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America's Smartest Home Videos/Users/adamp/Desktop/May Mag Images/AmericasSmart

Maximize your online video results by putting yourself in front of the camera.

Gwen Scott started doing video open houses two years ago, before many real estate professionals were using the words YouTube and MySpace on a regular basis. A sales associate with Century 21 Ryan Realty Inc. in Panama City, Scott enlisted the help of local video producers Studio 1 MediaWorks, and for about $1,000 per month, they handle the production work, “concept to completion,” for all her home listings.

Scott, who sold just under $8 million in properties last year, can be seen touting the benefits and features of those listings on sites such as YouTube, her own Web sites [to view a video, go to www.homesinbaycounty.com/gwen92.html] and even on television via 6- to 8-minute video open houses.

With 22 listings on her plate right now, Scott says being able to outsource the filming, editing, production, media buying (for the television shows) and music to a reliable third party has been wonderful.

“It’s totally turnkey—I don’t do anything [except narrate the open house],” says Scott, who’s experimented with nontraditional video formats, such as the one that features her running around being filmed with all her sold listings and using sales pitches like, “Phew, I’m getting tired. Look at all these homes I’ve sold. If you want me to sell yours too, give me a call.”

Scott says the payoff has been significant, namely, because she’s noticed an increase in recognition from people in Bay County. “I’ve never farmed a day in my life,” says Scott.  “People stop me all the time in restaurants and malls, telling me they’ve seen my videos, and that translates into business.”

The reasons for adding video open houses to your marketing lineup are compelling. According to video streaming firm Real Networks, for example, visitors stay at Web sites that use video 78 percent longer than those that lack this element. Whether you want to take Scott’s approach and outsource your video open house production or you’d rather go for the more hands-on approach, you shouldn’t ignore these five strategies:
 
Choose Your Weapon
Scott enjoys being able to hand off the production, editing and uploading of her video to the capable third party that charges her about $1,000 a month to produce about 8 6- to 8-minute shows for her listings. Other sales associates may wish to do it themselves, while still others will opt for a hybrid approach, getting help only in those areas that they find too difficult and/or time consuming to handle themselves.

Sales associates opting for the do-it-yourself approach should start with a good video camera and some help getting the listings filmed with themselves in front of the camera (either by enlisting someone’s assistance, or by using a tripod). Once the home that is the subject of the video has been filmed, the video can be uploaded into a PC and edited using software like Adobe After Effects or Sony Vegas. Windows users can also use the free Moviemaker software.

Expect to spend a couple of hours filming the house and then another two to three hours (depending on your level of expertise in this area) editing the show into a final product that can then be uploaded to online video sites. Try to keep the final video to 3 to 8 minutes, and focus on the most attractive selling points of the home, surrounding land and neighborhood. Get footage of yourself in front of and walking through the entire home, and use panoramic shots that you can go through and use—or edit out—later.

“You can cut it up and reassemble the footage once you see what looks good and what doesn’t,” says Dan Dashnaw, president and co-founder of Fort Lauderdale–based AgentCasts.com, which offers an alternative to sales associates who would like to do some, but not all, of the video open house work themselves. Much like a virtual tour that uses video instead of still shots, the open houses cost either $179 each for the DIY approach or $397 for the full-service option (which includes the services of a videographer to shoot the raw footage).

Using AgentCasts.com’s DIY option, real estate professionals use their own video cameras to shoot the open houses and then upload that footage to AgentCasts’ Web server. For the $179 fee, the company edits out “all of the nonsense and shaky parts,” says Dashnaw, adds an introduction screen, background music and narration, and then distributes the final product to a number of sites that feature online video. 

Upload It to the Web
Once you’ve figured out how to produce your video open house, you’ll want to think about where you want to publish it. Your own Web site is a logical choice, followed by sites like Google Video, AOL Video, MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, all of which feature a wide variety of videos from individuals and companies. If your listings are featured on national real estate sites, you might also want to add a link to the video open house in the property description.

“You really want to put them up where your listings are online,” says Dashnaw, “and wherever else you think people will look for them.” Make sure the video open houses are properly labeled and tagged. The video open house for a luxury home in Palm Beach County, for example, should include those and other keywords to help identify it for the potential buyer. 
 
Consider the Quality
Video open houses obviously can’t stack up to motion picture quality, but the real estate professional who appears to be bouncing on a trampoline while filming his or her show isn’t going to gain any points with potential buyers. To avoid turning people off (and possibly making them nauseated), pay attention to some basic quality issues associated with video.

Start by holding the camera steady, using a tripod when necessary and positioning yourself in a way that shows off the home while also letting viewers see your shining face and hear your narrative. “You’re trying to sell a property, so make it look good,” says Dashnaw.

But not so good that you waste precious time trying to get the camera to “stop shaking” and wind up ignoring some of the best aspects of the home. “Statistically, there is no correlation between quality level and the length of time a viewer spends on a video,” he says. “It has more to do with how relevant the video is, and actual buying consideration (whether the buyer is actually looking to purchase or not).”
 
Practice Makes Perfect
About a year ago, Scott got a call from out-of-state buyers who had seen one of her video open houses online. Interested in the Bay County beach cottage listing, the buyers made an offer sight unseen, handled the negotiating process via e-mail and then booked a flight to Florida for closing day. “When they got there, they said the property was even better than the video,” says Scott, who has had similar success with her video open houses over the last two years.

Scott attributes her online open houses’ professional quality and her own comfort level in front of the camera with helping to create shows that buyers watch and to which they respond. “You really have to be flexible and creative when you’re doing this type of marketing,” says Scott. “For many, the biggest obstacle is just learning to be comfortable and relaxed while shooting. Once you get that down, the rest is pretty easy.”

Just Do It!
When real estate professionals start to hem and haw to Dashnaw about whether they should be using online video open houses, his answer is:  “Just grab a video camera, walk through the property and start recording.” Once you get a few successful shows under your belt, he says, the process—from the shooting to the narrative to the editing—becomes infinitely easier. Check out what other real estate professionals are doing with their online video open houses on a site like YouTube, and “borrow” the best aspects of their shows to incorporate into your own.

When in doubt, seek out a professional to help you, either with the full production or with the pieces of it that you’d rather not handle on your own. And whatever you do, says Dashnaw, don’t ignore the fact that video is quickly replacing still photos as a medium of choice for homebuyers, who are going online in droves to find houses.

“There’s no argument in the real estate market right now that video is going to be the way to go, so jump in,” says Dashnaw. “That kind of boldness has a magic behind it that gets your mind to explore a bit. Soon you’ll find that any hesitation you had going into it is usually ruled out once your experience starts to kick in.” 

Bridget McCrea is a Clearwater-based freelance writer.