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Move to buyer-friendly online tools to show, sell homes likely here to stay

UPDATED: Fri., April 30, 2021

Jeff Nitschke of Capture NW stands next to some of the specialized camera equipment he uses to create virtual tours with Matterport 3D technology, at a new home in Spokane on April 13.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Jeff Nitschke of Capture NW stands next to some of the specialized camera equipment he uses to create virtual tours with Matterport 3D technology, at a new home in Spokane on April 13. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

From comparing prices to virtual tours, consumers have become accustomed to the convenience of shopping for homes online, a shift that was further accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Real estate agents and industry veterans say the trend of using online tools to buy and sell homes may be here to stay, pandemic or not.

Twenty-seven percent of sellers indicated their real estate agents have used virtual tours to market properties during the pandemic, compared with 17% of those prepandemic, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Capture NW owner Jeff Nitschke, whose company offers real estate photography services as well as Zillow and Matterport 3D virtual tours, has noticed an uptick in business inquiries during the past year.

Nitschke shoots about three to five virtual tours a week of properties ranging from fixer-uppers to multimillion dollar homes in North Idaho and Eastern Washington.

“As hot as the market is, having the ability for somebody to be able to walk through the house virtually, I think, is key,” said Nitschke, adding that virtual tours are an additional convenience to out-of-state buyers who aren’t able to see homes in-person.

Matterport, a California-based computer vision technology company founded in 2011, released a camera that’s capable of providing 360-degree, interactive virtual property walk-throughs in which prospective homebuyers can digitally measure rooms, walls and windows inside a house to ensure furniture will fit or to prepare for a remodel.

In addition, Matterport has the ability to scan and create a 3D “digital twin” of a property’s floorplan. That feature is particularly helpful with historic homes, which might not have the original blueprints available, Nitschke said.

In May, Matterport released its Capture app, which provides smartphone users with the ability to create, edit and share 3D digital floor plans of properties with the touch of a screen.

Nitschke, who also is seeing a greater demand for 3D virtual tours for commercial properties, anticipates Capture NW will gain even more business as the spring homebuying season gets underway in the region.

Seattle-based real estate technology company Redfin launched a feature in March 2020 for homebuyers to request agent-led, video-chat tours via its website and app. The company has been offering 3-D virtual tours since 2014.

Views of 3D walk-throughs on Redfin’s website have increased 603% since February 2020. Agent-led, video-chat tours account for 10% to 12% of home-tour requests, Redfin spokeswoman Angela Cherry said in an email earlier this month

“While this is down from its initial peak of nearly 33% in early April 2020, it’s held steady at this level over the past 10 months or so, a trend we think will continue even post-pandemic,” said Cherry, referring to the video-chat tours.

Realtor Collin Kelley, of eXp Realty in Spokane, said he’s been using Matterport virtual tours since 2018 and finds it particularly helpful when showing properties to out-of-state buyers.

“I see so many people moving up from California, Arizona and Nevada, and it’s so beneficial,” he said. “They are able to get that feeling like they are actually there.”

In addition to virtual tours, Kelley uses a tool called DJI Mimo, which enhances video quality when showing properties to clients via FaceTime.

Kelley, who sells homes in North Idaho and the Spokane area, said he’s noticed an increase in the number of people buying homes sight unseen with the use of virtual tours.

“I would like to see that done en masse because it would save so much time for everyone,” he said, adding that while the pandemic has accelerated the use of Matterport, it’s been slow to catch on in the Spokane area when compared to other markets.

There’s a paradigm shift occurring in the real estate world when it comes to embracing new technology to make buying and selling homes easier, Kelley said.

“The cost of great technology is getting lower and lower, and that’s only going to enhance the consumer experience through time,” he said. “No competitive advantage lasts forever, but these are big things that will make buying and selling real estate better for the consumer.”

“As hot as the market is, having the ability for somebody to be able to walk through the house virtually, I think, is key.” Jeff Nitschke Capture NW owner
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