COVID-19 and real estate: Video tours, 360-degree walk-throughs offer immersive alternative to open houses

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      David Hutchinson thought he has seen it all.

      As a Vancouver realtor for around 20 years, Hutchinson has witnessed many ups and downs in the housing market.

      With COVID-19 on the rampage, Hutchinson says things are now totally different as “nothing’s really happening”.

      “Nothing has halted the market like this,” Hutchinson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      According to Hutchinson, he has open houses being cancelled because of concerns over the novel coronavirus.

      “This is new territory for realtors,” Hutchinson said.

      The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver has strongly advised realtors to avoid open houses to curb the transmission of the virus.

      The board suggested virtual tours, a tool that Hutchinson uses along with other means he employs in his trade.

      “We’re going to have to be creative,” Hutchinson said.

      For virtual tours, realtors can turn to companies like Ivan Chan Photography and Videography.

      In addition to photos, the Vancouver-based creative company puts together video tours, and 360-degree virtual walk-throughs.

      The company was founded by Ivan Chan, a UBC graduate who took his photography hobby to a professional level.

      Chan expects digital presentations to be in demand more as realtors have to find alternative ways of showing a house without buyers being physically present at the property.

      “One way to realistically show the house just as if you're there is through a video or virtual tour,” Chan told the Straight in a phone interview.

      According to Chan, potential buyers can do a video or virtual tour in the comfort of their home.

      A video tour is like watching a movie. A 360-degree walk-through allows viewers to click on dots on the screen to move to the next scene, just like how Google Street View works, Chan explained.

      Chan said that he has been providing photo and video services for realtors over the last 10 years.

      In a typical year, Chan does around 50 to 100 virtual packages.

      Chan said that sellers can engage potential buyers through virtual tours as this digital technique “mimics or simulates the exact environment”.

      “Virtual tours can show a seller's home with enough realism that it can replace walking into open houses,” Chan said.

      Chan noted that people are already accustomed to viewing videos and photos when they shop online for various consumer products.

      “The only way a product sells online is to have good photos,” Chan said.

      Vancouver photographer Ivan Chan transformed his hobby into a creative business.

      Back to Hutchinson, the Vancouver realtor is concerned about how deep the current requirement of social distancing will affect the housing market.

      “At some point, you have to get onto the property, and do some kind of due diligence,” Hutchinson.

      According to him, buying a property without even seeing it is quite rare.

      Buyers also need to see a notary for the conveyance of a property to complete the transaction.

      “I have a couple completions this week, and it's very difficult to get hold of a lawyer,” Hutchinson said.

      According to Hutchinson, delays in sale completions can have a “domino effect” on the market.

      If one sale doesn’t complete, it will affect the ability of sellers planning to purchase another property, the realtor explained.

      Video tour of a Richmond property, care of Ivan Chan Photography and Videography.

      The B.C. Real Estate Association announced online that it is supporting recommendations by local real estate boards to stop open houses.

      The BCREA also stated that it is working with the 11 real estate boards in the province as the market “slows as a result of the pandemic”.

      The organization added that it is liaising with other partners to “help real estate practice evolve” in order to protect realtors and consumers.

      ‘’We are seeing the curtailment of face-to-face commerce across all sectors and real estate is no exception,” BCREA CEO Darlene Hyde stated in the online post. “The sooner we act to slow the spread of this virus, the sooner we can help our communities and economy recover.’’