Watching the virtual tour of La Panza Ranch in Santa Margarita, California, it’s easy to become so transfixed by the beautiful scenery and the rugged voice in the background describing the property’s “lush valleys and rolling hills with picturesque views,” that you may not stop to wonder who that sultry voice belongs to.
The answer is Seattle-based voice-over actor Joshua Alexander, one of many voice-over actors who are hired to narrate real estate videos.
Industrious voice-over actors like Alexander might be called to do one or two real estate video voice-overs out of the average 40 or so jobs they’re hired for per month. The bulk of Alexander’s gigs come from commercial, e-learning or explainer video requests and some of his clients in the past have been Nutrisystem, Cadillac, Wrangler, Unicef, Microsoft, John Deere, Uber, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Deloitte and Zillow.
“I’ll usually find those via Voices.com or Voice123 — online marketplaces [for voice-over actors],” Alexander told Inman.
However, Alexander never knows what agent or brokerage is handling the listing he’s been booked to narrate when he begins a job because he’s always hired by a third party like a casting or talent agency.
“You are one piece of a very large puzzle that’s given to you by a casting director, talent agent, somebody … and you have to help people just hearing your voice see that imagery,” Alexander said. “When it’s done, it’s always very interesting.”
Alexander’s career as a voice-over actor began years ago when he was working for a marketing company selling public service announcements to businesses that he then voiced on the radio. Eventually, he decided to do voice-over work full-time, created his own home studio and has been doing voice-overs, hosting workshops and providing other consulting and related voice-over services since 1993.
Jessica Lewis is another voice-over actor who regularly receives requests for real estate-related gigs. After a start in broadcasting for her undergraduate college station, Lewis worked for her local radio station before taking a break from voice-over work altogether. Then, after posting some of her voice clips online, she gained enough attraction to want to give the work a shot full-time.
Most of Lewis’ work comes from voicing product, explainer and corporate videos, and recent highlights include Dior and Pedia Lax commercials.
“There’s a lot of different genres within the voice-over industry,” Lewis noted, so artists juggle diverse jobs any given day or week.
Of her work on real estate videos, Lewis said, “It’s a small percentage [of my work] right now, but I love it the most … I think it comes down to enjoying who you work with and the process. I think it’s a growing thing, but agents think, ‘I want it, that’s awesome, but I don’t know how to get there,’ or they think it’s expensive.”
Rates vary among voice-over actors, but the Global Voice Acting Academy suggests a rate range of $350 to $450 for a finished corporate (non-broadcast) video of one to two minutes duration. Lewis, however, suggests a rate of $125 for the same type of video on her website.
Language in the script is usually not up for debate — nor is the specific accent requested of the actor (Alexander’s had British, Southern and a nondescript American accent requested, to name a few) — and the actor is often given narration that describes details of the property and the neighborhood, but also features of the city as a whole.
“You’re not just buying a property, you’re buying a city, a neighborhood,” Alexander explained.
“So you describe, basically … the house, obviously, and all of its feature-rich amenities, but also businesses nearby, the landscape, shopping, nearest airports, nearest highways. It’s really exhaustive.”
Although putting together a listing video with voice-over may seem like a straightforward process, Lewis said it’s not uncommon for agents to underestimate how long the process may take.
“I recently did a voice-over where they spent the time putting together this really great video and it was kind of wonky because the agent didn’t realize what went into it,” Lewis said. “And agents run on a really short timeline, and the house was sold before we were done [making the video].”
Yet, particularly for higher-end or luxury properties, a voiced-over video of the property can add a certain fairy-tale-like quality to draw in buyers.
“We all love watching HGTV,” Lewis said. “I think this is just an extra layer of storytelling. Instead of selling a product, you’re selling the story behind the home.”
Marc Scott, a voice-over actor who started voicing real estate videos when his Realtor brother-in-law asked him for help on a video, noted that out of the one to two real estate videos he voices per month, he sees more requests for work on videos featuring luxury listings.
“What I’ve found is that primarily it’s higher-end properties that they’re using it for,” Scott said. “And I’m not sure if that’s just because they put together more complex or more involved marketing campaigns for those types of listings. Obviously there’s a little bit higher commission there, so there’s a little bit more of a budget to work with voice actors.”
For luxury buyers, some agents are willing to go the extra mile with their videos to mentally transport potential buyers to the property.
“I recently did a narration for a Realtor in Florida and it was a very high end luxury home and it was like a short film,” Scott said. “The whole thing was obviously very well scripted, story-boarded, directed. Like, I watched it and felt like I was watching a movie trailer … It was honestly one of the most impressive things — not just real estate videos — it was just one of the most impressive videos that I’ve done narration for in quite a while.”
Leigh Laird, a voice-over actor of eight years who transitioned from broadcast radio, primarily focuses on e-learning and explainer videos. However, she recently started doing real estate voice-overs because she has a few agent friends and has a budding interest in real estate herself. Laird and her husband have hopes of one day starting some sort of real estate-related business, bringing in their 20-year-old son who’s on the autism spectrum, and helping him learn some hands-on skills like carpentry or landscaping.
“I’ve thought about it a lot,” Laird said. “For years and years, I had thought, ‘Oh, it would be so fun to flip houses’ … I’ve wanted to do it for a long time.”
“It’s an opportunity to employ [our son] in some way,” Laird added. “To teach him the hands-on skills required for doing that [like carpentry or landscaping].”
Laird noted that there’s more opportunities for real estate voice-overs — if agents are conscious of the opportunity — with more agents incorporating ample photos and videos into their social media strategies now more than ever.
“It’s starting to become a genre that’s taking hold because real estate agents and brokers, they use social media so well. When they post their listings, they post it on social media,” Laird said.
“I have several friends that sell real estate, so I see them posting their videos on Facebook, and I think, ‘God, they need to have a narration!’ because there are so many wonderful features of this house. But when you think about one of the advantages of video, it’s that it’s kind of mobile, so if you can’t actually be there and watch on your desktop or tablet or something, you can listen to it while you’re driving or whatever. So, that’s why the narration part is kind of the icing on the cake, really.”
However, with the ample technology options available these days, voice-over actors like Alexander find themselves in the same position as today’s real estate agent, in a way: individuals who might have traditionally been their clients now feel empowered by technology to do the job themselves.
“People can do it themselves,” Alexander acknowledged. “And certainly that’s true with iPhones and Androids and anything else these days. But as good as those [products] might be, they’re not necessarily on par with things inherent in the voice-over industry: the equipment, the studio, the talent that can walk you through this property. There’s also a level of impartiality … You bring in a pro to do that for you, and you can’t do the same quality [yourself].”