The future of real estate video: YouTube alternatives, automated schlock and a gold mine opportunity for authenticity

This article was originally published on Inman News:

We’ve been talking about the need for more video in real estate for at least a decade. The fact that the topic is still popular is a testament to our poor adoption of video as an industry, but also to the clear value that video promises.

The recent emergence of quality smartphone video and the democratization of high-quality video technology seem to be creating the first serious shift in the prevalence of online video for real estate. We can finally see video moving toward becoming a standard complement for an online presence as opposed to a unique offering.

“Owning” your video customers vs. letting YouTube keep them

As the biggest names in real estate are spreading their video tentacles across the Web, small businesses would be wise to watch carefully. More and more companies are “self-hosting” video. The quick explanation of self-hosting is that companies place their videos on their own video service (not YouTube) and submit them to the search engines for direct access on their own websites.

There is plenty of material on when and why self-hosted video can be better for a business. Having spent a large chunk of last year studying video search engine optimization (SEO), I can simply tell you this:

More than 99 percent of potential customers who view your video on YouTube won’t click through to your website. You know this inherently when you see all of the competitors’ videos and other distractions after you watch a YouTube video, but it needs to be pointed out statistically to drive home how poor it is for video conversion. When your video is on YouTube, you’re putting your customers in the pit of lions and hoping they come back out looking for you.

If you look at large brands, you may see them doing “brand recognition” advertising on YouTube. For smaller businesses, though, there’s may be more inherent value in having your own video hosting service and directing the search engines to videos on your website, not on YouTube. Look at the companies online whose primary goal is SEO. Look where they host their real estate video content. More and more, the bleeding edge is self-hosted.

The automated video schlock generator

There have been some amazing advancements in automatically generating real estate videos. Big real estate websites are taking listing photos, details, local information, and graphics from MLS listings and generating new videos for each listing as it goes live. This allows the company that produces it to have a vast library of unique video content on its website, updated daily.

From a technical perspective, it’s astounding. From a consumer perspective, it’s lipstick on a pig that they’ve already kissed.

Video automatically generated from two-dimensional media can’t provide tone, no matter how much you cut up and move the photos.  One example: (Click on the “Play Video” button beside the photos) – “Windy City” home – “Like what you see?”

There’s not a single element within these Frankenvideos that doesn’t already exist on the static listing page. It’s the antithesis of good video — it doesn’t add unique audio, sweeping pan shots, local flavor, or a voiced personality that understands the content and shines a new light upon it. These videos simply regurgitate a database of flat files and facts into a moving version of a listing printout.

The technological advances can and should be applauded, but the end result does nothing to further educate consumers. It simply burns 90 seconds of their time. Kudos on the SEO grab, but this has to get a lot better to deserve the praise that’s currently being heaped upon it.

Following the crowd to the gold rush vs. owning your stream

The exciting part for the real estate industry is that companies both big and small are seeing the value of video, and starting to publicly expose their tactics for trying to capture that value. Those who use it for its intended purpose — to educate, engage and entertain consumers in ways that static media cannot — have a great opportunity.  Hours spent online, data delivery speeds and video viewership are all growing the potential audience.

Technical perspective and strategy should be mixed with the desire to create an authentic product. For those who are already creating personable, informative or entertaining video, your options for promoting that content just got better. Brand recognition video on YouTube, video SEO on a self-hosted platform, or a combination of both might be the recipe for your success.

The bleeding-edge technology companies will continue to create new video tactics for us to examine, even while they’re stumbling along with their own implementations. Video still has a long way to go in the real estate industry, but it seems to have finally found a strong foothold. The early adopters who combine authenticity with some sensible technical strategy will be carving out new audiences in this increasingly competitive sphere.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth, and a state director for WA REALTORS®. You can find his team at and


  • All opinions expressed herein are personal opinions and do not constitute the position or views of any organization. Sam DeBord is CEO of Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO). He has two decades of experience in the real estate industry, spanning real estate brokerages, mortgage lending, and technology consulting. He has served as President’s Liaison for MLS and Data Management with the National Association of REALTORS®, a REACH mentor, and on the board of directors for NAR, Second Century Ventures, and California Regional MLS. Sam began his career as a management consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers. He is a recognized real estate industry writer for publications including REALTOR® Magazine, Inman News, and the Axiom Business Books Award-Winning Swanepoel Trends Report.