’t like any of the listings Goetz showed them.

Fingers walking image via Shutterstock.
Fingers walking image via Shutterstock.

That put the agent in a tough position. His clients were picky, had a short timetable and couldn’t easily see homes in person.

Thank goodness for Google Hangouts.

Goetz used the app’s video chat capabilities to show the couple properties in real time using his Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

He transmitted video of around a dozen homes, sharing them through the app or through YouTube.

Goetz’s clients ultimately made a successful offer on a listing they’d never seen in person, the day after “touring” the home through Goetz’s smartphone.

“They actually ended up buying a house they’d never set foot in,” said Geotz, a manager at Indianapolis-based Carpenter Realtors.

Some agents are using video chatting apps like Google Hangouts, FaceTime and Skype to help far-flung clients or even busy locals find homes.

It’s a convenient way for some house hunters to vet properties and their surroundings, providing some with enough confidence in a home’s setting and condition to make offers on listings without ever visiting them.

One startup, Realync, has designed an app specifically to support live video walk-throughs, as well as “virtual open houses” that could deliver live video feeds to dozens of remote buyers.

Product demo of ReaLync.

Sherry Arnold, who’s based near Fort Bragg, North Carolina, has worked with soldiers who relied solely on listing photos to make offers on homes.

But now she uses video chatting apps Skype and FaceTime to show long-distance clients flaws that wouldn’t appear in listing photos.

“It’s such simple procedure, which is really good for me because I’m not tech-savvy at all, and if it’s complicated, I don’t want to even try it,” said Arnold, an agent with Fayetteville-based ERA Strother Real Estate.

The app also offers a means for off-site buyers to size up a home’s neighborhood, said Katie Barbato, another ERA Strother Real Estate agent.

“They can see everything that is in the surroundings, not just the home itself … the neighborhood, the neighbors, and what’s across the street and things like that,” said Barbato.

Barbato says she’s used FaceTime to help four clients see homes that they ended up purchasing without visiting.

Live video walk-throughs can help buyers beat the competition as well, particularly in fast-paced markets.

Redfin agent Jordan Clarke said he beamed footage of a San Diego home to clients in Washington, D.C., about 30 minutes after the property hit the MLS.

The couple loved it, and immediately made an offer that was accepted before a higher bid rolled in later that day, Clarke said.

Even local buyers are viewing homes through their agents’ smartphones.

Greg Geilman has also used Google Glass to conduct live video walkthroughs.

Greg Geilman has also used Google Glass to conduct live video walkthroughs.

Greg Geilman, an agent at Manhattan Beach, California-based South Bay Residential, said FaceTime was very useful for showing homes to an executive at Electronic Arts because the businessman didn’t have much time to visit properties.

“Obviously, seeing a home in person is the very best way to experience a home, but sometimes schedules don’t permit,” Geilman said. “And we are in such a low-inventory and competitive market these days that sometimes we don’t have time to wait a day or two.”

Barbato thinks the day may come when some local buyers actually prefer to get a first peek at homes through their agents’ smart devices, rather than run the risk of wasting time visiting listings that turn out to be bad fits.

Chicago-based Matt Weirich envisions a similar role for real-time video walk-throughs, but concedes that he’s biased.

Weirich is the creator of Realync, a new live video sharing app that’s “100 percent catered to a real estate tour.”

Unlike other video sharing apps, Realync records all the footage to the cloud so that buyers can go back and review it.

During a tour, buyers may view property details, send instant messages to their agents, shoot photos and take notes that they can review later. They can also share recorded tours on social media and through email from within the platform.

Realync lets multiple people view tours from different locations and conduct private chats that their agents can’t see.

That opens the door for what Weirich calls “virtual open houses,” where more than 100 people could conceivably view homes in real time from the comfort of their keyboards.

Weirich thinks that agents will be willing to pay for that functionality, even though they can use other video chatting apps for free.

“A lot of brokers today don’t use FaceTime or Skype because it’s not a catered real estate tool … because it doesn’t have profession veneer to it,” he said.

Realync is currently piloting the app with five brokerages. The startup aims to sell enterprise subscriptions that would give brokerages a certain number of touring minutes to share with their agents.

Agents may use the app on a free-trial basis, after which they must pay as little as $9.99 a month or as much as $89.99, depending on how much they use the app.


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