Bryan Locasale listed one of his rental properties in Philadelphia’s Callowhill neighborhood last Friday on Zillow. Twenty minutes later, a woman contacted him about it. In an hour and a half, she submitted an application. Within 36 hours, she had signed the lease, and the place was hers.
His new tenant, he said, never saw the place in person.
She had, instead, remained at home in Fishtown during the stay-at-home order mandated by the coronavirus pandemic and studied his listing. He credited the unusually fast deal largely to the pictures a previous tenant with a knack for photography had taken and given him to use to advertise the one-bedroom, 1½-bath house with a den.
“Prior to the pandemic, you would give one or two photos of each room,” said Locasale, director of sales for a Lancaster-based printing company who also owns another rental property in Philadelphia’s Callowhill neighborhood and one in Conshohocken. "But now it’s important to put up multiple photos to get multiple angles and layouts so people get a true feel of the place.”
Even as Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday that real estate companies could resume in-person showings, inspections, and related business in counties where the coronavirus is still a severe threat, notably in Philadelphia, the demand and expectation for virtual real estate activity is expected to remain high, some real estate agents and landlords said.
“I would be doing in-person tours," Locasale said, "but I think a lot of people won’t be comfortable with them.”
In such cases, excellent camerawork is imperative.
Live or recorded video, immersive 3-D tours, and large, high-resolution photos can attract a raft of interest in a home during the pandemic, while open houses have been prohibited, and few want to show or visit a property in-person, real estate agents said.
Unflattering angles, small and grainy photos and videos, or no visuals at all can keep a property on the market for months.
If an online property listing included a 3D tour, 55% of 2,000 U.S. homebuyers and sellers said, they would consider buying a house sight unseen, and almost 80% said they were more likely to work with a real estate agent who used 3D tours, according to a survey earlier this year by the real estate data firm Matterport.
“All of a sudden, what we’re seeing is technology being welcomed, and if you want to survive as an agent — you or someone else on your team — you’re going to have to learn the technology," said John Featherman, an instructor of real estate advertising at Temple’s Real Estate Institute. “And as Allen Iverson used to say, ‘Practice, practice, practice.’”
The basics: Hold the camera steady. Don’t whip it around from room to room, and instead move it slowly, capturing details. Make sure the camera isn’t upside down.
“Operate the camera very smoothly," Featherman said. "Make sure people don’t get sick. You can’t give people Dramamine.”
The less obvious: Don’t repaint a discolored spot on the wall or fill in that small hole in the floor. Don’t add a filter, or edit a photo or video to make a room look bigger than it is. Such changes are deceptive, Featherman said, and thus a move that could be fraught with liability.
“You have to be very careful when you market a property through technology because what you don’t want to do is manipulate the setting. It’s very easy to do because you can change colors. You can add light," Featherman said.
He added that decluttering and making the most of true natural light were good ideas.
When all the elements are ideal — high-quality photo and video, and a neighborhood and pricing that a client likes — real estate agents and landlords can secure a deal, even as the industry has financially sagged under the severe lull caused by the pandemic.
“I rented one property over in Manayunk that [my client] never saw," said Terry Kirkwood, an associate broker for Berkshire Hathaway Fox & Roach in Rosemont, a suburb on the Main Line. “And I had a sale that was under contract. The buyer went on FaceTime with the seller.”
In some cases, she said, buyers believed that they had little choice but to buy what they could get in a market nearly devoid of their requirements. One of her clients wanted a home in Radnor — where the median home price is about $766,000 — for under $500,000.
Kirkwood heard of a house not yet on the market that fit the limited budget. Two FaceTime calls with the homeowner later, the house was under contract.
“It’s that price point," she said. “They’re just so desperate, and this gives them the edge. They’ll take the risk.”
Kirkwood had reservations about other properties taken sight unseen.
“I was a little nervous about the renters because the house looked teeny-tiny to me," she said of the property she recently rented out in Manayunk. "But when they got in, they thought that was perfect.”
Real estate agents suspect that, even when the pandemic passes and Pennsylvania loosens its stringent requirements, virtual tours will continue to influence choices even amid traditional in-person tours and open houses.
“Most buyers and sellers are going to start their search online," Featherman said, adding that people who live on the opposite coast or in a different country can more readily access what a house looks like with a virtual tour. “Those that have skills in terms of guiding online video tours and virtual walk-throughs are going to be the ones who are sought out by both home sellers and buyers."