Once upon a time (or just under two years ago) standard home selling practices called for an open house and a series of in-person showings. When the pandemic hit, though, the industry was forced to pivot — and fast.
With stay-at-home orders, social distancing and the health concerns that came with the coronavirus, these strategies either legally weren’t an option or just weren’t very appealing. According to Zillow, the share of listings with an advertised open house fell to just 1% in April 2020. While they’ve bounced back slightly since those days, only 12% of listings featured open houses as of this summer down from 20% pre-pandemic.
With their tried-and-true marketing tactics off the table, real estate agents adapted. Many leaned on technology to enhance their listings or give on-the-fly video tours. Others got more creative, turning to social media, live streaming or even online influencers to get properties noticed.
“This was the year of creativity,” says agent Rochelle Atlas Maize, who recently enlisted TikTokkers to help sell a $5.3 million house in California. “The housing market is booming, and old-fashioned walkthrough open houses no longer cut it.”
She’s right: Most agents say these newer marketing tactics are here to stay. Are you planning to buy or sell a home soon? Here are some of the new marketing strategies you might encounter along the way:
1. Virtual tours and video tours
Virtual and video tours have easily been the most prevalent replacement for open houses during the pandemic — and they’ve stood in for traditional, in-person showings as well.
These functioned several ways: Agents might hop on a Zoom, FaceTime or Skype call and walk buyers through a potential property using just their phone or computer screen. Others might host a Zoom open house, stationing themselves at the property and allowing buyers to jump on with questions and tour requests during a set two- to three-hour timeframe. Still others would hire a videographer to create an edited tour that could be placed on listing pages or shared on YouTube and other platforms.
“Virtual tours on websites and FaceTime and Zoom calls at properties with a real estate agent have dominated,” says Matiah Fischer, an agent with Realty 360 in Las Vegas. “More than ever before, buyers want to sit in the comfort of their home while an agent shows the property on their phone.”
At the height of the pandemic, real estate brokerage Redfin reported a jaw-dropping 494% surge in video tour requests. Today? A study by online real estate school Aceable Agent shows about 60% of recent buyers participated in some sort of virtual, video or remote showing in their home search.
2. 3D walkthroughs
Another popular option has been the 3D walkthrough. These allow buyers to step virtually inside a home — moving around, zooming in and inspecting it with just a few clicks of their mouse, similar to how Google Street View works. Agents can create these walkthroughs using programs like Matterport and Zillow’s 3D Home app and then post them on their listings.
“Three-dimensional virtual tours are absolutely the answer,” says Jerryll Noordeen, a home flipper and real estate investor in Connecticut. “Whenever you want — and no matter what you are doing, you can always tour a house from the comfort of your sofa through 3D virtual tours.”
According to Zillow, listings with these 3D walkthroughs are up almost 200% from pre-pandemic days. In some markets, almost a third of all listings boast one.
“2D images do not do justice to the way a house is structured, and they miss out on a lot of details that may be important to potential buyers,” says Chris McGuire, founder of Real Estate Exam Ninja and a longtime Realtor. “These types of walkthroughs not only provide a lot of detail of every corner of your property, but they also give buyers the option to zoom in and out of specific areas of interest, which really helps them see themselves living in the home.”
3. Live streaming
Think live streaming is just for teens and video gamers? Think again. According to agents, it’s actually quite an effective tool in today’s real estate market.
Mike Zschunke, a broker with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Arizona Properties, uses live videos for every listing he takes on. He’ll go live on Instagram or Facebook, walk through the property, and take questions from buyers watching remotely.
At first, the tactic was simply an alternative to FaceTime and Zoom tours, which Zschunke says often came with technical difficulties. Now, Zschunke says lives are a way to connect with buyers and build his brand.
“Our live videos let people get to know us and build a genuine relationship,” he says. “They can be a bit uncomfortable at times, but I believe that it shows honesty and truthfulness. In a world of Instagram where everything is cleaned up and perfect, people seem to appreciate seeing the real me in the real home.”
Glen Langford, an agent with Coldwell Banker Realty in Austin, also uses live streaming. Not only does it help his listings reach a larger audience, but it creates content for other platforms since agents can post the recording to YouTube or use video snippets for other media like Reels, TikTok and Facebook Marketplace.
“One could argue that the live features on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok make online tours more efficient for the agent than physical open houses,” Langford says. “Rather than spending hours touring a home with a limited number of people in succession, an online live event lets unrestricted numbers of people view the house from wherever they are.”
4. Social media marketing
Live streams aren’t the only way agents are using social media to their advantage. As Langford alluded, other social tools and platforms can be beneficial too.
Take Millennial-focused agent Kseniya Korneva for example, who calls Instagram her “bread and butter.” Korneva has amassed over 15,000 followers across her two accounts (one finance-related, the other real estate), largely by creating “reels” — a type of short-form content set to music.
The reels range from simple home tours to local business features (she’s based in Tampa) to investing and home buying tips. Some have garnered more than 1.5 million views and counting.
“Instagram is how I’ve primarily built my business during the pandemic,” Korneva says. “I utilize stories, reels, lives and regular in-feed posts to market each listing.”
She also markets on YouTube and TikTok in a similar fashion. TikTok, she says, “is growing like crazy and will be the next Instagram.”
5. More creative listing photos
Agents have also found ways to beef up their listings through photography. Warburg Realty agent Becki Danchik, for example, prefers to use more editorial-style photos, rather than the traditional wide-angle types typically seen on a listing.
As she puts it, “If the living room has a wonderful cozy corner that is perfect for reading, why not elude this in a photograph that tells a buyer exactly how they might be able to utilize the space?”
Another tactic is digital staging, which allows agents to “decorate” a home virtually. They can place furniture, artwork and even change wall colors in a space, and then use those staged photos on the listing.
“It can be very hard for buyers to visualize a property, either because it needs renovation or because it just doesn’t suit their taste,” says Kate Wollman-Mahan, an agent with Warburg Realty in New York. “Digital renovations, when done well, can showcase a property’s potential in a relatively inexpensive way.”
Buyer beware, though: While virtual staging can help you see the potential in a listing, it can also be misleading. Make sure to look for both staged and unstaged photos when considering a home.
What does an IRL open house look like now?
To be clear, these tactics haven’t outright replaced the in-person open house. In fact, agents say open houses have had quite the resurgence in recent months — they’re just not the traditional events most homebuyers are accustomed to.
Today, most open houses are reservation-only. In cases when they aren’t, entrants are often staggered to keep things socially distant. Masks, gloves and other protective wear are also a common sight.
As Langford puts it, “The open house hasn’t really gone away. It’s been reborn.”
Every Saturday, Money real estate editor Sam Sharf dives deep into the world of real estate, offering a fresh take on the latest housing news for homeowners, buyers and daydreamers alike.