Who would have thought that a company selling shoes online could be so successful? Most of us feel the need to try a shoe on and take a few steps before going through with the purchase, yet today I go to Zappos first when I’m in need of some new kicks.

The increasing amount of real estate purchases in today’s market involving buyers who have never stepped foot in a house prior to purchasing that house makes Zappos’ feat a little less impressive. How could someone sign on the dotted line for an investment so large that they have never seen in person?

If you haven’t heard of a fellow Realtor assisting in this type of transaction yet, you will. This is a common real estate marketing trend happening for many reasons; the first few that come to mind are: increased buyers from overseas, decreased inventory forcing buyers to be more aggressive, and the abundance of affordable technology to bring the buyer an experience that is similar to visiting the property in person.

How are these agents making this happen? My fascination with these “remote purchases” had me seeking answers.

The obstacles:  The buyer needs to understand the location and also have some feeling that they’ve been inside the property.

Helping with “understanding the location”

  • Community/neighborhood videos — These types of videos help show what it’s like to live in an area. Think of a commercial for an area you specialize in that makes people want to live there. You could highlight the history and location, but most importantly showcase the lifestyle. For examples of some high-quality neighborhood videos, check out what the San Francisco Association of Realtors has done.  Many individual agents and brokerages are now producing their own or hiring freelancers for help. Out-of-town buyers see the value in these and you just may learn something new about an area that you specialize in.
  • Local stats — Direct the buyers to the stats that they care about. There may be some that you can’t discuss but in most cases you can point them to a website or give them a document that was produced by a third party.  Demographics, schools and average commute time are all questions that buyers are asking. If you don’t have a solid source for these figures, you need to find one but you can start with neutral websites like walkscore.com and greatschools.org.
  • Google Street View — In order to truly allow the buyer to feel like they’re walking the street of their dream home, utilize Google’s Street View. Those weird-looking Google cars covered with cameras have canvassed almost every residential street in the U.S. To use this feature on the new Google Maps, simply look up an address then click “Street View.” Now you and the buyer can explore the neighborhood from a remote location without having to endure the elements.

Helping with “buyer feeling like they’re in the house”

  • Prerecorded video — Chances are, your mobile device captures some pretty sharp HD-quality video at this point. When prerecorded, the quality of that video is maximized and there is a less likely chance of technical difficulties. You can get fancy with add-on gadgets such as the snap-on wide-angle lens from Photojojo or even some sort of smartphone stabilizer like the Woxom Slingshot. Keep in mind that these video files will most likely be too large to email so you’ll need to utilize some sort of cloud service to share with your clients.
  • Live streaming video — Whether it’s via Facetime, Skype or even the Tango app, your buyer can be with you as you tour the property, and you can exchange live dialogue. The quality usually won’t be as crisp as a prerecorded video due to Internet connections, but if the buyer wants to look at specific nooks and crannies they can now have more control. Be sure to bring a full battery or a charger and be cognizant of the fact that you may be making your client dizzy due to your movements.
  • Floor plans — Hopefully the listing agent provided one but since your high-tech smartphones not only have HD cameras but also gyroscopes, touch screens and location-based services, you can use the app MagicPlan to create your own.  The long wait for this app on the Android platform has recently come to an end so everyone can start creating accurate floor plans now. It’s very difficult for a buyer to imagine a house without an actual floor plan, as it gives them a frame of reference for what they saw on video.

Once you’ve been given the thumbs-up from your buyer, the rest can be coordinated through a digital signature software and old-fashioned phone and email. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to return to the property for more video — this is a huge purchase and a huge deal for the buyers, and you can understand their uncertainty. If only Zappos’ return policy could be applied to real estate. …

These are the most common tools I’ve uncovered that are being utilized when selling to buyers who haven’t actually visited the property. What kind of technology are you seeing used to “sell the unseen”? Leave a comment below and share it!

Justin Levitch lives in Washington, D.C., and is the VP of business development for Real Living | At Home. He is part of a family of Realtors from North Texas, and became the youngest managing broker for Coldwell Banker NRT at age 27.

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