It’s pretty hard to have an open house at a time when it’s not safe for groups of people to congregate indoors.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made virtual open houses and video showings more popular than ever. They’re a great tool for both buyers and sellers, especially in second home-heavy markets and locales with stringent restrictions about in-person gatherings.

But, they are a little different than seeing a property in real life, so it’s a good idea to be familiar with how they work if you’re looking to see a property virtually, or want to have your home listed that way.

What is a virtual open house?

In some ways, it’s similar to an in-person one. It happens at a scheduled time, and is meant to give prospective buyers an overview of the property.

Sue “Pinky” Benson, a Realtor and video marketing specialist with RE/MAX based in Naples, Florida, said these kinds of tours are usually less highly produced than a traditional marketing video.

“It’s not the prettiest video in the world. It’s not a well-edited video per se, but you’re showing them the property in real time,” she said.

Watching one of her virtual tours, she takes care to point out all the key features of a property, focusing on what makes it unique. She also notifies people throughout the stream about how to ask questions or get more information.

Benson hosts her virtual open houses live on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and also sometimes uploads copies of the videos to YouTube after the livestream ends. 

Posting the streams on multiple platforms means more eyes on a listing, and also allows prospective buyers to see the video even after the live portion ends, she said.

Another benefit to a live stream is that viewers can ask questions in real time by posting comments on the video. But, Benson said, just like in real life, interested buyers don’t always want to tip their hand by asking questions in a public forum. Many buyers prefer to send private messages instead.

“They’re worried, what if someone else sees that I’m interested in this property?”

Can I get a private virtual tour?

Yes. Many agents are going beyond just offering virtual open houses. Interested buyers should work with their agents to arrange private video viewings of properties if they can’t go out to see it themselves — or are uncomfortable doing so during a global health crisis.

These kinds of tours allow prospective buyers to see properties in detail, even if they can’t be there on-site. 

“When it comes to a buyer who is interested in that individual property, they want you to walk the property, they want to see what it looks like outside,” Benson said. These kinds of one-on-one virtual tours allow prospective buyers to examine a property as if they were there in real life.

Many of her recent sales started by video, “whether a virtual open house or a private video with my client to show them the property in real time,” Benson said. 

“We have had a huge uptick in the amount of clients, many have purchased straight from the video without seeing the property until they’re in the inspection period, or we’ve narrowed down the properties based on the video.”

What should buyers and sellers know?

Now more than ever, it’s important to make sure you find an agent who is equipped to show your property virtually if you’re selling, or show you properties over video if you’re buying.

“The pandemic has pushed the technology side of things,” Benson said. When finding an agent to work with, “you’ve got to ask them the technology questions. Are you doing videos?”

It could limit your prospective pool of buyers, or the number of properties you’ll be able to see, if you work with an agent who isn’t as comfortable with the tech.

Bottom line

Even before the pandemic, video tours and virtual open houses were on the rise. But they’ve become much more popular in the last few months. It’s important to be familiar with them yourself and find an agent who is comfortable with them as well if you’re about to enter the real estate market.

It’s very likely that real estate shopping will have a growing virtual component even after the pandemic subsides.

If you ever find yourself attending an open house, don’t be afraid to speak up. If the video is on a live streaming platform, use the comments section to ask the agent questions, or request things you want to see more of, or hear more about. Similarly, don’t be worried about asking for your own private video tour if your interest in a property is piqued. A one-on-one virtual showing can give you more control over what you’re seeing, and will allow you to ask questions and give feedback more freely, without the worry that other prospective buyers will be thinking of ways to outmaneuver you based on what you have to say.

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