Contra Costa Times Article, 12/12/2006

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Posted on Tue, Dec. 12, 2006
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Creative Realtors turn to YouTube
By Barbara E. Hernandez
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
OAKLAND – Real estate agent Krista Miller had done Web sites, podcasts and virtual tours, but she needed something new to set her apart from other agents.
Then she watched a video of a man taking viewers on a walking tour of his hometown on YouTube and had an idea: She would film a tour of her client’s home and be one of the first handful of agents to put it on YouTube.
“I ran it by my seller, who was a 30-something, and he was excited,” she said. “It’s so important for a listing agent to get more creative. You have to because it’s a lot harder to sell a house now.”
Although many may use YouTube to watch embarrassing celebrity moments or quirky videos, many real estate agents see it as an effective way to sell houses.
Miller, 33, an agent with Berkeley-based Windermere Bay Area Real Estate, put her first walking house tour video on YouTube in October, and her client received multiple offers. One buyer who spotted the video purchased the home.
She recently placed another video of a new listing and received 322 hits. She said she expects an offer on it soon.
And the best part? It’s all free.
Putting a listing on the Web can cost hundreds of dollars. Virtual tour software retails for about $300 to $500, while listing services charge anywhere from $80 to $500, Miller said. Some companies, like TurnHere, an Emeryville-based Internet video production company, charge upwards of $300 for a professionally shot video.
Miller decided to use the video function on her digital camera and began to direct her first commercial, starring herself.
“They’re not professional,” Miller said. “There’s no lighting, I’m not in make-up, it’s just, ‘Here’s it is.'”
With minimal on-camera time, she takes sweeping shots of the house and gives a running commentary of the high points of the home — a kind of “virtual walk-through”, she said, something lacking in the many virtual tours shown on the Web. She places free ads on Craigslist linking to the video for a “real” look at the home.
“Generation X and Y are looking at YouTube,” Miller said. “Not every listing service is going to cater to that particular population.”
With Miller’s heels clicking on the hardwood floor, she goes from room to room, her camera attempting to be someone’s eyes looking at the custom kitchen and the deck with a view of the Bay. The video ends with handwritten placards carrying the Web address.
“Now buyers can do the first round of house shopping on the Internet. A couple of years ago, that was hard to do,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy. “The real estate agent that can say, ‘I can send you 20 (video walking tours),’ is going to have a competitive advantage.”
Dave and Carla Higgins, a husband-and-wife real estate agent team for Keller Williams Realty in Oakland, also use YouTube as a marketing tool. A commercial that talks about their house-selling abilities on YouTube has a few dozen hits.
“We did it just because it’s so widely used and it’s free access,” said Dave Higgins, 40. “It doesn’t cost money, so why not use these pieces of exposure especially if they can help your client?”
The knowledge and effective use of Internet technology is a necessity in the business, experts say.
“It’s sort of a natural evolution,” said Colleen Badagliacco, California Association of Realtors president. “It went from one picture to virtual tours and now videos.”
Even the National Association of Realtors suggested using YouTube in its November 2006 technology report.
“Realtors really wait to see results,” said Mark Lesswing, chief technology officer and senior vice president for the National Association of Realtors in Chicago. “Then they look at their success and jump on the bandwagon.”
But only a handful of Bay Area real estate agents seemed to be using the free resource. Both Miller and Higgins said they thought that has to do with their field’s graying members.
“I think part of it is that many agents are 50 and above and probably not as tech-savvy,” Higgins said. “I work with Realtors all the time that don’t have e-mail I can send attachments to.”
Badagliacco said it has more to do with Realtors’ healthy skepticism.
Lesswing said Miller’s sale after putting up a video on YouTube may be enough for people to start using it.
“A few years ago people started putting listings on Craigslist, and now look how many are on there now,” he said. “There are the early adopters, the crowd and the laggers.”
Lesswing said Miller’s example is typical of anyone implementing technology in their business.
“You need to set yourself apart from what others are doing,” he said. “It means packaging what they have into what consumers want on the Internet.”
Reach Barbara E. Hernandez at 925-952-5063 or bhernandez@cctimes.com.
ONLINE
See Krista Miller’s home tour videos at www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yJHc4-c6iA
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