How a Pittsburgh Real Estate Team Made the Quick Shift to Video

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For Georgie Smigel, a real estate veteran with 30 years experience, everything changed on the second day of Pennsylvania’s shelter-in-place directive.

“I was in my house, in shock, and I’m like, okay, everything has to change, period. We need a virtual listing presentation. We need virtual open houses. And it took us three weeks to get that off the ground because, you know, we had to practice. We had to learn how to stitch all that together.”

The Georgie Smigel Group — the No. 1 team in Coldwell Banker Pittsburgh’s region in 2019 — used to make videos a few times a month, primarily creating listing videos for high-end properties. They wanted to do more, and even developed specific plans to make different types of video, but it never happened. That’s probably very relatable for real estate agents all over the country.

Of all the ways the real estate business has changed in the past few months, perhaps none has been as prevalent as the growth of video. Agents are doing listing presentations, open houses, virtual showings, client meetings, team and brokerage meetings, and more … all on video. The shift has been easier for some than others. As we discussed in a recent episode of HomeLight’s weekly podcast, The Walkthrough, agents in resort and second-home markets are plenty familiar with doing a lot of business on video.

It took Smigel and her team a few weeks to shift much of their business to video, but they did it and it worked. During Pennsylvania’s shelter-in-place period, the Georgie Smigel Group put dozens of homes under contract and took dozens of new listings. (An exact count is difficult to get because the shelter-in-place timing was different across the three counties where the team works, but Smigel says they closed 29 transactions and took 14 new listings in May alone.) Now they’re looking ahead to making video an even bigger part of their work in the future.

We recently spoke to Georgie about how this transition happened, and how she and her team learned to love using video.

Matt McGee: There are so many changes impacting real estate agents over the last couple of months with this health crisis we’re having. When you and I first spoke about this, you said, “I’ve learned that video and live meetings are much easier than I thought.” Tell me what you mean by that.

Georgie Smigel: I knew all along that we should do video and it was in our business plan and marketing plan that Matt [Ohlsson], who is my partner, and I would do video at least once a week. We were supposed to do our weekly update. We even had Saturday Night Live music in the background, but we just didn’t execute it.

Then we had to redo our business come March because we were shelter-in-place and we totally went to virtual listing appointments, virtual showings. We changed our marketing plan to virtual and I love it! I get to watch the seller walk through their home and I take notes. I do my marketing plan over a Zoom meeting or whatever platform works best for that particular seller. And I love it.

You didn’t love doing video before? Or was it just a matter of not having enough time to commit to it?

It was just uncomfortable before, but you have to throw yourself into it and do it.

Georgie Smigel quote about adopting video.
Photo courtesy Georgie Smigel Group.

What was it that made you uncomfortable?

Oh, I don’t think anyone likes the way they look on video. I’m no spring chicken, so I really hate the way I look. But, you know, nobody even cares about that. Once you get into it, when you’re on the phone with the seller on a Zoom meeting or on the computer, you’re looking at their home, you’re talking about what you know, you’re looking at the comps, you’re showing them your marketing plan. If you’re on the phone with a buyer, you’re walking through the house, room by room, and we’ve done a lot of virtual showings.

Tell me, how does a listing presentation work for you? If somebody calls and they say, “Georgie, we’re thinking about selling our house. We want to know how much it’s worth.” You obviously need to see the house. You need to know how big it is, what condition it’s in. What’s the process for doing a listing appointment virtually?

The first couple of weeks I was like, well, I don’t really think you should put your house on the market until after we see what’s happening with COVID-19. And then I thought, you know, people still have to buy houses and they still need homes. And so I had the first gentleman, he’s being transferred and he has to move and his wife is pregnant on top of it. And so I said, here’s the situation — do you want to put it on the market? He said, I want to do it as soon as possible. I said, Great, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to FaceTime you and you can walk through your house so I can see the condition of your home. And I’m going to ask you a bunch of questions. I’m going to take a lot of notes. Then I’m going to go away and do the comps, and then I’m going to come back with the marketing plan. You are going to have to take your own photographs. And so I would like you to photograph your house and I’m going to tell you what I like or don’t like and how you should stage it. And then I will get a professional photographer to do the outside and the drone and all of that. And so he said, okay.

So I got my comps and I gave him the price and he was thrilled with the price. And then, lo and behold, the house right across the street from him went on the market the day before we were going to list. And because there was absolutely no inventory, I’d kind of given him a pretty high price. So we brought that price down just by a few thousand dollars so we would be below the house across the street — because it had a few more things than we had in our home. And we put it on the market and we could have had multiple offers, but the first offer that we got was so good and the buyers said, if we get multiple offers, we don’t want to be included. And the seller was thrilled with the offer, thrilled with the terms. So we accepted that offer by doing a FaceTime video of the seller walking through the house and a Zoom meeting with the buyer’s agent, myself, the buyer and the seller. So that’s how we did it.

So there’s your side and their side, and everybody’s on a virtual Zoom meeting, walking through the house. And that convinced them to write an offer?


That’s wonderful – congrats! Were you nervous at all about trying to figure out what the price should be without having actually been in the house?

I wasn’t. I looked at that video and that FaceTime so much. That seller took so many photos. I am very familiar with that neighborhood and know the community that I’ve been working in for nearly 30 years. I felt very good about the price.

As other agents at your office or in your market were doing and adopting more video, were you thinking this is something we need to do?

Oh, yes. I always want us to be the trendsetters, not the followers. We needed to do more video and now every single one of our listings is going to have a video. That’s the plan going forward. We have a professional videographer who is doing that for us.

Georgie Smigel talks about her team making more videos.
Photo courtesy Georgie Smigel Group.

You had this sort of breakthrough moment early on where you said everything has to change. What was the toughest thing in that moment?

I guess the toughest thing in that moment was how are we going to show a house and sell a house that we haven’t even seen? But you know, we have to remember: Realtors bring the tools to the buyers and then the houses sell themselves.

All these new things that you hadn’t done before — where did you figure out how to do them?

I have a marketing plan that we use for every single listing and we went through the marketing plan, the team saying, well what can we do? What can’t we do? What can we ask the sellers to do? Because we couldn’t even go put lockboxes on doors. We were shelter-in-place. We were only allowed to go to the doctor, the grocery store, the pharmacy. That’s about all we were allowed to do, period.

So we had to work with our clients and see who was able to do those things. And we went through each thing on the marketing plan. We just went through every single step and said, okay, how can we do this? We went to all sorts of classes with Coldwell Banker. We looked at Tom Ferry’s videos. We put our heads together because we’re very into watching what other agents in other parts of the country and in Pittsburgh are doing. And we just came up with our best plan around those ideas.

It was a matter of putting your heads down and saying, we have to figure this out. What can we do and what can’t we do?

Exactly. We had to throw our marketing plan and our goals and business plan out the door and reinvent ourselves.

What response do you get from your buyers and sellers? Do you think they prefer the video tours and the virtual open houses?

I think maybe they do right now. We had 500 looks on one of our live FaceTime open houses that we’d never done before. Now, granted, there were four homes on that, but we’ve never had that many people through open houses on a Sunday.

So a year from now, maybe two years from now, whenever this is all a thing of the past and you need to do an open house, are you going to do a traditional open house or are you going to do a virtual one?

It may be both. I think it would be great to do both. I love open houses. I know a lot of other agents don’t, but I absolutely love open houses and so I would love to do both.

The good part is that when you have the virtual open house or the video tours, potential buyers can just click a couple buttons and they’re at the house. So it’s a lot more convenient for the consumer.

My sister made a good point. She lives in a different city and she said, you know, I really like the video open house because if I’ve looked at the house and I’m not sure what color this is or what size that is, I can run through that video anytime and refresh my memory on that.

You mentioned earlier that you didn’t like doing video before. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is that you love doing video — where are you right now on that scale?

I’d say I’m an eight. Some of the people that I think are amazing do such great, professionally-produced videos for real estate and I’m nowhere near that. But we are able to make videos that will help sell the homes, which is what matters in the end. I would like to get really creative. There’s still time for that.


Agents who are looking to learn more can find additional resources in our Video Marketing channel, including these articles/podcasts:

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