Video House Tours: Have They Gone Too Far?

video house toursSome real estate agents are looking to transform the industry by turning virtual video house tours into online mini-movies, complete with actors -- or just starring themselves.

Video house tours are said to help peak a buyer's interest in a property. In fact, the 2010 National Assocation of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers shows that 61 percent of homebuyers say virtual tours are very useful, right after photos and detailed information about the property.

However, the tours we know are mostly just moving versions of a slide show montage and some agents seek to spice things up.

The videos from those agents delving into this medium tend to be walkthroughs of the property. They range from the professionally produced with music to homemade with a handheld camera.

"Video can be a wonderful marketing tool, but it's only as good as the quality of the presentation," says Tom Postilio, a cast member on the current season of Selling New York, and the managing director and associate broker at full service real estate agencyCore Group NYC. "Sometimes photographs are better at capturing the very essence of a thing than video."

AOL Real Estate asked Postilio and three other well known luxury real estate agents to critique three home tour videos by their colleagues to see if they make the cut. Take a peek to see if you agree with the experts.

Cigar Distraction

New York, New York

Max Dobens, senior vice president of Prudential Douglas Elliman in New York, creates broker-generated video with a handheld camera and posts the videos to his Facebook site and to his YouTube channel. His representative said he's had luck with them (if not, why do them, right?), and one couple even saw one of the videos and wanted him to handle the sale of their apartment.

Glad to hear it appeals to sellers. But does it appeal to buyers? In one of his videos for a $1.195 million condo on Manhattan's Upper East Side, he walks through the 1,133-square-foot unit, cigar in hand, telling viewers about this home on the 22nd floor of the Dunhill.

Although cigars are often associated with luxury, for me, to see the agent talking to me, waving a tobacco wrap in what could be my new home just does not appeal. Even though Dobens cigar did not appear to be lit, it was just a big turnoff. When I moved into my current place it took me two weeks to fumigate the cigarette smell that had penetrated the walls and carpet (my trick, fabric softener sheets and baking soda). I wouldn't wish that experience on others.

Diane Saatchi,a senior vice president of Saunders & Associates in Bridgehampton, N.Y., agrees with me. In her email critique she wrote: "OMG, the cigar was the first turn off. I would not want to be in an elevator, taxi or apartment with someone likely to smell of cigar smoke."

Former ApprenticeWade Hanson,who sells luxury real estate for Re/Max Results in the Twin Cities, exclaimed, "Really, a cigar! Is that really necessary? Is a buyer going to purchase this home because the Realtor is holding a cigar?"

Hanson, who knows a thing or two about appearing on-air after his stint on NBC, also thinks Dobens could've benefited from having a script, while the second turnoff about the home for Saatchi was the noisy street, which she says was apparent when Dobens struggled to open the terrace door.

But taken from someone who knows Dobens personally as a "great guy and a great broker," Postilio says Dobens presentation is personable, informative, and professional. "I only wish the quality of the video were more refined. Also, I believe that some of the rooms might show better in person than they do in the video."

Postilio says that he feels the video, however, "does its job because if I were looking for an apartment that fits this description, [it] would entice me to call the broker for a showing."

You Sexy Thing
Manhattan Beach, Calif.

In this piece, conceived by Sotheby's International agent Gerard Bisignano, not only is a brief tour of the $12.5 million listing shown, but so is the beachfront and street life as the prospective homebuyer, portrayed by an actress, speaks on the phone to a friend describing that she has just found the perfect home.

"The ad is clever in that it does not rely on an agent yakking about the obvious," says Saatchi. "It has appeal to a young, wealthy buyer and if that were me, I would be interested enough to want to see the house."

And that's the goal, to get people to want to see the home. Listing agent Bisignano tells AOL Real Estate that when he first received the listing he started to think about a unique marketing strategy for this Ray Kappe-designed home.

"Almost all real estate videos are the same; the agent brings you for a tour pointing out the kitchen, master bathroom, et cetera," says Bisignano. "Though I've seen some well produced videos, I felt this house was the perfect canvas to do something creative and totally 'out-of-
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the-box.' It is my job to make my listings stand out above all the clamor and this was a natural result of trying to achieve that goal."

The piece definitely stands out. The actress portraying the homebuyer sounds as if she works for a sex phone line. Although there are no intimate bedroom shots, and she is dressed in business casual, the sound of her voice just makes you think you were watching something x-rated. When the camera cut to the bath faucet, I just knew it would show water gush out (it didn't though). One blogger put it this way: "Vaguely adult themes... it's probably best to be sure the kids aren't watching."

As for Postilio, his reaction when he saw the video was "Wow." He added, "In the business, we frequently refer to the term 'real estate porn' to describe photos of exceptionally beautiful properties, but this takes the cake. Apparently, the broker is confident that the ultimate purchaser of this property will be a man who frequents gentlemen's clubs."

Gary Gold, a top producer and executive vice president at Hilton & Hyland, a Beverly Hills' preeminent luxury real estate firm with over $1 billion in annual sales, says that "Buyers have images in their head of what they are looking for and they are scouring the Internet looking for those images, whether it is a perfect kitchen or large yard or city view." (And in this case, perhaps it's a home on the beach.)

He says the Manhattan Beach house video seems to be "well thought-out" and "effective," as "it told a story of the house and of the Manhattan Beach lifestyle." But overall, Gold, who believes in the power of Internet marketing and has featured hundreds of virtual tours such as the one for this $1.3 million gated country estate, says ultimately, "it does not matter if it is a video or virtual tour as long as the photography is superb, the photos or video is assembled in a logical sequence and it is short and to the point."

Postilio adds, "What fuels our home-buying dreams is our ability to imagine ourselves living in the home of our dreams. The human imagination is capable of creating its own storyline; there's no need to impose a prefabricated lifestyle on buyers."

Classic Style
Paradise Valley, Ariz.

Video production company,, produces online video walk-through of the home using a professional presenter. The style is classy, and focused on the home. It has the feel of a Sunday morning home showcase infomercial. The website says: "Obviously, nothing is as good as walking through the house yourself, but our online video is the next best thing." Our expert agents agree.

"These videos seem to put more of a focus on the home," says Hanson. "They are classy and give a complete tour of the home. These are nicely done and won't turn buyers off like a few of the others." However, he says he would like to see more video rather than just still shots.

For Saatchi, who also thinks this is the better of the bunch, but says the four-plus minute video was way too long for her taste. "I lost interest after one minute, would have stayed for two. I find customers view real estate ads at work or while watching TV and keep the sound off. Our customers tend to be impatient, have short attention for details and like to be in control. They do not like to be told the obvious and especially have no interest in being told to 'lounge at the pool, relax in the over-sized tub or prepare gourmet meals in the professional style kitchen.' However, once someone has decided on a house, they like to have the videos to show to their friends.

She says, "I have not yet seen any great video ads. Still ads and videos err on giving too much information and generally provide enough information to help the shopper decide not to see the property or use the agent." She adds, "Real estate is hard to advertise; well-priced products generally sell themselves."

Sheree R. Curry
, who loves trolling the Internet for homes for sale, is a three-time award-winning journalist who has covered real estate for six years. During her 20-year career, her articles have appeared regularly in the
Wall Street Journal, TV Week, and Fortune. She's been writing for AOL Real Estate since 2009 from a Minneapolis-area rental. She seeks a book publisher -- or at least a lender who'll give a reasonable mortgage rate to a self-employed mom.

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