In Depth


Realtors look for high-tech edge

September 29, 2006

When Toronto real estate agent Monique Clement sets out to sell a house, she doesn't pile prospective buyers straight into a car and head out to tour properties � she asks them to click on a link like this one, and then instructs them to sit back and enjoy.

"The first time I used this, the client was blown away. It was so different from anything they'd seen in the past," she says.

Video tours are the latest in sales devices being employed by agents to sell property over the internet, which itself has changed the way homes are sold.

"In 2005, 59.2 per cent [of homebuyers] ended up buying the property they first saw on the internet, the highest number in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, the lowest in Ontario," says Bob Linney, communications director for the Canadian Real Estate Association. "According to Comscore Networks, in 2002 averaged 300,000 unique users. In July 2006, that number was 2.78 million."

Real estate entered the online world with the launch of the website in 1996. Back then, the site basically carried text-based descriptions of properties for sale.

Ten years later, homebuyers are able to scout the market online, viewing everything from digital pictures to 360-degree panoramic shots of homes and yards. And now audio guides, electronic brochures and even complete video tours of a home and its neighbourhood are the new hot things sellers are using to help their properties stand out in a crowded online market.

"About 25 per cent of listings now have some type of attached tour, whether it's virtual, panoramic photography or an audio tour, all possible because of internet technology," Linney says.

Former Toronto bar operator Alex Morias got in on the ground floor of the video tours industry � he started two years ago after his real estate agent called him to see how his renovation had gone. Armed with a video camera, Morias toured his house and e-mailed the agent the mini movie. The agent was impressed, and since then Morias has produced more than 1,000 video tours.

Video tours help with international marketing

The tours show the interior and exterior of the house, along with visuals and a description of the neighbourhood.

"Agents tell me it's helped them sell a home," he says. "One told me it created a bidding war over a condo, and one of the bidders was from Trinidad."

Agents constantly have to justify their commissions, Morias adds. "There are 27,000 agents in Ontario going after the same piece of pie. This distinguishes them from the others."

Linney says Internet video tours also allow realtors to focus on international marketing, especially with higher-end homes or commercial or investment properties. Morias agrees. "We videotaped a house in Toronto listed at $16-million. We did the original tour for a banker from Italy who wanted something better than pictures on the net. He wanted a video so he could view the house before he flew in to see it." Real estate agent Clement agrees video tours are a great way to reach out-of-town buyers. "I have a client in New York City who got that video tour and e-mailed back saying, 'I don't have to visit it � I know I love the property.'"

Another tool gaining popularity, says Linney, is the electronic brochure, which offers both audio and video. The difference between a virtual tour and an electronic brochure is that a virtual tour is viewed on the real estate company's website, while an electronic brochure can be opened as a multimedia display.

Neighbourhood features can be highlighted

Philip Pellat's company, Shaw Street Productions of Toronto, produces videos of house interiors that are then used as part of an e-mail campaign or burned to DVD or CD-ROM as part of a marketing package. He often works with developers and says, "This can provide in-depth material about the community, the product, the builder. It creates credibility as well as excitement. The internet is playing a huge role in allowing them to talk to the consumer."

Some listings now use GIS (geographic information systems) technology to give people a better idea of the surrounding area, as well. "It shows you where the railroad tracks, schools and shopping centres are. It's a way to enhance the marketing of the property because people are looking at the surrounding area, not just the property," Linney says.

Offline, audio tours broadcast by short-range radio are popular in Western Canada, especially B.C., says Linney. Prospective homebuyers can listen to audio tours outside the house or as they walk around a property via an AM transmitter, which Linney says is the same technology used by drive-in theatres or walk-around tours in museums and galleries. "There's a transmitter in the sign. The real estate agent tells the client where [on the dial] to listen on the radio."

All these technologies not only widen the market to more potential buyers, they can help make the home-selling process a lot less stressful for people. "Not everyone wants open houses because of the security issues. It cuts down on a lot of unqualified showings," says Toronto real estate agent Marian Neal. It also cuts down on home sellers having to clean up every time someone wants to take a look. And for those who feel uncomfortable with the idea of someone taking a virtual tour of their home, Linney says, "When a video tour is being recorded, a realtor stays away from anything that gives away clear identification of the house or any high ticket items."

Clement can't stop singing the praises of the latest home-selling tools. Of a recent house she sold, she says: "The video tour brought the house to every single agent out there without them having to come and visit."

Neal sees the new technology gradually replacing old techniques. "I'm surprised anyone even wants a public open house these days," she says. "What are the chances of the right buyer coming to your house on Saturday between 2 and 4?"

Much better to open it up to the whole world via the internet.

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