YouToo Can YouTube

Join the video revolution. New advances have made it easier than ever to attract business with top-quality video.

July 1, 2008

The Internet may have started out as a text-based way to communicate, but these days, the Web is reinventing itself into what sometimes feels like a virtual movie theater. 

According to comScore’s Video Metrix Web tracking service, Americans viewed almost 11.5 billion videos on the Internet in March 2008, a jump of 64 percent from a year ago. 

And as the video revolution has spread, it’s created an important new way for real estate professionals to market themselves and get home buyers and sellers more immediately involved in the home sales process.

Photos are still a great marketing tool, but “video can give buyers a real feel for the layout and flow of a house,” says Kevin Marciniak (pictured above, right), sales associate and tour builder for The Dale Marciniak Team with RE/MAX Realty 100 in Milwaukee. “When one buyer finally got to see a home featured in one of our videos, he turned to me and said, ‘It’s like I’ve been here before.’ ”

And while it’s hard to make a direct connection between a video tour and actual sales or listings, advocates are convinced of video’s value. “When I walk into a listing presentation, I’m able to talk about something no one else is doing,” says Peter den Boer, GRI, with Prudential Georgia Realty in Woodstock, Ga. To date, den Boer has produced a dozen property videos.

Some sales pros are also making short videos to introduce themselves and their services. Marciniak includes his company’s marketing video on his Facebook page. “On a site like that, where you’re trying to network, any information you can provide about your services can only help,” he says.

“Consumers have gotten used to watching video on the Web,” observes Charlie Young, chief operating officer of Coldwell Banker in Parsippany, N.J. ”We’re using video extensively to provide buyers and sellers with the kind of information we know they’re out on the Internet gathering.” 

Coldwell Banker’s streaming video clips, launched in 2006, provide brief programs about various aspects of buying, selling, and home ownership, professionally produced by such content partners as HGTV, Forbes, the Do-It-Yourself Network, and Fine Living. In addition, the franchise is encouraging its associates to move beyond property tours to create neighborhood videos.

Camera? Action?

If you’re a video greenhorn, there’s good news. Adding video to your marketing mix doesn’t require a major investment in new equipment.

“When we first started talking about using video internally, we were thinking about a big production budget,” recalls Young. “Then a couple of young guys said, ‘All we need to buy is a Mac and a video camera.’ ”

Den Boer, for one, took an economical do-it-yourself approach to joining the video revolution. His Windows system is built around the $197 Video Blog in a Box software and service bundle, a $160 Flipcam Ultra USB-compatible Web camera, and Microsoft’s Movie Maker, which is included with both Windows XP and Vista. Most practitioners contacted for this story favored Apple’s Mac OS X platform and iMovie or Final Cut software for video production, but comparable tools — such as Movie Maker and Adobe’s Premiere — are available on the Windows side.

Buying the equipment is just the first step, however. Unless you or someone you know has some experience in creating videos and understands how to handle the narration and create the flow of the video, achieving a professional look takes practice. Begin by creating a chart of shots you want to include, either as a list or in a presentation program like PowerPoint. Describe what you’ll be showing in each video frame so you won’t forget important shots. Keep in mind what you want to highlight in each shot — that great fireplace in the living room, for example. Then frame your shots around that focal point. Also keep in mind the size and shape of the shot — square or rectangular — as it will appear online. This awareness will help you avoid empty space or cutting off the top of an important feature.

Also, remember that video is about sound as well as pictures. Write a short narrative describing what you want to mention in the voiceovers that should accompany every shot. As you would in showing buyers a home in person, pinpoint and describe a key feature in each room and add detail that isn’t visually obvious. For example, does the fireplace burn gas or logs? For a personal marketing video, script out what you’re going to say in each shot. Then practice your lines before you shoot; don’t be ashamed to do retakes.

The chart of shots you’ve created will also serve as the guide for editing your video. As you edit, remember that shorter is better. Try to keep finished videos under three minutes and each shot or scene to around 15 seconds. Combine brief individual shots to give a sense of movement and vitality rather than using just one long shot as you walk through a property. Intersperse long shots and close-ups for variety.

Finally, you’ll need to format your edited video for posting online. “For the Web, you want your video available in the Flash, or FLV, format because a Flash player is already installed on most computers. If you plan to do podcasts, the preferred format is an MP4 file,” advises Dan Dashnaw, president of AgentCasts, a video production provider.

Your completed video can be hosted on your own Web server or on that of your ISP. Because videos consume significant amounts of bandwidth, how-ever, posting videos can increase your hosting cost significantly. Fortunately, many large consumer video sites such as Google Video, YouTube, and OurMedia.org let you post video for free. To link viewers to your videos, you can either embed HTML code provided by the host on your Web page to display the video on that page or provide a link to the file, which will typically bring up the video in a pop-up window.

If all this sound intimidating, take heart. There’s an expanding base of turnkey video solutions vendors ready to help you join the video revolution. AgentCasts, for example, offers full-motion video tours, complete with narration, plus posting to the Web beginning at $399. Other providers include  Fliqz, MLBroadcast, TurnHere, WellcomeMat, and WhatIWantPodcasting. Most of these companies also provide services to format the videos you shoot and will host videos for viewing.

“The barrier to entry with video is not the equipment costs,” points out Michael Price, president of MLBroadcast. “It’s in developing the technical acumen so that your video is watchable and available, however and wherever people want to view it.”

Last year, broker Robin Driver of Center Hill Realty in Smithville, Tenn., hired a videographer to create tours promoting lake-view homes and condos. His typical tour runs three to four minutes and costs him an average of $250 to $300. He considers it money well spent for attracting leads, informing buyers, and marketing his company as the local innovator.

“Photos just don’t give you the same effect as the motion and sound of video when you’re trying to impress people about high-end properties,” he says. “That’s where video is having its biggest impact for us, particularly with out-of-state buyers.”

Screening Time

Once you have your video masterpiece complete, you still have to decide where it should be posted online to gain maximum exposure and business benefit. Your Web site will certainly top that list of places to display your video, but why stop there when most video sites allow you to post content at no charge? Marciniak includes an embedded video player from his supplier, WellcomeMat, on his company’s Web site. He also uploads videos to a free Web service, TubeMogul, which distributes them to the Web’s most popular video portals.

“Just upload the file and info, and TubeMogul takes care of the rest,” he explains. “The site also provides analytical software that tells me how many hits my videos are getting and from where.” Listings posted at REALTOR.com, Trulia, Zillow, Craigslist, and Oodle should also include links to the property videos on your Web site.

In Boise, Idaho, Kit Fitzgerald, director of sales for Red Barn Real Estate, posts all her videos to YouTube. “I use it mostly as a hosting solution and have the YouTube player on my pages so people never leave my site,” she reports. “Most viewers come from the promotions we do on and offline.” Still, she notes that “a few prospective customers found my videos because they were looking at something similar or a video about my area on YouTube.”

Center Hill Realty’s Driver, on the other hand, asked his webmaster to pull his videos off YouTube. “I don’t think it lends credibility to a video for a $1 million home when it’s hosted on a site like YouTube,” he explains. “It may make sense for other types of video, but once people get to the site, there are too many opportunities for them to get distracted.” Instead, Driver also uses WellcomeMat’s embedded player on his company’s Web site.

“There are a lot of casual surfers on sites like Yahoo Video and YouTube,” Price says. “Qualified online traffic is going to where people are specifically searching and actively looking for real estate.” When he does post videos for MLBroadcast clients to YouTube, he assigns each client a unique user’s page, called a video channel, that contains a profile of the sales associate and a list of all the company’s posted videos. This helps promote views of other listings. Price blocks comments and ratings to prevent pranksters from posting anything negative about the listings.

Wherever you post your videos, don’t forget to include those old-fashioned text descriptions for your files. Why? “Search engines don’t recognize videos,” says Ryan Hobeck, CEO of hosting and distribution specialist WhatIWantPodcasting. “They search them based on the text description attached to the file and on different forms of tagging and geo-tagging based on the city, state, address, or ZIP code.” As with all Web content, search engine optimization can improve placement in search results and thus bring more visitors.

You can also extend the reach of video podcasts by formatting them as MP4 files for downloading to an Apple iPod, smartphone, or similar portable device, for viewing at the user’s convenience.  “Podcasting is another form of distribution people need to understand and be aware of,” says Price, who also offers this option. “For me, if it’s not available through iTunes [where Apple distributes podcasts], it’s not a podcast.” Video podcasts can also be e-mailed or burned to a DVD.

Since last year, Wade Micoley, broker-owner of Micoley & Co., REALTORS®, in Green Bay, Wis., has been using WhatIWantPodcasting’s services to transform video tours into podcasts, complete with soundtrack and descriptive narrative. The podcasts can be viewed on the brokerage’s Web site in an embedded, branded video player.

The blogosphere offers another compelling and effective way to distribute videos. Dan Rothamel, sales associate with The Strong Team, REALTORS®, in Palmyra, Va., uses a Mac, a Canon HD camcorder, and WellcomeMat camera to create and post videos for his www.realestatezebra.com video blog. He sees the blog as a way to network and share industry knowledge. “There’s not enough information sharing in our industry, but video and blogging are great ways to get around that,” he says.

Den Boer’s blog is a focal point for marketing himself and his services. He showcases the video home tours he creates as well as relevant real estate video clips gathered from the Web. Recent video links included one on how to properly stage a home as well as a podcast by NAR President Richard Gaylord on market conditions.

“Still pictures can only do so much,” says den Boer. “Video is a lot more fun. My clients like it, and it’s something I’ll probably be doing for every listing and neighborhood.”

Even though a search for real estate postings on the video site YouTube netted almost 31,000 postings in mid-May, “I think we’re still in the early adoption phase of video in real estate,” observes Young at Coldwell Banker. “But things will really accelerate as acceptance and comfort levels with video on the Web grow.” So join the revolution — or run the risk of being a part of the Ancien Régime.

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