Editor’s note: More Web users today are creating their own content and uploading it to the Internet for the world to see, and the trend is catching on in real estate. In this three-part series, Inman News digs into the user-created content trend to explore consumer feedback on property listings, the emergence of new local user-created community sites, and the latest in user-created online video content.

Editor’s note: More Web users today are creating their own content and uploading it to the Internet for the world to see, and the trend is catching on in real estate. In this three-part series, Inman News digs into the user-created content trend to explore consumer feedback on property listings, the emergence of new local user-created community sites, and the latest in user-created online video content. (Read Part 1 and Part 3.)

If user-generated content is the darling of the Internet, Web video is its poster child.

Sites like YouTube, Google Video, Yahoo! Video and now MSN’s Soapbox allow anybody to upload and watch video clips on the Internet for free. This year, millions of us have learned just how easily amused we are — or maybe just starved for original entertainment.

YouTube alone claims to serve up more than 100 million videos a day, many produced by amateurs who tape themselves lip-synching along with their favorite songs or film their pets’ antics. The audience for videos that go viral can number in the hundreds of thousands or millions.  

Businesses, including many in the real estate industry, have noticed the phenomenon and attempted to capitalize on it with sometimes disappointing or even embarrassing results. Even companies that don’t choose to get in the Web video game may find themselves the subjects of amateur videos, which may sing their praises or be ruthlessly condemning.

Real estate professionals and for-sale-by-owner sellers are catching the Web video wave, using it to promote themselves and market their properties. But there are pitfalls to avoid that can waste time and money.

The technical and financial barriers to making a video and putting it on the Internet are so low as to be virtually non-existent. Many still cameras and even cell phones capture usable video images that can be downloaded to a computer and edited in minutes. There’s been an explosion in free Web video “host” sites that will store your videos and stream them to viewers. Many now even provide the HTML code you need to cut-and-paste a viewer into your own Web site or blog.

Because many Web video and blog host sites are free, property owners or real estate agents now have the option of creating a personalized blog with a video tour for any listing — without paying a dime. But while such efforts don’t necessarily involve a financial outlay, they do require an investment in time. And there’s no guarantee that investment will be rewarded.

When 29-year-old Dan Fellars put his San Marcos, Calif., house on the market this spring, he listed it with Help-U-Sell, where he’d successfully sold his first home. Fellars, a software engineer who moved his family to Utah to attend graduate school at Brigham Young University, decided he’d also create a blog to sell the house. The blog features a slide show he converted into a video and posted on YouTube.

With the slowdown in the San Diego area housing market, “I decided to build a Web site, because I felt I needed to do anything and everything to get exposure on the house,” Fellars said. “I felt if I did everything I could, I’d be OK with the outcome.”

Fellar’s site — BuyDansHouse.com — is more elaborate than many blogs. But so far, it’s mostly generated interest from other sellers who want to know if Fellars can create a similar site for them. Since he’s too busy working on his master’s of business administration, Fellars has instead offered to promote others’ listings on his site, which uses Google Maps to link to nine other properties.

“Probably 90 percent of the people coming to my site are selling their houses,” Fellars said. “Until it becomes a destination site for buyers, it’s not going to be too effective.”

Fellars has dropped his price and hired a full-commission broker, but has yet to receive an offer for his home, which he has decided to rent to another family. Married with two children, Fellars says he bought the home a year and a half ago with no intention of flipping it.

The house is now listed for less than he paid for it, but he’s in no rush to sell. “I’d love for my house not to sell, and to be able to go back to it” after grad school, Fellars said. “I bought it thinking I’d be there for 15 years.”

Although the difficulty Fellars has had selling his home may have more to do with the San Diego housing market than his marketing efforts, it does illustrate a point: creating a blog and a video to promote a property may be easy, but leading buyers to it can be hard.

With more than 65,000 videos uploaded to YouTube alone each day, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. When ING Direct launched a “viral” marketing campaign to convince renters to buy homes with an ING mortgage, it uploaded four professionally produced advertisements to YouTube, Yahoo! Video, Addicting Clips, Google Video, and AOL’s Uncut Video.

After a month on the site, the four ING-backed videos had been watched 1,149 times on YouTube — or an average of less than 300 views each. By comparison, this home video of a dog having a psychotic episode on an overstuffed chair, “Crazy Dog,” has been watched more than 5 million times.

User-created videos and for-sale-by-owner sites

One way to make sure buyers see a video about a property is to put it somewhere they will be looking for houses.

One leading for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) Web site, ForSaleByOwner.com, is gearing up to allow sellers to incorporate video into their listings. Another, Owners.com, is considering it.

“Many (users) have video cameras, and we’re interested in allowing the consumer to be able to produce content for the site,” said Colby Sambrotto, ForSaleByOwner.com’s chief operating officer. Although ForSaleByOwner.com’s users can already provide links to their own videos on other sites, the company plans to give sellers the ability to embed videos in their listings within the next six months, Sambrotto said.

Unlike “virtual tours,” which allow viewers to pan across multiple still images to get a panoramic view of their surroundings, a video can be shot in a few minutes without special equipment or skills.

“With virtual tours, you have to have a team come out to the house, and shoot it with special equipment,” Sambrotto said. If consumers are provided with a user-friendly interface to upload footage to the site, Sambrotto said he expects video will quickly become as popular as virtual tours.

“It’s just a compelling way to give someone a tour of your property,” Sambrotto said. “It doesn’t have that fisheye lens quality that some virtual tours have, and it gives you more say in how the (buyer) views the property.”

Steve Udelson, chief executive officer of Owners.com, says his site has offered virtual tours for the last five years, and could add video capability if clients want that feature.

“We don’t offer it currently, and we haven’t had any requests to, so we haven’t looked into the technical feasibility,” Udelson said. For now, sellers can always link to videos that are hosted elsewhere, he said. Video may be useful for showing a home’s features in detail, but those features are often low on a buyer’s list of priorities, Udelson said.

“From a buyer’s standpoint, which is what is most important, they are most concerned about price, location and size,” Udelson said. “Those are the big filters. Once they apply them, there’s not an extensive list of features they are looking for.”

In a hot housing market, he said, “you’d be on someone’s short list, and you wouldn’t even need the photos to bring them in” for a walk-through. But that could be changing, Udelson acknowledged. “With more inventory on the market, homeowners are going to have to offer a lot more information to get them to the next step.”

Companies offering a helping hand

There are also hundreds of independent video producers who offer a range of services, from production to hosting, at fees that can also vary widely.

At the low end are companies like Real Estate Home Show, which takes photos agents supply and converts them into virtual tours with audio tracks the company refers to as “videos.” For as little as $79, the company will upload the visual and audio presentation to YouTube and video host sites operated by Google, Yahoo and AOL. The faux-videos are also posted on the company’s Web site, and a non-branded version is compatible with MLS listings. Agents get links that allow them to embed the visual presentations in their MLS listings or on their own Web site. For $249, the Real Estate Home Show offers to broadcast the photo-based videos over the DirectTV and DISH Network satellite television services.

“Video is the future, and the benefit (of REHS) is the consistency,” said the company’s founder, Miles Johnson. “The Real Estate Home Show will do just about anything to market your listing. We are continually adding to our products and adding to our capabilities.”

One client, Marie Hansen of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Huntington Beach, Calif., said she likes the ability to offer clients TV exposure.

“I just started with them, and so far I am pleased with the product,” Hansen said. “I think it’s a good alternative to the virtual tour,” which she said is “a little too static. You (the viewer) have to make something happen with it.”

PropertyPanorama.com offers a similar service, which combines still photos and audio in an online video presentation.

And Serious Magic makes software that allows real estate professionals and FSBO sellers to produce their own videos from still pictures. The software, Visual Communicator, automatically matches voiceovers to specific photos in a process that takes less than 20 minutes, said Serious Magic’s Michelle Gallina. The final product can be uploaded to the Web or burned to a CD for distribution.

At the other end of the video spectrum are professionally produced, high-end videos offered by a number of companies and independent producers. Videos like the one at LegendaryEstate.com, created to sell a Los Gatos, Calif., home once owned by Apple Computer founder Steve Wozniak for $10 million, are often employed to market upscale properties.

But such professional productions don’t qualify as user-generated, and might not be cost-effective for marketing more typical homes. A video that promotes an agent or company has a much longer shelf life, however, and may justify the additional cost of hiring a professional.

“Life With Lois” is an example of how one Los Angeles real estate agent is using video to promote herself. These clips, while professionally produced, depart from the slick, glossy look of many corporate videos. With their handheld camera work and candid subject matter, they borrow from the reality show genre.

In fact, the subject of “Life With Lois,” Lois Gerace, says she is hoping the shorts land her a deal starring in her own TV reality show. If the videos also generate businesses, that’s a nice fringe benefit.

The inspiration for “Life With Lois” was “first for me to become famous, and second for the hits, for lead generation,” Gerace said.

The videos can be seen on YouTube and Google Video, with links from Gerace’s Web site. She also includes links to the videos in e-mails to clients and on interactive business cards.

The short videos feature Gerace at work, thinking out loud as she drives around town, chatting with a client on a stroll through a shopping mall, or mentoring a new agent in her office. They are designed to showcase Gerace’s knowledge — accumulated through 30 years in the business – and her personality. She says they’ve been a big hit with her audience, which is clamoring for another three to five episodes she and producer Frank Ordonez have shot but not edited.

“We made it because we want them to see life with Lois — all of it,” Gerace said. “They are demanding it — they want to see me. They want to see what happens next. They laugh at it too. They say, ‘Lois it’s interesting and its funny and you look good on film.”

Gerace says she’s had friends in real estate buy billboards for $6,000 to $35,000, and that the cost of “Life With Lois” fell somewhere in between.

So far, Gerace says, “I have gotten one referral from it, which paid for 90 percent of it.”

Amateur pundits ride the trend

Another outgrowth of the revolution in user-generated content is the emergence of the amateur and semi-professional pundit, who offers up opinions on everything under the sun — including the local housing market or real estate startups like Redfin.

With the advent of blogs and Web video host sites like YouTube, buyers looking for homes in an unfamiliar market can now check in with non-traditional information providers like Lou Minatti, a 42-year-old marketing director for a small tech company on Houston’s west side.

In addition to writing about real estate on his blog, Minatti has posted videos to YouTube such as “West Houston Real Estate,” a bicycle tour of neighborhoods where new homes and for-sale signs have sprouted like weeds. In “Real Estate Crash,” Minatti comments on some of the more desperate tactics employed by sellers in print ads, as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” sets the tone in the background.

Minatti says he has no connection to the real estate industry, other than owning a house that’s almost paid off. “I’m just a goof with a digital camera,” he told Inman News via e-mail. “The videos are incredibly easy to create and edit.”

Minatti says he’s old enough to remember Houston’s 1980s real estate crash, and is alarmed at what he sees happening in other parts of the country today. He thinks prices in the Houston area will decline, but not as much as in other areas that saw more rapid appreciation during the boom.

“I think Houston is different because we are not seeing a price bubble like California or Arizona, we are seeing an overbuilding bubble,” he said. That locals outside the industry are now able to share their insight into real estate, Minatti said, is “fantastic.” 

“I am getting feedback from others around the country who are in the process of putting together their own local reports ‘from the street,'” Minatti said. “Yes, such reports are biased. But I think they are helpful.”

The run-up in housing prices during the boom years captured the attention of the mainstream news media. Today, the real estate industry is also the subject of user-generated reports from Web-based news services and commentators. This piece about Redfin by the online news service StoryPipe consists of nothing more than a commentator voicing his opinions on camera. Unlike more traditional news reports, the piece features no interviews with company officials or clients. Instead, the “reporter” summarizes news reports and offers his own opinions.

By comparing Redfin to a waterless toilet, the report means to pay the company a complement — both, we are told, are useful but unfairly maligned products. So what’s a company to do about the attention it receives from non-traditional sources? One option would be to ignore such reports. But Redfin, being the Real Estate 2.0 company that it is, took note of the report on — where else? — the company’s blog.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to matt@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 150.

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