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House Tours Go Virtual and May Never Go Back

Thu, 08/27/2020 - 12:27
“We were shut down for three months with no in-person tours; most sales were done by virtual tours and pictures,” said James Keogh of Douglas Elliman.
Andrew Shapiro

The novel coronavirus and a booming real estate market on the South Fork are forcing real estate agencies to get creative in selling and renting properties. Virtual tours have become a popular solution.

Early in March, when the coronavirus forced the South Fork, along with much of the country, into lockdown, the region’s real estate market was already robust compared to many parts of the country, and by the second quarter of 2020, the average sale price of a house here was about $2.1 million, a 21.1 percent increase from the same period last year. The median sales price was just about $1.08 million, a 27.1 percent increase from last year.

Once Covid-19 hit, the market exploded, as James Keogh, a real estate agent with Douglas Elliman said. “Everything is at an all-time high for the Hamptons: rentals, sales, and sales prices,” Keogh stated. “It truly is an insane jump.” While sales were clearly up in the first quarter of the year, the second quarter, he said, “was just tremendous.”

At the same time, safety restrictions  prevented local real estate professionals — including those from Douglas Elliman, Corcoran Real Estate, and Compass — from initially tapping this expanding market of home buyers.

“We were shut down for three months with no in-person tours; most sales were done by virtual tours and pictures,” Mr. Keogh said.

The process of showing a house has always been time intensive, requiring significant face-to-face interaction, and it became more complicated during the shutdown. Sellers have to first allow prospective buyers into their homes, and they may have to sign a Covid-19 tracking disclosure: which means if someone who toured the house were to test positive for the virus, they would have to inform the agent and homeowner. When agents do show a house, they are required to wear gloves, masks, and shoe covers. The house also has to be cleaned and sanitized every time a new person enters.

Enter virtual tours: One person with a mask and gloves can produce a tour of an entire house in a single afternoon, which can subsequently be shared simultaneously with many prospective buyers.

James Roaff, who photographs houses in New York City and the Hamptons for the company Matterport in order to create 3D Virtual tours, explained the process. "I go in with a special camera from the company . . . and I have to screen every five feet. When I place the camera down, it spins 360 degrees and takes four pictures. I then send it to MatterPort, which edits it together."

After the footage is stitched together, a prospective buyer can "enter" the house and move throughout the space virtually.

"Virtual tours are essential today," said Kim Hovey of the Hovey and Ritchey Team at Compass. "To be able to have access to a property at any time is key." Her team uses virtual tours for every house now.

The market for these tours may extend well beyond the  coronavirus era, and they have also accelerated competitive bidding, said Ms. Hovey's partner Chris Ritchey. "We had a seller who was about to accept an offer when a buyer located in New York City called us. She had seen the virtual tour and decided to come out because of it. She did, and offered over the other pending offer on the spot. This particular buyer virtually toured the house for over an hour, so when she saw it in person, she was ready to put in an offer right away."

"The home industry has changed, and the technology has changed with it," said Arlene Reckson, an agent with Corcoran's East Hampton office. Virtual tours are "a necessary tool in today's world," she said.

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