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Pandemic-spurred virtual home tours may be here to stay

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Realtors leaned heavily on video and virtual tours throughout 2020, and those tools may have cemented themselves in the industry even as the state resumes business as normal.

“This isn’t going to go away. You’re having clients that want to see more, and that’s what is really driving this push,” said Mia Burch, the 2021 president of the Delaware Association of Realtors. “That’s how it’s always been when it first started with photos years ago. Then clients wanted high-definition images, then aerials to see the whole property. If you’re listed with no pictures, you might as well be out of the game. If anything, video will enhance listings.”

3D Photo Media owner Radenko Ivanovic typically completes 150 assignments per year, but demand during the pandemic as real estate agents leaned heavily into virtual tours. | PHOTO COURTESY OF 3D PHOTO MEDIA

Photography and videography services often are behind the scenes in the real estate industry, especially in a social media age. These days, there are firms that can take staged photos or cinematic videos of homes for real estate agents to post online or share with clients in email, film drone video of the property, or offer Matterport, a 3-D camera system that can create entire floor plans.

When real estate agents were first deemed “not essential” in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, showings dropped and homes were being taken off the market. But for professional photography firms like Wheeler Home Concepts, there was high demand for video and virtual tours as home-buyers looked for safe alternatives to open houses.

The number of homes sold in Delaware that used virtual tours saw a 30.4% increase in 2020 from 2019, according to data provided by Bright MLS, a multiple listing service covering Delaware, five other states and Washington, D.C. Year to date, 2,023 homes in Delaware have sold with virtual tours as part of their listing.

“When the pandemic happened, we saw a huge uptick in clients looking for video and virtual,” said Joshua Wheeler, owner of Wheeler Home Concepts. “Eventually 90% of our listings with clients were using video and virtual. That gradually started to drop down to 30% when the state reopened.

3D Photo Media owner Radenko Ivanovic said that typically he completes under 150 photography or Matterport assignments a year, but he dealt with double or triple the normal volume in 2020. It got to the point where he had agents cancel on him a day before a shoot because the house sold before he could get there.

Matterport technology can capture hundreds of images to create 3D floor models, which may change the game for construction companies as they see fewer homebuyers explore the home model and start the shopping process online. | PHOTO COURTESY OF 3D PHOTO MEDIA

“Most of the increased requests came from construction companies so I can scan their model homes and clubhouses,” said Ivanovic, who only does real estate photography part time now. “For whatever reason, people aren’t coming into the model house anymore. Matterport technology can also give a sense of dimensions for windows and walls now, and you can even add furniture now.”

But even as professional video and photograph business rose, real estate agents also relied heavily on Facebook Live video chat options for an authentic tour. Beau Zebley, realtor with Century 21 Emerald in Millsboro and Lewes, said that typically he works with military clients who have to find a new home within short notice, so he’s familiar with emailing video walkthroughs to clients to narrow down the list. But then he stepped up his game with Google Duo and Apple FaceTime with clients who were tethered to military bases.

“The craziest was an Air Force major who didn’t see the house in person until four days after settlement,” Zebley said. “My goal is to find out everything that’s wrong with a house, because you get nowhere if you sugarcoat it for clients, and sometimes professional videos leave that out.”

Photography firms are taking high-quality photos so that home buyers can explore properties with a few clicks of a mouse. The virtual tour can help home buyers cull down a list of homes before they might see it in person. | PHOTO COURTESY OF 3D PHOTO MEDIA

That can run the gamut from whether the selling homeowners smoked in the house, the colors of the walls, issues with cabinet doors or laminate countertops instead of granite.

Overall, the residential real estate market nationally and in Delaware was strong in 2020. In Delaware, Burch said she’s seen an influx of buyers from New York and New Jersey opt for virtual tours and settle on New Castle County homes sight unseen, and Zebley said he’s seeing much of the same in central Delaware and Lewes. 

Delawareans may feel more comfortable with an in-person walkthrough, but with a sellers’ market, Burch said those from out of state may bid 15% to 20% more with cash based on what they see on video.

“New Castle County was slammed with out-of-state buyers, and the main motive is that property is cheaper in Delaware and taxes are lower,” said Burch, who is an associate at Long & Foster in Greenville. “It’s not so much of the fear of what they’re not seeing in the house, but that inventory is so low right now they’re worried about being outbid so they have to act fast.”

The mass migration of these New Yorkers and New Jerseyans might be triggered from work-from-home, Zebley said. With more people realizing they don’t have to come to the office every day, they want more room for less money. He believes that trend will continue to fuel the upward trend of video and virtual tours in the long run.

“People really like remote work, and at this point, they’re really used to it. Video tours probably won’t go away because the customer really likes having the ability to see the house from the comfort of their home,” he said. “I don’t know why you wouldn’t do it. With a video, they can view it a thousand times compared to one visit.”


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