The rise of social distancing to combat the spread of COVID-19 has fostered wider use of technology in Northeast Ohio’s residential real estate brokerage business.
Widespread use of virtual tours of homes for sale has been joined by livestreamed open houses and other digital technologies that some brokerages see as key to sales growth despite the pandemic slowing what had been a fast-moving, house-hungry property market.
“A livestreamed open house is like a watch party you have online among friends in their homes,” said Ryan Young, CEO of the Young Team, which has offices in Pepper Pike and Rocky River.
At the EZ Referral Network, a brokerage team based in Westlake, co-owners Greg Erlanger and Mike Zinicola said the statewide stay-at-home order prompted them to redeploy digital assets they’d created for the luxury market to the entire market.
“It’s more than following safety protocols,” Zinicola said. “People want the virtual experience as a precaution. When the state reopens more businesses, people will still have concerns about safety.”
Virtual staging — where furnishings are dropped into a home’s video — allows customers to get a better idea of what their furniture might look like in an empty house. That and similar techniques have helped give rise to partial and even total home transactions without a physical tour.
Erlanger said that since the sheltering in place began six weeks ago, the EZ team in Northeast Ohio has had virtual technology play a role in half of the 90 sales it has made, including some that were totally virtual.
Erlanger is not a fan of simply using a smartphone to launch a virtual open house, saying he prefers to use higher-quality video cameras.
“You’re asking someone to write a check for one of the most expensive purchases of their life,” he noted. “You don’t want to ask them to do that based on shaky imagery.”
EZ’s embrace of media is so strong that it formed EZ Media as a separate company to put its drone photography, 3D videography, virtual tours and open houses in a single concern, with a team of eight supplying the company’s requirements.
“We’ve watched virtual technology go from the exception to the requirement overnight,” Erlanger said. EZ Media also provides video production services for other small businesses, such as plumbing suppliers and restaurants.
The EZ network said its virtual technology allows its team of about 70 here to produce results that surpass those of the market.
In the Young team’s case, the 20-person company includes a full-time digital strategist to coordinate social messaging and target prospective buyers and sellers geographically using their distinct Internet Service Provider numbers.
Young also buys about $30,000 in radio advertising on multiple stations monthly. He said the old-school technology prompted him to expand his Cleveland practice to Akron and, eventually, Canton, because those cities are in the same radio market. He noted the firm can see a boost in interest online after an ad airs that it uses to direct its marketing efforts.
A reflection of how widespread streaming open houses online may become appeared April 17, when Realtor.com announced it was adding a button to its website to accommodate open houses that are livestreamed.
Carl DeMusz, CEO of Yes-MLS, the multiple listing provider for northern Ohio, said Realtor.com originally started to develop the ability to livestream open houses because the market was so hot that 25 people were showing up at once for an open house. Development of the product was accelerated because of the rise of the pandemic.
The system is most readily apparent on Ohioopenhouse.com, a website the Yes-MLS operates that focuses on open houses. Individual listings point out the times and days of livestreamed open houses.
“However, virtual showings do not replace reality,” DeMusz said. “It will get you from point A to point B. It is getting traction in the market. However, the problem is when there is really great video and then there’s something that was missed. It is found when the buyer comes with the home inspector for a physical inspection. That can kill the deal.”