The widely promoted and community-supported event in South Florida resulted in more than 700 online open houses, and it could serve as a model for associations nationwide looking to keep momentum in the wake of the pandemic.

The week of April 19-26 was Virtual Open House week in South Florida.

Orchestrated by Broward, Palm Beaches, and St. Lucie Realtors and executed through BeachesMLS, the unique, online home marketing event was a technological showcase of how agents innovate when under the pressures of never-before-seen market conditions.

The association has temporarily halted all in-person home open houses.

Virtual open houses, live walk-throughs and video content are rocketing to the forefront of modern home sales tactics, and “Parade of Homes”-type tour events have long been a mainstay in the marketing quiver of brokers and agents nationwide.

So, why not combine the two?

The organization created a website that walked members through the details, event standards, marketing tips and offered a 22-minute YouTube video on how to create a virtual open house using Facebook Live or another recommended platform, such as YouTube Live or Zoom.

The Realtors page even included a series of pre-made promotional social media posts for downloading.

BeachesMLS CEO Dionna Hall

Buyers were invited to find a home to tour on VirtualHouseSearch.com, and a new field was created in the MLS to promote them.

“We’ve been doing a quarterly open house weekend for members,” said Dionna Hall, CEO of Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches & BeachesMLS, in a call with Inman. “This is a time when we encourage members to put open houses into the MLS, and we advertise in the newspapers, develop social media graphics and try to get a lot of attention [for the weekend].”

As the pandemic took hold, agents and the market needed answers and direction.

Danielle Boutin, BeachesMLS’s vice president of Emerging Technologies, asked why they needed to give up the quarterly event. With Hall’s and the organization’s full support, Boutin forged ahead.

“We had [previously] approached both of our MLS vendors to add the virtual open house field. Once we accomplished that, we said, ‘let’s get our members involved’ and encouraged them to get their listings out there to keep activity going,” Boutin said.

The current spike in viewing homes from the safety of the internet can be connected directly to physical distancing guidelines, but some in the industry see it as something that’s going to stick, even when it’s safe to once again visit properties and people in person.

Engel & Volkers announced last week a formal partnership with video tour content provider Matterport; HomeSpotter announced an advertising product to specifically promote virtual open houses, and BoxBrownie developed its own 360-degree tour product in addition to its service of editing third-party real estate imagery.

Danielle Boutin, BeachesMLS’s vice president of Emerging Technologies

Hall said announcing the virtual open house weekend served as a tangible motivator to get members comfortable with a new way to sell and showcase properties.

“Our team developed a very easy email for them to follow, as far as what tools to use, and live links to whichever of our two MLS platforms they were used to,” Hall said.

The organization then launched the website and promotional campaigns, mirroring the combined print and digital strategies used for their traditional quarterly in-person events.

It was a success.

When the week drew to a close on Sunday, April 26, more than 700 virtual open houses were viewed, and VirtualHouseSearch.com saw more than 8,000 unique page views.

“The fact that our subscribers went out and adopted this new technology and used it was really amazing, and we hope to see a lot more,” Hall said.

They also garnered support from a range of community partners. More than 45 businesses and organizations from multiple counties helped spread the word.

Brokers, too, were happy to see such a level of support from their MLS, according to Hall, who cited how marketwide trepidation gave way to fear of a full stop in business.

Boutin said that before the association’s formal support and marketing, only “seven or eight” had used the virtual tour field.

“So, through this marketing and event, we really saw our members follow through, so, to see the numbers go to where they did is really exciting,” she said.

Have a technology product you would like to discuss? Email Craig Rowe

Craig C. Rowe started in commercial real estate at the dawn of the dot-com boom, helping an array of commercial real estate companies fortify their online presence and analyze internal software decisions. He now helps agents with technology decisions and marketing through reviewing software and tech for Inman.

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