Moving an entire real estate experience online may not be easy, but in the time of the coronavirus pandemic it’s necessary — and very doable.

As part of Inman’s month-long focus on the New Productivity, we are publishing in-depth Inman Handbooks on the topics that matter most right now. Today: How to reopen your business this summer. Next up: How to launch your brokerage’s most critical tool — your CRM.

When the coronavirus started making headlines in the first weeks of 2020, few in the U.S. could have anticipated where the country would be now, months later. With the economy still mostly shut down, job losses at record highs and fear lingering about how to stay healthy, the world we live in today is a fundamentally changed one.

Luckily, however, this doesn’t mean real estate is dying. In fact, numerous agents have reported being busier than usual.

But it does mean real estate professionals have to adapt and carry out business remotely (among other things). That’s a complicated prospect, but below is a step-by-step guide to hopefully make it easier and to help agents sell listings without ever setting foot inside.

Table of Contents

Pitching to prospective clients remotely

The first step when selling a home is to actually win over a client who has a home to sell. But that’s not always easy to do when meetings have largely moved online.

​Najla Wehbe Dipp

“It’s definitely difficult,” ​Najla Wehbe Dipp, a San Diego-based agent with Sotheby’s International Realty, told Inman, “because I feel like there’s a little bit of that lack of a personal relationship.”

Nevertheless, Dipp has in fact conducted virtual meetings with new clients during the pandemic. And she said the most important thing agents can do is play up their strengths.

“What will help you stand out is who you are, the experience you have,” she said. “It’s the same thing that would get you to stand out before, but now you have to be a little bit more descriptive.”

Other best practices include sharing specific data about the local market; foregrounding the technology an agent will use to make a property stand out in these unusual times; making sure that the technology used to host the meeting — typically a video conferencing app such as Zoom — is going to work without a hitch; and being conscientious of body language, which matters more than ever when pitching remotely.

 

Useful tools for doing virtual listing presentations:

  • Video conferencing: Zoom, UberConference, Google Hangouts/Meet
  • Data and presentation media: MoxiPresent
  • Hardware: Multiple agents said that since the pandemic began they have invested in microphones and lighting in order to appear more professional on camera. Though agents appear to be using a wide array of products, most said that even the most basic options from Amazon would give agents a more polished look. One of the more popular ring lights on Amazon, for example, currently retails for about $60.

Additional resources: 

Preparing and staging a home with just a computer

Cara Ameer, a broker with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, told Inman that the pandemic’s impact on the industry are likely to be long-lasting.

Cara Ameer

“I think we’re going to be in a new normal for a long time,” she said.

That may pose a challenge for some agents; though holding a Zoom or Google conference is fairly straightforward, identifying spots where paint needs touching up or carpet needs cleaning is more difficult to do remotely.

Ameer recommends tackling that problem with ample imagery. Agents can, for example, ask their sellers to take photos of both the exterior and interior of a home. Sellers can also take agents on a video walk through of a property, during which agents should ask questions and take notes.

Once any repair work is done, agents should follow up and ask for updated photos.

Staging also becomes key at this point, and multiple agents have told Inman that they’ve turned to virtual options during the pandemic.

“We’re doing mostly virtual staging,” Dipp said. “It turns out that it’s very useful.”

In Dipp’s case, her brokerage actually has a staffer who does virtual staging in-house. But for agents who lack that resource, a number of companies such as BoxBrownie and roOomy can take existing imagery and insert (or remove) visual elements such as furniture.

Useful tools for prepping and staging a home: 

  • Virtual staging: BoxBrownie, roOomy
  • Communication: Zoom, Google Hangouts, Slack

Additional resources: 

Creating compelling imagery

The imaging technology that has received the most hype during the pandemic is almost certainly 3D tours. Zillow, for example, reported in April that interest in the technology was exploding, and a month later Matterport debuted an iPhone-based 3D tour product — a move that continued a running trend toward the democratization interactive imagery.

The key thing to keep in mind when it comes to 3D tours is that they’re increasingly becoming standard for houses at a variety of price points, rather than just for high-end listings. Moreover, numerous industry professionals believe that trend will outlast the pandemic.

Luckily there’s also a huge spectrum when it comes to 3D tour costs. At the highest end, Matterport offers a camera that retails for about $3,400. But both Matterport and Zillow have free options as well, and companies such as MagicPlan and Ricoh also offer more affordable tour products.

Ordinary video is also becoming more essential during the pandemic, with Ameer telling Inman for example that she uses it “on every listing I have.”

“I had a listing that went under contract during the pandemic purely due to the property video,” she added.

Ameer recommended agents explore newer kinds of video, such as aerial images, and advised agents to put their phones in airplane mode while recording so calls and texts don’t cut them off mid shoot.

Other best practices include keeping videos short, informative and focused on a listing’s best details.

One of the key things to remember, however, is that it’s better to just plunge in than to be intimidated into inaction; when Inman’s technology writer recently set out to make his own video, he pulled it off with just an iPhone 7s and minimal additional gear.

Useful tools for making compelling imagery: 

Additional resources: 

Holding virtual showings

Showings are among the experiences that have changed the most during the pandemic. But that can create challenges.

Tanya Hawkins

Tanya Hawkins, an agent with RE/MAX Preferred in O’Fallon, Illinois, is among the agents who have shifted business to a virtual model. She recalled to Inman a recent showing that took place via a Zoom call, and said both she and the buyer’s agents were present, but had their microphones muted while the seller walked the buyer through the property.

This kind of interaction can be challenging because typically buyers and sellers only communicate through their agents. In the freewheeling world of a Zoom call, however, its easy to imagine consumers inadvertently sharing information that could weaken their negotiating position.

As a result, Hawkins suggested agents address this issue by carefully preparing their clients before any video showings take place. And if everyone is prepared, the experience can be deeply rewarding.

“It just added so much more depth to the process because the buyer was able to ask questions,” Hawkins said. “We got through inspections easily because of that. And we got a full priced offer on the house after that Zoom call.”

Showing homes via video may also mean that agents themselves are appearing on camera more than they might be used to — which can be intimidating.

But Dipp said practicing makes all the difference.

“A lot of agents are nervous or scared of the camera, or worried they’ll look silly,” she said. “What has helped me is to send videos of myself to my friends just saying ‘hi.’ The more I’m on camera, even if it’s not for business, once I go to a video related call it’s easier because I’m practicing almost everyday.”

Other tips for getting comfortable on camera include writing a script, rehearsing and getting some basic gear. Hawkins, for instance, said she recently bought a gimbal, which is a device that holds a phone and helps keep it steady if she moves around.

Useful tools for doing virtual showings

  • Most agents who have recently weighed on this topic appear to be using existing platforms such as Facebook Live, Apple’s FaceTime app, Zoom and other technologies.

Additional resources: 

Holding open houses online

Much as is the case with showings, open houses have changed dramatically during the pandemic. By mid-March, for example, numerous agents told Inman they were already canceling their open houses — sometimes out of choice, but in many cases because state rules gave them no other options.

The result has been the rise of the virtual open house. For instance, shortly after quarantine mandates began, New York-based Compass agent Sean McKenzie told Inman his team held an interactive virtual open house for a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment using Ricoh’s platform.

Sean McKenzie

“We had a number of people who dialed in, which was pretty interesting,” McKenzie said. “They were basically able to see a two-bedroom apartment in the Lower East Side and get a dynamic feel for how the apartment looks and feels without actually being there.”

That kind of thing has continued since, and Dipp said that she has recently held open houses using Instagram and Facebook Live — platforms most consumers already use.

“It’s just a bunch of people that we don’t really know,” she said.

Virtual open houses do present some unique challenges though. For example, while during an in-person event visitors can walk around and see the things that matter most to them, the virtual equivalent may require an agent or homeseller to be on site and physically walk up to the home’s unique details and finishes. A high-end counter top, for example, may not be readily visible in a medium resolution video shot from across the room. So, someone needs to go hold the camera up close to it.

Agents may also need to strike a balance when it comes to chatting with virtual visitors; Shen Schulz, a Sotheby’s agent in Southern California, has argued for example that overly chatty hosts are distracting for consumers who want a more visual experience.

Either way, though, most agents who spoke to Inman for this story and many other recent ones believe the virtual open house experience will outlast the pandemic.

“Sellers in the last 10 years have become very adverse to [open houses] because they felt like it was just not worth it,” Hawkins told Inman. “Now I think there’s even less of a reason for them to open their home to strangers. I definitely see the virtual experience becoming more prevalent.”

Useful tools for holding virtual open houses:

Additional resources: 

Closing the deal

The final stage of the transaction may be the least changed part of real estate during the pandemic. Most agents, after all, were already familiar with DocuSign or similar technologies.

Still, Dipp said that being forced to have clients sign more documents remotely is hard because she used to always try to be present to answer questions. To address that challenge, she now sends clients a detailed description of every document they’ll be signing. And she’s available to offer additional help.

“I leave it up to them,” she said. “But if they have concerns I’ll definitely jump on a Zoom call.”

Because transactions also involve the transfer of money, it’s exceedingly important to stay in touch with clients and verify with them that they are sending funds to the right place. Emails and transfer directions in particular should be double and tripled checked as they are popular targets that hackers use to steal money.

Which is to say, it does not hurt for agents to repeatedly drill it into clients’ heads that they need to make a confirmation phone call before ever sending money anywhere.

It’s also worth mentioning that a number of companies are currently working on making the closing process entirely digital. These technologies were already seeing significant growth before the pandemic, but for real estate professionals who may not have had the time or the interest to try these options before, now may be a good time to take the plunge.

Useful tools for doing virtual closing:

Additional resources:

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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