For home sellers in the era of the novel coronavirus, showing off your home to potential buyers may seem like an impossible task. As people practice social distancing to help stop the spread of COVID-19, most open houses are on hold, and in-person home showings are limited across the country.
But there are still ways to reach potential buyers and show your home in the best light—through virtual tours.
In the third part of our series, “Home Selling in the Age of the Coronavirus,” we highlight all the ways home sellers can give buyers an in-depth look at their property without actually opening their doors and risking the buyers’ health (or their own).
How virtual tours work
Virtual tours offer home buyers a remote, video-enabled walk-through of a property that will give them the sensation that they’re actually there—or at least darn close.
Real estate agents used virtual tours before COVID-19 as a unique marketing tool. Now, online tours are more important than ever, since they’re often the only easy way for buyers to check out a home without physically entering the property.
Virtual tours are recommended by the National Association of Realtors® as a way to avoid face-to-face contact while marketing homes during the coronavirus crisis.
“With the current shutdown, more and more home sellers are requesting that we offer buyers a virtual tour to help expedite the sale,” says Peggy Zabakolas, a real estate broker at Nest Seekers International in Bridgehampton, NY.
Types of virtual tours
Virtual tours can be conducted in a variety of different ways, depending on time, technology, and budget.
Probably the least complicated is where sellers or real estate agents use their smartphone camera to record a video as they walk through the home, showing off each room.
A more interactive option is to livestream a one-on-one showing with the buyers. This will give them more control over where you are pointing the camera, via FaceTime or another video streaming app (“Could you take a peek inside that closet/outside that window?”).
Yet another option home sellers might consider is a virtual open house.
With gatherings of more than 10 people prohibited across most of the United States, real estate agents have been forced to cancel open houses. But many are using tools like FaceTime or Zoom to host live virtual open houses so they can show potential buyers around a home.
Buyers often enjoy seeing the “raw footage” that a virtual open house or showing can offer, as opposed to a professionally produced video, says Angela Hornburg, team leader at the Hornburg Real Estate Group in Dallas.
Buyers can also ask questions, which may help them to feel more secure that they can be fully informed about the property—or perhaps even allow them to make an offer on the spot.
A more high-tech option for showing a home is setting up a fully fledged 3D tour. This is where a home seller, real estate agent, or a professional photographer uses a special 3D camera to capture images of the home.
These photos are uploaded into a proprietary software program that renders the visuals in three dimensions, creating a tour that can be uploaded onto a real estate listing.
Adding a 3D tour is a little more involved than taking a video on your phone, however—and it can also be pricey.
For example, the 3D visual platform Matterport offers packages ranging from $9.99 to $309 per month. Immoviewer’s prices range from $69 per month to $799 per year. Typically, a listing agent will pay for this as part of the marketing material.
While 3D tours are still rare, some people insist that they’re worth the cost, especially for higher-end properties. Homes can be viewed in several different ways, such as in dollhouse view, which shows how rooms are laid out in the house (see images below).
Traditional staging—where furniture and artwork are arranged in a house to present the space in the best light—is a great selling tool, but it may be difficult to pull off at a time when sellers are reluctant to let outsiders into their house.
There’s a workaround here, too: virtual staging, which provides simulated images of a property laid out with alternative furnishings.
“Virtual staging, like physical home staging, is aimed at enticing home buyers and helping them connect emotionally with a property,” says Ilaria Barion, a luxury home stager, who offers both in-person and virtual staging.
Virtual home staging uses software to reimagine new decor in a property, in order to enhance the appearance of the space.
Unlike on-site staging, virtual staging comes with unlimited options, for example, paring down homes that are filled with furniture and ornament and displaying them with a simplified, cleaner design.
Just as with virtual tours, virtual staging was available before the coronavirus outbreak, but is especially important now. Even small, simple changes can make a big difference.
For instance: Does your property have an accent wall painted in a bright color that might turn off buyers? Virtual staging can wipe that away. Sellers should aim for “a neutral palette, so the new buyer can envision themselves living in it,” Zabakolas says.
Also, adding a few trendy accents can make a lasting impression on buyers.
“Small accents to dress up the home, such as flowers or centerpieces, help in any virtual or in-person tour,” says Tomer Fridman, a luxury and celebrity real estate expert at Compass in Los Angeles.
Staging a home virtually is cheaper than on-site staging, Barion says. Virtual staging costs a few hundred dollars and is usually paid for by agents, unlike traditional staging, which costs thousands. Virtual staging can also be completed in a matter of days.
“Virtual staging allows for many more options that would be cost-prohibitive in real life, like stripping down wallpaper, changing window treatment, adding a pool table, or replacing old furniture and fixtures,” Barion says.
How home sellers can use virtual tours to find the right buyer
Virtual tours and open houses can help buyers get to know a home, but the fact is that some may insist that they see a place in person before they feel confident about making an offer.
Although some areas, like the state of New York, are prohibiting in-person home showings at present, they are still happening in other places.
While it may be off-putting for sellers to allow buyers to enter their home, that may be necessary if they want to get an offer.
Virtual tours and showings nevertheless serve an important purpose: They help buyers get to know a property well enough to become serious contenders for a purchase.
In turn, virtual tours help sellers lower their risk of exposure to the coronavirus, by helping them whittle down the number of buyers who enter their house.
So how else can home sellers know a buyer is serious? Maggie Wells, real estate agent at Keller Williams Realty Greater Lexington in Kentucky, requires that buyers have a mortgage pre-approval and have taken a look at the virtual tour beforehand.
Agents also make sure to keep hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and shoe coverings available for buyers to use during their in-person tour.
Selling a home during the coronavirus crisis presents many unique challenges. Being adaptable will help sellers to reach buyers and to make sure that the home is sold.