Ben Bacal of Rodeo Realty on house tours by drone and that divorce video

King of video listings talks selfie sticks, advice to other agents

Apr.April 26, 2016 11:30 AM

While it was no “Lemonade,” a high-production video about a troubled marriage made viral rounds last month among L.A. real estate types. In the film, set hauntingly to Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” a well-dressed man enters his uber-modern home, pours himself a glass of brown liquor, and ends his marriage.

His wife lunges at him, screaming in protest, but he leaves with a singular suitcase. She proceeds to drink a bottle of wine alone by a gigantic swimming pool.

The actors, who only have few lines, are not the stars of the show. Most striking is the contemporary Hollywood home where the short was filmed in sweeping, high-production shots as dramatic, or even more dramatic, than the story line. And that was the point.

The man behind the scenes of the $20,000 video was Rodeo Realty broker Ben Bacal, who is the listing agent on the $4.5 million home at 6654 Emmet Terrace. The actors were Ori and Nafisa Ayonmike, the owners of the home, who are happily married in real life.

The video marked one of Bacal’s efforts to pioneer a new genre: the narrative listing. He began flirting with not-your-average listing videos three years ago, when he was the first L.A. realtor to use drones to shoot his properties. Elaborate videos have since become his trademark.

The Real Deal sat down with Bacal to chat about an app he created for other brokers to shoot iPhone listings, and whether high-production videos really lead to sales.

DOB: February 7, 1978

Hometown: Brentwood by way of Toronto, Canada

Lives in: The Bird Streets of Hollywood Hills

Family: Single, no kids

How did you get started with these elaborate videos?

I was the first agent to use a drone for a listing, in 2013. We shot a drone video of this house at 9380 Sierra Mar Drive and put together a montage of clips that we put on Youtube. It went viral, and reached a Dutch [technology developer]. He came and saw the house and bought it. It sold for $3,160 a square foot.

Wait, so the buyer cold-called you after seeing the video?

No. He had an agent, but he was far away in Amsterdam, so seeing the video definitely helped get him to actually view the house.

How much do the narrative listings cost to make?

For really produced videos, it can be $20,000, or $40,000 if it involves a large team. My last shoot (involved) 14 people.

Do clients pay for these videos?

Realtors always pay for videos.

So, clearly you have a film background…

I was in the entertainment business. I worked for Sony and Warner Brothers and did visual effects. I have a film degree from Long Beach State University.

How did you go from pursuing film in school to becoming involved in real estate?

I got my license in 2005 and the purpose was to sell some homes so I could finance my own films. I ended up really loving the art of the deal. I love homes and architecture and design. It  became a passion and a focus, so I decided to go full time.

How have these videos affected your real estate career?

My business really took off when I started shooting videos. It links back to my brand and people call me. 

Do you see a difference in actual buyer interest when you make a low-budget video vs. a high-budget video?

I don’t. You actually get more hits on a video when it’s simply done on an iPhone. It’s a more realistic version of the property and people trust that more, which is why McDonalds is spending money on found footage campaigns. Buyers resonate with what is authentic.

Why make the more expensive videos then?

Those are for super high-end properties. The buyer expects you to do something super creative if you are making a $1 million commission. If your video makes it on the news circuit, on Fox and CNN, then you have the opportunity to go viral.

What happens for you when it goes viral?

I get more phone calls to direct buyer leads from other agents because it’s top of mind. Agents only have the capacity to remember 20 things in any given hour. If it’s a great video, you are going to think about it and call.

What is your advice to agents who are new to making videos?

Photos are not enough. If you’re a new agent and you are not shooting content with your face saying, “Hi, I’m so and so and this why I am an expert; this is the house I’m selling,” then no one knows who you are. It’s either you’re doing that or you’re spending thousands of dollars on postcards that get thrown out.

What are the essentials of a good listing video?

You need a good perspective on the house, and you need neighborhood content, (like) you talking at a coffee shop. If you’re in the video talking and give a tour with a selfie stick, you get even more hits because it looks more real.

Do you only make videos for your own clients? Would you ever consider making it a separate business?

Only for my clients. What I did for other agents is I created a video editing tool called Roofshoot that allows you to make listing videos from your iPhone. We’ve raised $5 million (for the app) and it’s launching in June in Los Angeles. 

What was the reaction to the divorce video?

We’ve had 18 showings since we listed it. We’ve had people see it that would not normally go that far east. We’re just waiting for the right buyer to strike. You have to have the right buyer at the right price. I do think real estate in Los Angeles is really cheap compared to other places, especially because it is the most incredibly place in the world to live.

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