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Northwest Multiple Listing Service unveils more options for house hunters to view homes

Special News Release

KIRKLAND, Washington (June 10, 2020) - Western Washington home shoppers can now take various types of guided tours of properties, including a new "Live Stream Open House" option. Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS) recently unveiled that new feature plus enhanced ways for member-brokers to promote multiple virtual tours on their listings.

The enhancements, developed as part of the industry's response to the statewide coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions on in-person open houses, are being well received and will continue once the pandemic constraints are eased, according to the MLS. Additionally, the group announced it has added vacant land to the "lives stream" option, which initially included single family homes, condominiums, farms & ranches, multi-family properties, manufactured homes, rentals, and timeshares.

With the new "Live Stream Open House" offering, listing brokers set specific times to showcase their listings and provide a link for viewing the live broadcast. The option is used for real-time open houses for both the public and for fellow brokers. Viewers can interact with the broker as they tour.

Additionally, Northwest MLS recently increased the number of virtual tours a broker can display for each listing from one to three. With this feature, listing brokers can advertise various tour options using links and corresponding descriptions. Among choices being used are 3-D tours, recordings of video walk-through tours of a home, and photo reel tours.

Once links are entered, other brokers can search for and view the virtual tours in Matrix (the MLS system). The virtual tour links will appear for consumers in the Matrix Client Portal, and they will be included in the NWMLS data feed that appears on members' public websites.

"With in-person open houses currently prohibited, live streaming further promotes social distancing," said Northwest MLS chairman Robb Wasser. "These enhancements provide sellers and listing agents with new options. It also enables buyers who are sheltering in place to get to know a property and interact with the listing broker in real time, all from the comfort and safety of their homes," added Wasser, branch manager at Windermere Real Estate/East in Bellevue.

Live streamed open houses are easily identified with a searchable field in the Northwest MLS database, as well as on the data feed for members' public websites.

Brokers flagged several hundred listings with the new live stream feature within the first few weeks of the roll-out, according to MLS officials. The option which is popular among out-of-area buyers, is also being well-received by tech-savvy millennials and other local house-hunters who enjoy previewing from their own homes.

Northwest MLS allows the use of a variety of services and platforms for conducting live stream open houses, including Facebook Live, Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, YouTube Live, GoToWebinar, Skype, Blue Jeans, and others.

John Deely, a member of the NWMLS board of directors, said sellers are enthusiastic that brokers are trying new and different ways to market their homes, while noting "It's a new paradigm for many agents in terms of looking at themselves on video and how they present themselves."  Deely, the principal managing broker at Coldwell Banker Bain in Seattle, noted agents who are technically oriented are adapting quickly, but even those who aren't as tech-savvy but are instead more people- and socially- oriented are jumping in. "It's all part of their independent, entrepreneurial nature," he remarked.

Listing brokers are creating their live-streamed tours using a variety of devices ranging from smart phones and tablets to higher-quality gear, including cameras on tripods and microphones, according to Deely. Additionally, he said some have scheduled live streaming for various affiliates such as home stagers, inspectors, and appraisers to exchange information and get feedback before holding an open house for the public or for other brokers.

"Early adopter" Don Lonam, a broker at Deely's office who "jumped in," became licensed two years ago after working nearly three decades in health care and hospital administration. While he was comfortable with video conferencing applications from his prior experiences, he stated, "As a newer licensee I felt the need to adapt so I viewed this new option as a challenge and a requirement."

For a live stream open house at a West Seattle listing, Lonam wanted to give his online prospective buyers the experience of walking through the home and grounds, but he was also anticipating questions about the bridge closure so he incorporated a Zoom chat. As part of that discussion, he used the screen share tool to show three alternate routes to and from West Seattle.

Deely said attendance by house-hunters has been mixed at his office's live streamed open houses as agents experiment with different ways to promote the new option to house-hunters. Lonam agreed, but nevertheless said he plans to create a live stream open house for every future listing.

Research by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and other industry groups shows videos and live streaming are more engaging, more memorable, and more popular than other types of content. Some Realtors even do a "live streaming spree," showing multiple properties throughout the day, according to NAR. Industry watchers expect this two-way interaction and "modern way of connecting with clients" will increase in popularity among home shoppers, even after COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

Washington, like many states, has implemented a series of "stay-home" orders, which continue to evolve. In conjunction with Washington Governor Jay Inslee's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" directives first issued on March 15, Northwest MLS temporarily disabled open house options on its listing platform and database. Under the governor's "Safe Start Proclamation" effective June 1, public open houses are still prohibited, and in-person interactions remain limited and by appointment only.

With the introduction of the live streaming feature, the MLS reminded its members of the restrictions on holding in-person open houses and published "Best Practices" tips and mandatory protocols for in-person interactions. The organization also pledged to continue to look for ways to support its member real estate brokers, while at the same time adhering to guidelines from government and public health officials.

Northwest Multiple Listing Service is a not-for-profit, member-owned organization that facilitates cooperation among its member real estate firms. With more than 2,300 member firm offices and 30,000 brokers across Washington state, NWMLS (www.nwmls.com) is the largest full-service MLS in the Northwest. While based in Kirkland, Washington, its service area spans 23 counties and it operates 20 local service centers.