This weekend’s open house? You’ll have to tune in via livestream

Startups and agents are embracing tech to keep rental market churning

A growing number of startups and agents are embracing video tours and virtual houses (Credit: iStock)
A growing number of startups and agents are embracing video tours and virtual houses (Credit: iStock)

You can forget about having Purell and booties at the door.

A growing number of startups and agents are embracing video tours and virtual houses amid the global coronavirus outbreak.

Although sellers looking to unload multi-million condos may have to sit tight for a while, the demand for rental apartments in New York City is relentless.

“People whose leases are ending, they need to find an apartment before the month ends,” said
Sachi Hirani, a marketing lead at Keyo, a VC-backed rental platform that rolled out video tours of apartments. “Having a video is key when they’re desperate to find places.”

Keyo, which was founded in Palo Alto in 2017 but operates in New York City, said it had been handling 200 to 400 showings a day; demand for video tours spiked 200 percent over the past three weeks.

Likewise, Urbane Brokerage, a Manhattan-based firm that offers 3D video tours, has seen demand for virtual tours jump 68 percent over the last three weeks, according to Brooke Baker, who co-founded the firm in 2018 with Nelson Cabassa. Baker said Urbane initially began offering video tours at the beginning of the year to accommodate clients coming from out of state or clients whose spouse or roommate couldn’t see the unit in-person.

“Now it’s having this residual effect,” Baker said. “Thank god we have it or we wouldn’t have done deals these past few weeks.”
At 123 Bank Street, where Urbane has an exclusive marketing agreement for the building, at least two tenants have requested that no one visit their apartment in person. “They don’t want people in their apartment. This is a thing now,” Baker said. “If we didn’t have the virtual tour we’d lose half our income.”

According to Keyo CEO Kiran Bellubbi, the company had been offering video tours on an as-need basis, but launched video tours for all of its exclusives in recent week. The tours are conducted via Keyo’s proprietary app.

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“We had to decide very quickly how we wanted to proceed,” Bellubbi said. “We had to think about how the platform would solve this for the safety of scouts and tenants and also landlords, to ensure they have low vacancy costs during this pretty extraneous, crazy period.”

“All initial tours are video tours,” he said. If tenants want to see the apartment in person after the video tour, they can arrange a private showing to minimize germs.

Not to be outdone, Compass introduced a video template this week that also allows agents to hold “virtual open houses.” In an email to agents, the Softbank-backed brokerage offered step-by-step instructions for livestreaming on social platforms or posting to their Instagram stories.

“We wanted to make sure our agents are able to conduct business while protecting their health and safety, and the health and safety of their clients,” said Lena Johnson, Compass’ head of marketing. She said Compass rolled out video templates that agents can upload in select markets on Friday, and it plans to follow suit in New York shortly.

As for cancelled open houses, Johnson said “it’s almost too soon to tell. Everything is changing minute-by-minute.”

Brooklyn-based Ideal Properties Group has also launched a remote viewing option it’s calling “Showings on Demand.”
Aleksandra Scepanovic, the firm’s managing director, said agents will livestream tours at a scheduled time using their mobile phone or tablet. “It allows them to be in the space without people around them, and it also [benefits] someone who’s hunkered down in their home,” she said.

Several years ago, the company also created a proprietary, online application process for rentals. “There’s a general move to turn everything virtual,” she said. “The only time you have to show up is when you have to actually move in.”

The company developed the interface over the past month as executives watched coronavirus approach New York. “We never expected to have to show spaces virtually, and we hope it’s a temporary thing,” she said. But she pointed out that demand for rental apartments isn’t going away because of coronavirus — whether it’s because someone has been couch-surfing and needs their own apartment or someone’s lease is about to end. “We don’t know how long this will last,” she said.