Cinematic Selling Points

Real estate agents use video listings to help potential buyers

November 18, 2011

Coldwell Banker Realtor Ellie Shorb creates short videos to help sell her properties.

Pat Wilkinson loved his 3,400-square-foot waterfront vacation home on Gibson Island, Md., but it was getting to be too much for him to take care of. He put it up for sale in October 2008 and watched it languish for 368 days. He needed a new strategy — and a new Realtor — and found both in Coldwell Banker’s Ellie Shorb. She suggested making a video of Wilkinson’s property and posting it online to attract potential buyers.

“It’s just a quantum leap in terms of helping prospective buyers,” says Wilkinson, 71, an ophthalmologist who lives in a suburb of Baltimore. He believes a high-quality video in an online listing is “a genuine asset” to anyone who is house-hunting. With the help of Shorb’s aggressive, innovative marketing and a price reduction, Wilkinson’s house finally sold in April, for $1.9 million.

Buyers and sellers already expect to see photos in online home listings. Now, videos are gaining popularity, too. The short films, which range in length from 30 seconds to several minutes, typically highlight individual rooms, making viewers feel as though they’re walking through a property. Real estate agents often record and edit the footage themselves. They embed the videos in e-newsletters, blogs, websites and Facebook pages to get the most bang for their buck (The cost comes out of their pockets, after all).

An April study by Postling, which helps small businesses manage social media, found that 73 percent of the nation’s homeowners are more likely to list with a Realtor willing to use video. The reason lies in the numbers, says Mike Fischer, Coldwell Banker’s chief marketing officer: More than 3 million people have visited Coldwell Banker’s “On Location” YouTube channel since it launched in 2009. Its 30,000 listings with videos generate 20 percent more leads than those without, Fischer says.

“People don’t necessarily believe the photos; photos don’t tell the whole story. How does one room flow into another? What does the backyard really look like?” Fischer says. “What video can offer to a listing is just additional information and texture.”

Sotheby’s International Realty is one of the latest firms to become plugged in. It debuted its YouTube channel on Oct. 25, and uses the site to spotlight homes for sale by showing them in use. Wendy Purvey, the chief marketing officer at Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates, offers a hypothetical example of how Sotheby’s takes advantage

of video: “In D.C., there’s a really amazing house that has an incredible wine cellar, so [the agent] could bring in a local sommelier who talks about the interesting aspects of the cellar … and maybe does a wine tasting in the home.”

Sotheby’s requires agents to hire professional videographers to shoot and edit their pieces, but other companies let employees try out the medium themselves. Most agents stick to the same basic principles, playing up
recent renovations and scenes that feature motion, such as ceiling fans or running streams out back. Less glamorous shots, such as footage of teensy bathrooms, are usually left on the cutting room floor.

To make her short films, Shorb hires her brother-in-law, Ken DuPuis, the owner of Modern Filmworks, a local video production firm. When DuPuis filmed Wilkinson’s property, he made sure to capture scenes of the shore — a boat gliding by, a bird taking flight — in addition to the house, in order to demonstrate the island’s ambience. Shorb helped steer the video’s content.

“I try to keep it really quick and tight, choosing a couple of rooms, maybe the kitchen and living room, entry hall,” Shorb says. “I don’t try to [film] the whole house, because I don’t imagine that anyone’s going to watch that much. And you know what? If they want to see more, maybe they’ll come see the house in person.”

Shorb, who works out of Coldwell Banker’s Chevy Chase office, embeds her videos not just on Coldwell Banker’s site but also on her website, Facebook page and Twitter feed. But because people can access videos from many sources, it’s difficult to assess their effectiveness. Instead, she and other agents rely on verbal feedback from customers.

Wade Franklin, a sales associate at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Manassas, Va., says his two-minutes-or-less films for Coldwell Banker-affiliated Jim Downs Real Estate have generated more traffic for his properties. Franklin films himself in front of a green screen as he talks about the most interesting parts of the homes he represents (such as new counter tops). Later, he adds in footage of those features so that it appears he’s standing right next to or on top of them.

“Every house that has had a video has sold,” says Franklin, who’s been producing the short films since 2008. “We’ve had a couple people say, ‘Everyone should do this for every house.’”

But videos aren’t a panacea to recent housing market woes. “You can’t overprice [a house] by $50,000 or $100,000 and have it fly off [the market] because there’s a video,” Shorb says. “I don’t think it’s magic, but I know that it gets it seen, I know it gets it talked about, I know it helps people be interactive.”

Videos certainly also aren’t topping all Realtors’ to-do lists. Creating them takes time — Franklin spends about seven hours on each one — and money.

“At the end of the day, most people will hop on a plane or in a car and come see it if it’s passed the first hurdle of their criteria,” says Michael Rankin, the managing partner at Sotheby’s Georgetown office. Plus, just because the public likes to see videos doesn’t mean all agents know how to make them.

“We’re really trying to motivate an independent workforce to get into a technology they might not be comfortable with and … not only take the video but edit the video and upload the video. It’s a real learning curve,” Fischer says.

But if agents want to be successful, video is a must, says John Heithaus, the chief marketing officer at Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, which runs the country’s largest real estate listing service and monitors market trends.

“The buyers that are out there want as much information as they can get, and looking at a crooked photocopy of a picture is not going to do it,” Heithaus says.

Wilkinson, who recently purchased a condo on Long Boat Key, Fla., after finding it through a video listing, has experienced the technology from both the buyer’s and seller’s perspective. He believes it benefits both sides.

“Video is much more dynamic, and I think you get a more realistic concept about what you might be interested in,” he says. “And it might be just as important to [help] rule things out.”

Varied Approaches to Video

Scene-Setting: For her video of Pat Wilkinson’s Gibson Island, Md., home, Coldwell Banker Realtor Ellie Shorb incorporated bucolic shots of the nearby waterfront along with footage of the home.

Green Screen Seller: With the help of a green screen, Coldwell Banker’s Wade Franklin has filmed himself “in” rooms to show off renovated features such as new carpeting and granite kitchen counter tops.

Homes in Action: Sotheby’s short videos give voyeuristic viewers a taste of a property’s amenities; one includes footage of a dinner party with a well-known local chef in a New York City penthouse apartment.

High-Tech Help

Real estate companies are using online videos for more purposes than simply selling homes. Here’s how several firms are putting the technology to other uses.

Long and Foster’s primary YouTube channel serves a number of purposes, including assisting people applying for a job and offering tips to consumers, such as how to stage a home and navigate short sales.

Coldwell Banker’s consumer-friendly YouTube channel includes videos on how to childproof your home, fix problems such as small holes in walls and remodel a kitchen.

Metropolitan Regional Information Systems’ MrisTV.com showcases videos with distinct themes, including trends and market updates from agents; training for MRIS’ 50,000 customers; and Distinctive Digs, a voyeuristic look at interesting homes for sale in the region.

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