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Feature Column

Coronavirus Opening Doors to New Ways of Doing Business

Michael Minard

It's no news to real estate firms that the coronavirus pandemic is hitting in the peak spring real estate season. With many states instituting shelter in place or stay at home orders, the ability to show homes, hold in-person open houses, and meet with clients in person has been reduced dramatically, and rightfully so.

Consequently, real estate firms have seen a huge spike in demand for virtual home showings—some in the triple digits. Firms are adopting new technology and changing how they do business: video tours, drive-by closings, and more are becoming the new normal.

While COVID-19 precautions are keeping people at home, it hasn't necessarily lessened their interest in shopping for new homes. And while most sellers understand that closing the deal will be challenging during these times, they still want to market their property, show their home to potential buyers, and keep the ball rolling toward an eventual sale.

Real estate firms and sales associates are readying themselves to adapt to this ever-changing situation. For sales associates who embrace change, those lessons can lead to growth and better, more modern service to their clients.

Virtual Showings Are at the Heart of Real Estate's "New Normal"

Virtual Open House New NormSales associates have long had their feet planted in two separate worlds:

  • They rely on in-person face-to-face relationship-building to leave a lasting impression
  • But they use digital marketing to keep those relationships going for months

Over the last few years, advances in digital real estate marketing have brought the two together like never before. Today's marketing automation tools create new opportunities for "always-on" relationship management that maintain the personal touch.

Tap Into the Power of Virtual Showings and Virtual Open Houses

Virtual Open Houses Keep Business MovingSo, how do you adapt? If you've been following our marketing advice in the past, then you're likely familiar with the idea of virtual tours through Properties in Motion, which have long been a great way to help out-of-market clients tour homes from the comfort of their computer or mobile device.

Virtual open houses and showings take that concept to the next level, allowing you to lead a tour of the property in real-time or pre-recorded and released at a specific time, answer questions, safely build face-to-face relationships using technology, and get buyers excited about the potential of the home. The key is for sales associates to adopt these new tools, and put them to work for their clients.

At Delta Media Group, we saw the opportunity to help. Our team has been working hard to develop and roll out the tools and training needed for real estate firms to continue doing business during this period of uncertainty. These tools and training resources are available to all clients in the DeltaNET, making it possible to schedule, promote, and hold home tours remotely.

Here's what you can expect if you decide to adopt Virtual Open Houses and Showings into your real estate business:

  • Buyers Can Easily Schedule Virtual Tours
    When a buyer wishes to tour a home virtually, they can arrange the tour through the same forms that they would use to schedule an in-person tour. They can select the date, time, choose their desired form of communication, and select the app that they desire to use for the tour. While a variety of apps are effective, FaceTime and Zoom are especially popular platforms for this type of tour among sales associates. From the sales associate's perspective, the notifications for tours will essentially look the same as in the past, just with a virtual showing instead of a traditional one.
  • Scheduling a Virtual Open House in the DeltaNET
    Scheduling a virtual open house in the DeltaNET is also very similar to what sales associates are used to when scheduling a traditional open house. You can easily set a date, start/end times, choose which sales associate will be hosting, and input the web address link for your virtual open house. Then, when a client visits the listing page, they will see a notification for the virtual open house at the top of the page.
  • How to Promote a Virtual Tour or Open House
    Promoting your virtual open house through Facebook posts and ads will use the same interface that you're already familiar with in the DeltaNET, with additional options to indicate that it is virtual instead of in-person. You choose when you want the ad to run, and where it will be seen. The customer will be able to see that it is a virtual open house, and will be directed to instructions for the open house when they click the link.

Virtual Open House integration is now available across all 350 MLS markets, covering more than 90% of home listings in America. And we are continuing to work to make virtual real estate events even easier for you to orchestrate – creating true concierge experiences for your clients.

Insider Secrets About Using Virtual Open Houses and Virtual Showings in Your Business

Throughout the U.S., there are still sales associates doing traditional showings. However, they are reporting a sharp drop in attendance: Events are seeing something like a third of the foot traffic they normally do. Plus, the health and safety concerns are massive.

At the time of the writing of this article, about 40% of respondents in a NAR survey had suspended open houses. Likewise, some MLS services have suspended the use of open house information or now require virtual events.

In-person showings now require strict attendance limits, "no touching" policies, social distancing, and, of course, hand sanitizer. Additionally, recent NAR guidelines remind members they are never required to risk their health to market a home.

Those are very real worries. Virtual open houses and virtual showings can put these concerns to rest.

I recently spoke with three Delta Media Group Sales Associate clients during a live webinar to learn about their experiences, successes, and hurdles hosting virtual open houses and virtual showings for their clients.

Melanie Kidder, Cutler Real Estate
Clark Kidder Team - clarkkidderteam.cutlerhomes.com

Melanie Kidder Cutler Real Estate"Our firm holds open house blitzes. We had our open house scheduled the same weekend we were not sure what was going on with COVID-19. I decided to hold the open house.

It was open; however, there were only two groups that came through live. I started thinking, 'Okay. I'm going to try to do this virtually.' Our company suggested trying it. Once the actual open house was over, I went live with a virtual open house to get as much information out about the house to as many people possible. So after I did the live Virtual Open House, I had probably almost 900 views on the live video from that was probably only a couple minutes long.

I used Facebook Live from my business page to run the event.

Something that I think is important when you're doing a video is to show off your personality. I start my videos by introducing myself, and then I move through the home—because, on Facebook Live, you can. You can have the camera on you, then you just push the button, and it goes back to where you can see the house.

I found it helpful to do research and have notes about all the updates the owner did, information about the local school district, the community, the parks that are nearby, so I can share it with people as I walk through the house.

I guess you can...I've taken advantage of Facebook Live as more or less of a virtual walkthrough. As you know, with Facebook Live, you can see who is popping up during the tour and talk with them right then. You can answer questions and respond to questions. Typically, people make comments like "it's a beautiful house" rather than ask specific questions. You'll also see emojis like a thumbs up, heart, or like."

Stephen Merkle, Cutler Real Estate
The Merkle Market Team - smerkle.cutlerhomes.com

Stephen Merkle - Cutler Real Estate"I recently scheduled my first virtual open house the first week that Stay at Home order was implemented. I told our seller that we would promote it on Facebook and utilize the tools that our internet vendor has provided with e-cards and other useful tools such as virtual open house banners on our featured listing page.

If you think about the virtual open house, there is some difference in promotion as far as on Facebook and online promotion through other social media channels. I also think there is a huge opportunity to engage your sphere of influence through the use of e-cards.

So, I sent an e-card out to my sphere of influence who I already have uploaded into our CRM and just invited them to take a look at it. It's my first ever virtual open house. This might be the new norm, come, and experience it. Even if they're not interested in the property, I'm happy to answer any questions that they have regarding the real estate market as a whole. I'm looking at it as an opportunity to connect with not only buyers but my past clients as well.

Other advice I might offer is not to be too salesy and be sensitive to the underlying feelings going on in our communities right now.

I've seen a lot of self-promotion on Facebook that's more look at me, I'm still doing business,' or it can be construed that way. You don't know if there is somebody in the community who is upset that they aren't considered an essential service and can't be working. I'm afraid of the backlash that we can receive if we come across as being too aggressive in self-promotion and not being sensitive to some of the community issues that are out there right now."

Shaun Simpson, Cutler Real Estate
The Make It Home Group - makeithomegroup.cutlerhomes.com

Shaun Simpson - Cutler Real EstateMy team has recently started doing Facebook Live virtual open houses. I would say it's been a learning experience. The very first time, we started by just throwing one out there and walking through the house, and hoping some people join.

I think our most significant learning experience has been the need to preplan. I understand the importance of in-game experience, but if you preplan, it starts by getting some people you know to join beforehand. Have some questions mapped out, have a game plan ready, almost like you would do any type of interview, any type of movie, and you have a storyboard ready to go. Plan it with announcements, advertise those announcements. Get the people you know that are attending to participate in some interaction, so it's not just a generic video walkthrough that you can see without doing Facebook Live.

Initially, we promoted live events on our Facebook business page and shared them to our personal pages.

I've learned it's best to run it from a personal page and share it to the business page. We set
it up as an actual event that you can advertise beforehand, opposed to just randomly going live, and then you can set that live, that way, it's something that people can click on that event and see beforehand.

One of the hurdles we faced was familiarity with virtual open houses. I know people are very familiar with an open house on Sunday at 1:00, Sunday at 2:00, where they can walk into a home and see it. So the target market is a big issue. If you're going to advertise it, you got to get it in front of more people than your friends, and how do you go about doing that, whether it's through other association groups and other agents being able to see it as well.

So promoting it and having people familiar with the platform is one hurdle. Multi-platform use is another issue that I've experienced. Obviously I think most people are focusing on the Facebook aspect of virtual open houses and showings. Facebook is one avenue. Now, we need to take the same concept and share it on the Twitters and the Instagrams of the world. There's quite a bit of an audience out there as well.

A third hurdle is to be sensitive to the issue our country is experiencing with COVID-19 and its impact. We don't want to act like we think that real estate is above and beyond the current situation we're in, but at the same time, we need to serve and provide that opportunity to our clients and to other people's clients.

So to be able to portray this as something that is an opportunity to see a house without exposing people to a potential risk, as opposed to being overly business-focused and opportunistic is important."

The Next Best Thing to Being There: Virtual Showings in Your Neighborhood

Virtual Open Houses in Your NeighborhoodVirtual showings were starting to catch on even before COVID-19. However, it's time to work together and take them to the next level and for all sales associates to embrace them.

Virtual showings can provide a full first-person, virtual face-to-face tour of a property, including panoramic views of all of its rooms and surroundings. Prospective buyers can explore the property at their leisure or join their sales associates via built-in videoconferencing for the true "guided tour" experience.

Even in the best of times, virtual showings are a wise move. They enable you to reach more people with each listing. You can serve those whose hectic schedule means they might otherwise not have the time to see a property in person. And more attendees means more leads.

Virtual showings and virtual open houses are exciting for everyone. So, what's slowing adoption?

The simple answer is perceived complexity.

A couple of years ago, virtual showings meant hiring a professional videographer, then stitching together a presentation from a whole series of unrelated software packages. This added expense and uncertainty to the process. Some real estate pros simply didn't have that kind of time to "wear another hat."

However, today this is not the case. Technology has rapidly evolved, and every sales associate possesses, in their hand, access to easy-to-use technology that makes doing virtual showings and virtual open houses simple.

The only thing lacking today is the sales associates learning how easy it is for them to create, host, and now promote these virtual events. We are addressing this now through expanded step-by-step training.

Through COVID-19 and After, Virtual Showings Have the Potential to Differentiate You

Despite all the economic uncertainty that comes along with the COVID-19 outbreak, historically low mortgage rates can still drive interest in buying – sometimes, without even visiting a home.

Sales associates must adapt! Now is the time to learn how easy it is to use this technology.

One of the best ways to serve your community – and yourself – in a time like this is to adopt virtual open houses and virtual showings. They are safe, effective, and great for buyers and sellers alike.

There will be a time after coronavirus. Things will start to go back to normal. Sales associates who embrace Virtual Open House today will be better prepared for whatever tomorrow brings.

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