As the coronavirus outbreak continues, we at Trelora and in the real estate community have a responsibility to do our part to keep people safe while we help them buy and sell homes. We’re not epidemiologists or healthcare workers and the best thing we can do to help is listen to these professionals and adjust our lives as they recommend. The advice has been loud and clear: avoid unnecessary interaction with large groups of people so we can flatten the curve and protect the most vulnerable among us from COVID-19.
We also have a responsibility to our clients. Perhaps more than ever, people need a safe and comfortable place to call home. So what can the real estate community do to serve our clients while keeping them safe?
At Trelora, one step we are taking is replacing all in-person open houses with virtual open houses.
What is a virtual open house?
A virtual or remote open house is the digital equivalent of a typical open house. In this time when social distancing is an important safety measure, sellers are reasonably wary of having dozens of buyers and neighbors traipsing through their house. So instead of literally opening the doors to anyone who’s interested, some forward-thinking real estate agents are taking the same interaction online.
Fortunately, video conferencing and live streaming technology makes it easier than ever to connect buyers with sellers without opening the doors. All of the reasons open houses are great for buyers are still possible in the virtual realm:
- You get to see every part of the house. Photos can be misleading, and leave out some important considerations for buyers. A seller may not photograph un-photogenic spaces like the laundry room or the garage, but that doesn’t mean buyers don’t want to see them. Connecting over live video gives buyers the chance to explore the home’s every nook and cranny.
- You can connect with knowledgeable agents. One of the benefits of open houses that’s especially important to buyers who are just starting their search is learning. Speaking with an agent who works with buyers and sellers in your area is a great way to get to know the market and get tips to help you focus your search. When the time comes to choose an agent to represent you, it’s great to have a company you know and trust already top-of-mind.
- You can get ideas. Whether you’re about to move or sheltering in place, seeing how other homes are set up and staged can be a great way to get ideas for how to improve your living space. Take a look around and take note of the clever ways sellers use space, furniture, and finishes to make their home welcoming.
Plus, there are a few benefits that only remote open houses can give you:
- You can save time. Instead of spending your Saturday driving from house to house, you can log in from anywhere, taking an afternoon’s activity into something you can do in just a few minutes.
- You don’t have to interact if you don’t want to. Open houses can be awkward, and some agents use high-pressure sales tactics on visitors. When you’re visiting remotely, you can choose how to engage. Want to take it in without too much chitchat? Great. Join the virtual open house without audio or video. Want to chat with the agent for an hour? They’ll be happy to speak with you.
- You can continue your home search while doing your part to promote social distancing.
What should you expect in a virtual open house as a buyer?
A virtual open house should feel a lot like any open house, with just a couple of tweaks to the process:
- The listing agent will publicize a web link to the call and a time when the house will be held “open.”
- The agent will be in the house alone, and will show you around over video.
- Depending on what technology the agent uses, you can talk to them over video or leave comments if you want to see something in particular.
- If you want to learn more about the house or about the company that is listing it, leave your contact information with the host and schedule a one-on-one follow-up (that can be over video too!)
Why should agents host virtual open houses?
Agents know open houses are a great opportunity to not only help market your seller’s home, but also engage with buyers and neighbors. And right now, hosting open houses in person is impractical and unsafe. Your sellers don’t want dozens of strangers in their house, and most of those strangers don’t want to go out anyway.
But, people still need to buy and sell homes for a wide variety of reasons. We should do whatever we can to maintain safety while helping people get into the right home for them.
Virtual open houses are easier than you think. We’ve been hard at work figuring out the best way to host them, and are eager to share what we’ve learned with other agents so we can all do what’s best for our clients and our communities.
What’s the best device to use for virtual open houses?
Even for agents who aren’t super tech-savvy, hosting a virtual open house is easier than you might think. If you have a smartphone with a high-quality camera and a cellular connection, you have everything you need to host a great remote open house.
Laptops and tablets are also an option, but there are a few reasons why we think it’s best to use your smartphone to conduct your open house:
- It has two cameras. When you’re showing clients around your home, it’s very helpful to be able to switch between the “selfie” camera and the standard camera. That way you can switch seamlessly between connecting with clients face-to-face and showing clients what you see.
- It has a cellular connection. For the best connection as you walk around the house, you may want to use the seller’s wifi if they’re comfortable with it. However, especially if you find yourself showing outdoor spaces and detached garages, you may need a backup connection. Your phone should have a good cellular data connection without any extra work or special equipment.
- It’s lightweight. When you’re doing a tour of a house remotely, you’ll find larger devices like iPads and laptops get clunky quickly. Your phone is built to be portable.
- It’s easy! You already run your business on your phone and use it to communicate with your clients, as well as family and friends. You know how to use it.
If your clients are comfortable with you using their wifi, you are likely to get a better connection than relying on cellular, at least in main living areas where the wifi is strongest.
What’s the best software to stream a virtual open house?
There are a number of different technologies that are freely available to help with remote open houses. Here are a few options we’ve explored, along with their pros and cons.
Whereby is our favorite remote open house tool. It’s easy to use, reliable, and free to get started.
- Visitors can join from their phone or computer without downloading anything. Less friction means it’s more likely interested visitors will stop by.
- You can make the URL friendly. It’s much easier to encourage buyers to show up at whereby.com/1234mainst than it is for them to remember or write down a long, random alphanumeric string.
- It’s free to start. You can have one room with up to 4 visitors without any cost.
- Since it’s less popular than some of the other tools on this list, visitors may be less familiar with how to use it.
- If you need multiple rooms or more participants, you will need to pay.
If you already use the Google suite of tools for things like Mail and Calendars, they’ve made it easy to integrate Meet into your workflow.
- Integrations with Gmail and Google Calendars make it easy to create a custom meeting URL for every open house you hold.
- Call quality is consistently good, and you can have as many as 100 participants at a time.
- Visitors on mobile devices will be required to download an app in order to join the call. This adds friction, and makes it less likely people will want to attend your open house.
- If you live and breathe the Google ecosystem, it’s easy to use Meet. If you don’t, it will require some extra work (and maybe some extra cost) to get set up.
If you have a large social following, Facebook Live can be a great way to get a lot of eyeballs without much cost or effort.
- Facebook Live comes with a built-in audience for those with a large social following. With many people staying home and consuming a lot of news right now, Facebook is one place where people can safely congregate.
- Only Facebook users can connect. Most people have Facebook accounts, but increasingly youngsters and folks focused on digital privacy may not.
- It’s mostly a one-way platform. Visitors can comment and send reactions, but it won’t be a true two-way conversation like you’d get with Whereby or Hangouts.
Although it’s not set up for one-to-many interactions like true open houses, FaceTime is a great tool for easy, high-quality video conversations with individual iPhone users.
- Call quality is strong and optimized for cellular connections.
- Most iPhone users will be very familiar with FaceTime, meaning you can focus on connecting with them personally, not on troubleshooting their connection.
- It’s not open. There is no way to create a “room” or URL you can send visitors to, so you’ll need to use a different mechanism to get buyers to connect.
- FaceTime is only available to people in the Apple ecosystem: iPhone, iPad, and Mac users. All those Android, Windows, and Chrome users are left out.
Let’s do our part
Whether you’re a seller looking to sell your home, a buyer looking for a new one, or an agent looking to maintain momentum for your clients, we hope you will join us in doing our part to reduce interaction during this time. We hope to see you at a virtual open house soon!