As COVID-19 continues to impact every aspect of life, Tri-Valley real estate professionals have had to change how they show homes.
Technology now allows potential buyers to see homes and agents to market their listings without anyone ever having to enter the seller's home.
"Once real estate and real estate photographers were deemed essential business, we have offered professional photography, aerial drone and 3D WalkThrough Tours, and we have seen a dramatic increase in the use of 3D and video for agents to offer virtual open houses," said Tim Denbo, president/CEO of Virtual Tour Cafe based in Pleasanton.
Virtual showings are nothing new to the real estate world, but due to COVID-19, more Realtors and brokers are adopting it.
"While virtual tours have been used to help market listings for the past 20-plus years, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shelter-in-place around the country has given new rise to the use of virtual tours and other virtual marketing tools," Denbo said. "As a national do-it-yourself subscription service, we immediately saw an increase in inquiries from associations, brokers and agents using our online services around the country."
Locally, the Tri-Valley has seen a significant increase in virtual tours versus the traditional in-person tours.
"Real estate is 90% online these days and just a small percentage are seeing homes in-person now," said Susan Schall, a Pleasanton real estate agent. "We are going pending on homes after as little as one to five showings in many cases, versus having many through open houses."
According to Tina Hand, 2020 president of Bay East Association of Realtors, roughly 85% to 90% showings have become hybrid virtual showings, in which homeowners first spot a home through a virtual showing, make an appointment and physically visit a home. However, to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the home is sanitized before and after interested buyers visit.
"It's the wave of the future," Hand said. "I see a hybrid where you'll have the virtual tours and then the buyers will actually go into the properties, walk the grounds and walk the house."
Virtual staging involves technology to place virtual furniture in a room for potential buyers as opposed to a blank space.
"Another related service to virtual tours to help real estate agents market their properties is virtual staging," Denbo added. "We have seen a dramatic increase in virtual staging as well."
Realtors in the Tri-Valley agree.
"We have been using virtual showing techniques in real estate for 15-plus years," said Steve Mohseni, another Pleasanton real estate agent. "However, innovation has been at work recently to enhance these methods by necessity, and I am sure virtual reality and augmented reality solutions are going to be an integral part of real estate marketing in the future."
Agents foresee sellers pushing for more virtual tour technology to slow the spread of any illness, COVID-19 related or not.
"What will further drive the virtual tour technology are the sellers who may not want to allow a public open house with 50 groups walking through their homes in one day and leaving their germs behind," Mohseni added. "Any prospective buyer will have to screen homes virtually first and only selected people will get to view the properties in-person."
Mohseni predicts that the public will become more health conscious after COVID-19. As a result, the further use of virtual showings will increase and virtual tour technology could advance, possibly retiring physical-only showings -- meaning the future of real estate might become a virtual hybrid.
"I see the hybrid model as a great tool for the agents because it does benefit our sellers so well and give maximum exposure to the property," Hand added. "I believe, so I'm thankful (for technology), especially in this day and age. Who knows what's coming down the road?"
However, Denbo thinks there likely won't be a future with no physical home showings, believing that it's human nature for buyers to want to visit their prospective new house in-person.
"I think the trend is more toward virtual, even though you'll never stop having open houses," he said. "But people will always want to visit the home."
If anything is for certain, the future of real estate will be using more virtual tours, even post COVID-19, according to Hand. The traditional open houses, where homes open up for viewers and agents to see freely, will not be coming back right away -- or potentially at all.
Buyers and sellers are adapting to new ways to see homes too. In recent months the local market has seen an increase in inventory and homes sold with multiple offers.
"We have all learned new ways to do things, and real estate is no different," Denbo said. "Real estate agents, homeowners and buyers are learning that they can meet with their agent over a Zoom call and buyers can preview homes online using virtual tours, video and virtual reality to save time and be more efficient. I think things have changed for a long time, if not forever."