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Real Estate's New Normal: Virtual Selling Tools

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Sales + Marketing

Real Estate's New Normal: Virtual Selling Tools


June 21, 2021
person viewing home on laptop
Photo: New Africa | stock.adobe.com

Both homebuyers and sellers benefit from virtual selling tools: one side can view listings faster and easier while the other gains more attention. Video walkthroughs, 3D tours, and self-guided tours increased by 200% on Zillow in April 2021, according to the listing site. Comparatively, advertisements for open houses decreased 42% compared to pre-pandemic 2019 levels. The result of stay-at-home orders and safety precautions has now become a new normal for real estate. No, in-person open houses are not extinct, but it’s no longer the only way to go. In 49 of the 50 largest metros, open houses were still lower than pre-pandemic levels, with Salt Lake City being the exception.

In the spring of 2020, when the pandemic first arrived in the United States, the share of active listings on Zillow that advertised an open house of any type dropped off precipitously, bottoming out at just 1% last April — down from 20% of listings advertising an open house in spring 2019 (when using the raw data). Functionally, this makes perfect sense: Strict lockdowns and business restrictions at the time often outright banned open houses. And even in cases where they were allowed, buyers, sellers and agents alike very likely felt a lot of anxiety at the prospect of inviting strangers into their home/stepping foot into a stranger’s home.  

Now roughly a year later, many of those restrictions have eased or been lifted and anxieties may have passed as vaccinations have risen — but the prevalence of open houses has still not entirely rebounded. Nationwide, the share of listings advertising an open house has risen from its pandemic-era low, but as of April remained more than 8 percentage points, or about 42%, lower than pre-pandemic, 2019 levels. And in 49 of the nation’s 50 largest metros, the share of homes with an open house in April was below 2019 levels. Salt Lake City was the only exception — 32% of listings mentioned an open house in April, up from 24% in 2019.  Salt Lake City had the second-highest rate of listings with open houses, behind only Boston (where 53% of listings mentioned an open house in April 2021, down only slightly from 56% in 2019).

The reversal is particularly noticeable in the two Bay Area metros of San Francisco and San Jose. In April 2019 roughly three quarters of listings in San Jose (76%) and San Francisco (73%) advertised open houses, the most among the nation’s largest markets. This April, those two metros ranked near the bottom — in fact, five of the six largest metros in California (including San Jose and San Francisco) featured open houses on virtually none of their listings this spring. This has a lot to do with restrictions still in place — open houses on a walk-in basis were prohibited in California prior to May 2021, and while strict scheduling protocols have been lifted, digital sign-ins for open house guests are still required. But restrictions may not explain all of the reversal.

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