CITY, Calif. — Real estate agent Julie Ray has come of
age in the red-hot housing market. But this was a first:
Zooming through a $1.7 million house with her iPhone,
she used its FaceTime video application to send images
of the property — including bathroom tile and a
backyard lemon tree — to the prospective buyers in
couldn’t fly over on a whim to see a house that was
going to be gone in three days," said Ray, who got
her license five years ago and is accustomed to the
bidding wars that routinely break out here. "So I
would schedule a call with them, and I would FaceTime
them through the house."
is of the essence in the Bay Area real estate game and
technology is playing an ever more integral role. It’s
no big deal for agents to hammer out deals with absent
sellers who sign off electronically from cruise ships or
with Mainland Chinese buyers who surf the web for
investments. It’s the new normal, where
"seeing" a property means taking an online
video tour via an agency’s 3-D walk-through program
— or via FaceTime.
in case you were wondering: Ray’s clients — Kristin
and Eric Olson, who moved for two years to Basel,
Switzerland, where Eric had a job in biotech — bought
the house in Redwood City’s Mount Carmel neighborhood
for nearly $2.1 million. That was close to $400,000
above the listing price.
obviously a lot of money to plop down for a place you’ve
never set foot in," said Eric Olson. "But we
had a lot of confidence in Julie. We knew the
neighborhood" — he and Kristin had lived there
with their two daughters before moving overseas —
"and the FaceTime images assured us that we were
going to get comparative value for what we were
Olson recalled the details: "I’d say to Julie,
‘Wait! Back up! Can I see that tile on the kitchen
counter? Better angle!’ A lot of houses have virtual
tours, but with a virtual tour you’re kind of a
passive viewer. With this, it really was like we were
with her. The only thing we couldn’t do was smell the
has rolled out its own 3D Walkthrough online tours of
all its Bay Area properties, using high-resolution
interactive technology: "It’s just like in the
video games: Look down, look up, turn around and just go
round and round the whole house. It’s really
cool," said Bita Salamat, an agent in the East Bay.
"You can actually stand" — virtually —
"in front of the cabinets of the kitchen area, tilt
it upwards and see what the ceiling looks like."
BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
month, a couple in Shanghai looking for an investment
used the online feature to tour a property in San
Leandro: "It was under $500,000, three bedrooms,
two baths, townhouse style," Salamat recalled,
"perfect for investors because it’s close to the
San Mateo Bridge — easy for commuting to Silicon
Valley. And they wanted the house so bad that they were
willing to do whatever to get it."
made a cash offer, but alas, their efforts didn’t pay
off in the end, because "we had another cash offer
for more money," Salamat noted.
Wentworth, also a Redfin agent, used the 3D Walkthrough
to help turn a deal last week on a $425,000 condo in
Oakland’s Pill Hill neighborhood. Its tenants nixed
showings on a Monday and a Tuesday, but OK’d a
Wednesday showing — when the prospective buyer had to
leave town. To break the deadlock, Wentworth suggested
that the buyer take a virtual tour, and she did.
Especially taken with a reading nook outside the master
bedroom, the buyer decided it was worth her time to
squeeze in the Wednesday showing.
was two days ago," Wentworth said. "She made
an offer and we’ve accepted it."
only in the last few years that agencies have moved
beyond static online images of properties to more
sophisticated features. Some agencies now use drone
photography for aerial and distance shots, especially
for homes on hills and hillsides, said Billy McNair, an
area broker associate with Coldwell Banker whose
background is in marketing and tech startups.
are coming in with the harness stabilizers and video
cinematography (to create virtual tours) that give a
true representation of what the property is about,"
frenzied bidding in a constricted market — Ray recalls
48 offers on a house in Redwood City a few weeks ago —
high-tech touring and display features are becoming a
necessity, especially for high-end deals. Everything is
handled upfront by agents and buyers, who can read
disclosure documents online and move toward making
done it with an iPad. I’ve done it with a
laptop," said Elaine White, a broker associate with
Coldwell Banker in Menlo Park. "I sold a house last
year with multiple offers from my hotel room in
off anecdotes, she continued: "I sold a house in
Sunnyvale last year where my client was in Russia on a
cruise ship. There were seven offers on his property. We
presented the information to the client over the phone,
he decided which offer he wanted to accept, we emailed
it to him, he signed it on DocuSign" — an
electronic signature technology — "and we sold
seller was Wayne Hathaway, a retired tech engineer and
entrepreneur now living in Texas, who bought the modest
Bahl Patio Home in the early ‘70s for $38,000 and sold
it for $1.3 million: "It’s about a mile from
Apple," he explained. "That tells you what’s
happened to Silicon Valley."
deal-making can be "a little nerve-wracking. There’s
a lot of pressure," said Ray, who works for
Coldwell Banker and showed the Olsons half a dozen or so
houses via FaceTime last year.
takes a certain type of buyer to do it," she said,
acknowledging the risks of buying sight-unseen, "to
really let go of the need to walk through it 50 times,
checking each bathroom. I have clients who walk through
a house turning on every light and turning on every
faucet. They are different ends of the buyer-client
a year ago, broker associate Arthur Sharif, who sells
luxury properties for Sotheby’s International Realty
in Silicon Valley, walked into his own FaceTime deal:
"What I had was a family from Ireland and basically
all they did was send a friend over with an iPhone. And
the guy walks through the house with the iPhone, showing
them the house, and the people never came to visit it.
And the house was just short of $4 million in Los Altos
Hills, and they bought it, never having set foot on the
is ruling the day."