Cutting Edge: Agents go high tech to sell homes

Redfin agent Jordan Clarke closed a home sale by using his smartphone to give a live video tour to buyers who were across the country.
(Alejandro Tamayo / San Diego Union-Tribune)

To close a sale in real estate, opportunity favors a charged phone.

Three years ago, real estate agent Jordan Clarke was traveling north on Interstate 5 when he received a panicked call from clients in Washington, D.C., to say a home in Del Mar had just gone on the market.

The countdown had begun. There are few homes for sale in the affluent coastal city, and, chances are, other agents had clients interested too.

Clarke pulled off the freeway, called the listing agent, got into the home and pulled out his cellphone. Step by step, he marched through the remodeled home, showing live video to his East Coast clients of hardwood floors, two fireplaces, a designer kitchen and large windows.


Impressed by what they saw, they made an offer. In just a few hours, the home sold for $1.1 million — beating out a higher offer an hour later from another agent.

Many agents have used video streaming with buyers, primarily through apps such as Skype, FaceTime and Periscope. Now, real estate brokerage Redfin is taking it a step further. Since July, Redfin’s website and phone app have allowed users to select the Live Video Tour function to have an agent take them through the home with his or her phone.

It is the first time a real estate company has set up live streaming connected directly to a listing.

“You are able to direct [an agent] just like you’re there,” said Clarke, a Redfin agent.

The feature is available only in San Diego and Chicago but may expand to other markets in 2016. Redfin says it has been mostly local buyers who have had a long day at work and don’t have the time, or energy, to go to a listing in person.

The way it usually works is an interested buyer goes on the Redfin website, selects the time they want to see a video feed, and the agent goes to the property with a phone. Then, agents walk up to the property while talking about its features. Inside, the agent shows off different areas until the user asks for close-ups or to go back.

Fred and Lori Clark of Albuquerque, N.M., had tried for years to move to San Diego County but kept losing out when their offers weren’t accepted.


In September, Fred, 71, and Lori, 75, spotted a home on the market in Oceanside listed by Redfin. They were unable to fly out before another offer was made, so the agents encouraged them to get on their computer.

The Clarks set up Skype online, and Redfin agents walked them through the property with their phones. From the comfort of their New Mexico home, they made an offer. It closed two weeks later for less than the asking price of $480,000.

Mark Goldman, a finance and real estate lecturer at San Diego State University, said the industry is quick to adapt to new technologies. He is old enough to remember the excitement over the fax machine.

“It took about five minutes to transport one page,” he said. “You fast-forward to today where you can get real-time video streaming on a property, people can negotiate from around the world, send documents in a service like DocuSign. It’s just another way technology increases efficiencies and transactions.”

Goldman said the lack of new home inventory would continue to push the industry to innovate and be aggressive.

Single-family homes in San Diego County have sold in an average of 40 days this year, down from 45 days in 2014, Multiple Listing Service said. In areas where home values are rising fastest, it can get more extreme. In Imperial Beach, homes are staying on the market an average of 26 days this year before they are sold.


Just 23,000 new homes have been constructed in San Diego from 2012 to 2015, despite 101,000 jobs created, economist Lawrence Yun noted at a national Realtor conference in San Diego recently.

Realtor Jason Cassity, who works with sellers and renters at City Consulting Group downtown, said he has been using video streaming, mainly through Periscope, for three years but mostly for rentals.

“People aren’t as afraid to commit to a one-year lease at $2,000, compared to dropping $600,000,” he said of viewing places by phone.

For Cassity, video streaming may already be a thing of the past. He said he prefers 3-D modeling platform Matterport (also used on Redfin listings), which allows companies to take detailed 360-degree photos inside a property. Potential buyers can scroll through a home, similar to using Google Maps on streets.

The costs for agents can add up. Cassity said a recent Matterport filming of a 1,100-square-foot condo cost $350. Add that to $150 for photos and $600 for video. However, he said the commission on a house sale is worth it.

“For what we do nowadays,” he said, “you better be putting in ridiculous levels of service and marketing to get that thing sold.”


Molnar writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.