Experts agree: pandemic-induced technology has transformed the way people interact with buying.
It’s no surprise big-city residents have been moving locales since the pandemic took hold, searching for space through digital means when in-person visits weren’t an option.
More recent reports have examined how buyers, from far and near, have started to become reliant on virtual home tours, even enamoured with them. Drone footage, Matterport tours, FaceTime walkthroughs and Zoom conferencing have become the tools replacing open houses and in-person showings. But will these modern methods of meandering wither away along with the pandemic, or will “real” estate marketing take on a new meaning?
Amy Powell and her husband Moe Doiron sold their Toronto home within one day via half-hour, in-person visits, for $250,000 above the listed price. Two months later, they were settling into their North Saanich house, 4,200 kilometres away — a home they had purchased after only seeing it through videos and photos.
“As soon as we walked in, it was better than we thought,” says Powell, a semi-retired schoolteacher.
The couple went from their 100-year-old, two-bedroom exposed brick home to a brand-new, two-storey house purchased with the assistance of Victoria realtor Tony Joe.
Soon after their home sold in June 2020, Powell called Joe. Scouring Victoria-area listings each day, she spotted the Bridlewood Lane project and Joe visited the site, which was in early development. He forwarded photos and the long-distance buy-in relationship launched.
Once the model home was finished, Joe did a FaceTime walkthrough and a neighbourhood walkabout.
“We felt like he wasn’t trying to sell us just anything. We thoroughly trusted Tony,” Powell says. “It worked out beautifully.”
When the pandemic hit hard in March 2020, real estate open houses took a corresponding strike — a first in their 110-year history.
The first recorded open houses, referred to as “open for inspection,” took place in the 1910s in the U.S. with homes open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. In the 1930s, real estate agents viewed open houses as a personal marketing tool to nurture contacts. By the 1950s, Sunday became the standard showing day.
Not a lot changed until COVID-19.
Prior to 2020, about five per cent of Greater Victoria home sales were attributable to open houses, says David Langlois, outgoing president of the Victoria Real Estate Board.
Beyond serious buyers, many open house visitors were habitués, who made a habit of spending weekend afternoons touring fancy homes and partaking of free edibles.
Poaching design ideas and turning on gilded faucets abruptly stopped in spring 2020, and realtors who had not yet boarded the high-tech treadmill were pushed onto it, Langlois says.
Many realtors were already making full use of video footage, 2-D floor plans and immersive walkthroughs, but COVID-19 forced more agents to improve their camera skills or hire an expert.
“We have seen a significant adoption of digital marketing practices,” Langlois says.
As an associate broker with Macdonald Realty, Langlois has a couple of photo/videography companies on speed dial in this busy market, where home visuals are expected before the For Sale sign is planted.
Everything from the $300,000 condo to the $5-million house are virtual candidates, Langlois says. Because recording technology has significantly advanced, production costs have dropped, but the use of slick, showy visuals has accelerated.
“What the pandemic has done has raised the digital bar,” Langlois says.
In the case of high-end homes, the bar’s been raised so high that the video imagery is akin to short lifestyle movies, celebrating the live/work/play ethos that’s been lauded during the pandemic with work-from-home the trend du jour. Langlois has sold a few homes using just the virtual tools, and the buyers were happy.
Matthew Neumann’s Sooke-based company, Matthew James Photo, does regular work for Langlois. Neumann works for about 40 realtors, providing listing photographs, property videos, 2-D floor plans, aerial shots, twilight images, sky replacement (swapping grey skies for blue) and virtual staging.
The realtors he works for are spread from Mill Bay to Sooke to North Saanich, and the properties he visits range from mobile homes to mansions.
“Good photography can increase the perception of the average home and create the most benefit,” Neumann says.
Premium properties already have the great lighting, finessed staging and wow elements. But, like most technology, there’s a double-edged sword. Neumann has the ability to transform a dark and shadowy home into a bright space or make a small space appear larger. He tries to strike the right balance.
Typically a 3,000-square-foot home requires three hours of his work: one hour each for photography, video and 3D work, and realtors often expect a next-day turnaround.
Langlois says some realtors shoot their own visuals using their smartphones, but he’s not a fan of amateur imagery.
“It matters in this hot market. Don’t skip the steps to shine it up,” he says.
Yet even though he predicts in-person open houses won’t return to previous levels, Langlois says they will reappear because they are one more tool in the crate. Certain realtors — and some sellers — still rely on this method of connection. And to dissuade those hungry Sunday viewers, open houses from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays or 4 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays are known to attract the most serious clients.
Even as more sophisticated technology slips into selling practices, from augmented reality and virtual open houses to artificial intelligence, Langlois says there is no substitute for in-person showings. He would never buy a house without actually seeing it.
“You want to walk in the back yard, see your kids playing there, smell the grass,” says Langlois, who notes it’s always important to ask questions like, Do the floors creak? Do the doors fit the frames? Does the basement smell musty? “A house isn’t a thing you should be buying off Amazon.”