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September 2020

Virtual tours proving popular among Northwest MLS brokers and their clients

Conducting business virtually "has been quite a shift for us," admitted Frank Leach, a director at Northwest Multiple Listing Service. Now, he added, "I don't see it reverting to what we had done in the past. Even our broker tours are now done virtually."

Although "shelter in place" directives, bans on group gatherings, office closures, and other mandates prompted by the coronavirus pandemic were disruptive to the housing market when first implemented, Northwest MLS data and members indicate home sellers, buyers, and real estate brokers have pivoted to various forms of virtual tools and are routinely using software and apps to manage tours and transactions.

"ShowingTime has been a huge success. Utilization of tools within it continues to multiply as more and more agents realize the flexibility of the system," reported Leach, broker/owner of RE/MAX Platinum Services in Silverdale. (ShowingTime, an online home showing scheduling and management tool, is used by more than 250 multiple listing organizations in the U.S. and Canada.)

Northwest MLS records show impressive year-over-year surges in the number of showing appointments. In June 2019 member-brokers logged 20,998 appointments. For the same month this year the volume increased eightfold, to 168,546. Similar jumps occurred in July when ShowingTime appointments increased from 20,246 a year ago to last month's total of 189,832.

Before scheduling an onsite tour of a listing, house-hunters can preview properties and neighborhoods from the comfort of their homes, phones, or mobile devices.

In May, NWMLS enabled listing brokers to input up to three links for touring choices on each of their listings, including options such as 3-D tours, recordings of video walk-through tours of the home, or photo reels.

On June 1, only about 2% of listings with virtual tours had two or more links, according to Northwest MLS statistics. By July 27, more than 12% of the listings (including active, contingent and pending) featured two or more touring options.

Leach said the response to adding multiple options "has been incredible from both brokers and consumers. Our clients are finding they can cover a lot of ground by using virtual tours and Live Stream Open Houses. The Live Stream Open House option enables agents to set up chats with prospective buyers and interact with them live on various platforms."

Matterport videos and imagery are well received, Leach stated, in part because they allow visitors to walk through a house and see more details, such as floor-to-ceiling and fully immersive 3D floor plan views.

"The viewer can fully control their experience of the home and its surroundings," Leach continued, adding, "Many folks from the east side of Puget Sound preview properties using Matterport videos before traveling to Kitsap County and booking an in-person tour."

House hunters can tour properties anytime, from almost anywhere, and with an assortment of devices. "It's like holding a 24-hour open house," remarked one broker.

Member-brokers at NWMLS can also showcase their listings at specific times using the Live Stream Open House option. Viewers can interact with the listing broker in real time while adhering to social distancing guidelines. No driving required!

Live streaming is also used by affiliated services such as home stagers and inspectors who can exchange information with the listing broker and provide feedback before the broker holds open houses for the public or other brokers.

Renee Vanous, a luxury marketing specialist and founder of The Vanous Group at Windermere Real Estate/East in Bellevue, said she and her team use both Live Stream Open Houses and live virtual tours on her listings and other "unique listings." In addition to generating "great feedback," she believes these guided tours give her team an edge over brokers who don't do them.

Vanous' team produces video tours for all their listings. Facebook and Instagram are among tools they use to attract viewers. The videos have proven to be a successful tool, even though Vanous readily admits the quality is not perfect. "Some people have said that's why they like it. It is authentic and true to who we are," she stated.

Virtual tours are increasingly popular with NWMLS members. That previewing option is offered on more than 10,000 listings in the MLS database (including active, contingent, and pending listings).

RAREnorthwest, a group of women at Windermere that works as a team, has embraced virtual open houses for their listings. Team member Trish Englund said they use Facebook Live to stream their videos. "Our video tours, Facetime and YouTube channel are a hit with many of our clients who prefer that option for previewing during COVID," reports Englund.

The Milkovich Team at John L. Scott adopted virtual open houses on Facebook Live at the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown. They use Facebook Live to promote open houses, then boost their posts afterward to targeted audiences, and send the link of the recording using BombBomb (a video email marketing platform) to their database. "We may even coach the seller to use the video on their own social media platforms," added Kristine Milkovich.

Unlike traditional open houses, virtual open houses are accessible to thousands of viewers - more than could possibly tour a traditional open house, explained Lisa Milkovich. Additionally, she noted clear messaging about the property comes from the listing broker "and it can be shared and distributed in a number of different ways."

"We have experienced tremendous traction and social media engagement on these videos," they reported.
As examples, a video tour of a listing in a gated community in Mukilteo has drawn around 500 views and another video of a home in Redmond's Grass Lawn Park neighborhood has attracted more than 1,000 views.

Leigh Buchan Harvey, managing broker and branch manager at Windermere Real Estate/M2, LLC, in Lynnwood, has mixed opinions on virtual open houses based on early experiences in her office. "The process of doing virtual open houses is pretty intense," she stated, citing various steps to attract viewers. She suggested more efforts may be needed to broaden the reach and increase public awareness of this option, adding she intends to continue experimenting with promotional tools.

Harvey believes virtual open houses are a viable option, saying, "They provide great opportunities to interact with the listing broker or broker hosting the event" but also noted the "timing to keep the home on the market until the advertising concludes can add to the tension." Many of the brokers in her office "are more seasoned veterans" who are not doing virtual opens "because they don't have to" in the current fast-paced market.

Northwest Multiple Listing Service is a not-for-profit, member-owned organization that facilitates cooperation among its member real estate firms. With more than 2,300 member firm offices and 30,000 brokers across Washington state, NWMLS (www.nwmls.com) is the largest full-service MLS in the Northwest. While based in Kirkland, Washington, its service area spans 23 counties and it operates 20 local service centers.