Use of Virtual Home Tours Spreads as Coronavirus Cases Spike

March 17, 2020

More real estate pros are taking their home showings to the virtual realm as concerns increase over the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

Leonard Steinberg, chief evangelist and corporate broker at Compass, has called for a two-week moratorium on in-person home showings. Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman, meanwhile, released a statement Monday saying that the brokerage was canceling open houses for all of its listings and limiting private in-person tours to two customers per tour.

As an alternative to in-person showings, more agents are turning to virtual tours. Some real estate pros are using FaceTime or other video call programs to walk prospective buyers through properties virtually. “As a virtual tour provider in Washington, D.C., we are seeing an uptick in demand for video and more elaborate virtual tours so homeowners don’t need to have an open house,” Roman Caprano at Sky Blue Media told realtor.com®. “In our market, homes sell in days, so any agents typically only invest in photos, but now they are purchasing more content.”

Ideal Properties Group, based in New York City, launched last week a virtual listing viewer called Showings on Demand.

And Washington REALTORS® announced that the Northwest Multiple Listing Service “has made the difficult decision to temporarily disable the public and broker open house feature in the Matrix system,” the state association’s CEO, Steve Francks, said in a statement. “Until at least March 31, brokers will not be able to input, search, or view public or broker open house information in Matrix. Open house information will not be available for display on member public websites (IDX and VOW sites). NWMLS will separately contact all listing brokers who have a scheduled open house to let them know it has been removed from Matrix.

Virtual tours were once reserved for larger and pricier homes, but David Kong, a Keller Williams salesperson in New York, told The New York Post that he’s begun offering remote 3D tours to a wider number of home sellers. Virtual tours may not be a full replacement for in-person showings, but they can help prospective buyers who can’t visit a house evaluate it better, Wes Jones, managing broker with Keller Williams in Bellevue, Wash., a Seattle suburb, told realtor.com®. “For those that are concerned about the virus, this allows them to make a more informed decision about the property and whether to get out and go see it,” Jones says.

Redfin says it publishes interactive 3D scans of all of its homes so buyers can still view properties online without a public health risk. It also enables prospective buyers to schedule a video chat tour for homes listed by other brokerages. A Redfin agent will broadcast what they see in the home as they walk through. They will respond to requests to pan the camera or zoom in as needed. 

For any home tours that are still conducted in person, Redfin released guidelines to customers, saying attendees will not be shaking hands and will practice “social distancing” by staying at least six feet from one another during the tour. “The reality is real estate is a contact sport,” Cara Ameer, a real estate professional in California, told realtor.com®. “And that means exposing yourself to a lot of potential germs from shaking hands, interacting at open houses, and touching all sorts of doorknobs and light switches multiple times a day. I think we need to adopt a new normal of practices during this period of time.”

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