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Livestream open houses are trending, but will they stick around?

Buying
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Teresa Surette recently hosted a live-streamed open house on Facebook for a beautiful new home in Lexington.

It proved to be a bit awkward.

“You’re kind of talking into the void and giving a tour. You’re not really sure if people are interested,” said Surette, a realtor with Compass. She counted eight virtual attendees, including one of her relatives. “You get a little message that somebody waved at you, and it’s ‘Oh great, my grandmother is watching me in Utah.’ But she’s not buying this house in Lexington. You don’t get the same back and forth that you get in an individual call.”

Although real estate was deemed an essential business during the pandemic, realtors were quickly forced to reinvent the traditional open house model in order to sell properties while adhering to safety regulations. Scheduled viewings proved to be a vital tool, but the increased availability of technology and social media also presented the opportunity to get a property noticed through live-streamed open houses on sites like Facebook and Instagram. While they tend to feel unnatural, realtors said, they have plenty of merit.

“I certainly wouldn’t have 1,000 people walk through an open house, so there’s way more eyes on the property,” said Laura Springer, a realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage who has completed four live-streamed open houses on Facebook for four different properties in South Boston. Although they were a bit awkward (“One of the units had a spiral staircase, so walking up the stairs with a phone felt a little clunky,” Springer said), she still believes the added tool is an asset, especially because Facebook allows you to create an event ahead of time, publicize it, and keep it on your page for 24 hours.

The ability to livestream is also beneficial for sellers who are uncomfortable with having a parade of strangers walking through their home. Not only does it provide a method of vetting potential buyers, helping to create a list of people who are truly interested, but it’s a surefire way to keep the spread of germs to a minimum.

“Being able to vet the buyers and prioritize your time — Who do I want to have coming into this house? Have they seen the virtual tour? Seen the video? Have they done a drive-by? OK, now you can come in — It’s a way to reduce some of the looky-loos,” Surette said, “as opposed to ‘Oh, we’ve had 100 people come through, and they’re sprinkling their germs everywhere.’ ”

Last week, Compass launched their own Livestream Tours platform, enabling agents to host video tours with their clients using one single link. It also eliminates the need for FaceTime or Zoom calls, while synchronizing clients’ calendar invites, e-mails, and tour invites.

But despite the popularity of livestream open houses, they are happening less frequently than they were last month, the real estate agents said, chalking it up to increased numbers of prospective buyers attending open houses in person, both by appointment and random visit. According to the Massachusetts Association of Realtors (MAR), just over 3 percent of scheduled open houses in Massachusetts (not including Berkshire County and the Cape and Islands) have been virtual since May 13. While there were 9,961 open houses scheduled (albeit untraditional ones, thanks to staggered showings, scheduled appointments, and all realtors utilizing PPE/social-distancing practices) only 314 of the showings were virtual.

As the need to live-stream lessens as the summer moves on, realtors are in agreement on one thing: Traditional open houses aren’t going anywhere.

“There was a period when no one wanted to do [traditional open houses] at all, and now I think people are feeling more comfortable,” Springer said. “I’m seeing lines outside for people to go into open houses. I’d never want to forgo them, but I think this is a useful tool in a different way.”

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