Even before COVID-19 became a household term, real estate was going digital. 

According to the National Association of Realtors, 56% of buyers aged 36 and younger found their homes online in 2017. Last year 52% of house hunters and renters of all ages found their home by beginning with an online search.   

The NRA also learned that when buyers want reliable real estate information, they trust the various websites they visit more than what real estate agents tell them. 

These homebuyers expect video content. They want live video tours from wherever they are hunkered down while their real estate agent videos the property. They want a video "open house" as part of the official online property listing. 

Let's take a closer look at why you should include video when you market your home online and how to ensure your video hits all the must-haves.

Why videos are essential now 

Almost 40% of all buyers used websites with embedded videos while they looked for a  house. Of those who used these sites, more than half of them said the videos helped them make the right decisions about purchasing.

We all love videos. YouTube has over 2 billion visitors each month. Two billion! It's the way people now prefer to learn anything. People who watch videos are more likely to retain information-- a big help for people selling a home in any market, but especially a crowded, sellers' market. Now, the pandemic is creating an even bigger demand for real estate videos. Both buyers and government guidelines are pushing the demand for safe viewings that videography allows.  

What makes a great video

The best video is one that's concise. It doesn't pretend to be a short art film debuting at Cannes. A listing video should be no more than five minutes in length. If it's shorter without omitting important facts, so much the better. People have short attention spans, especially when it comes to online content. The perfect video leaves viewers wanting more. 

There are two kinds of real estate videos.  

A virtual showing is a live walkthrough, using Facetime or another app. It's an exchange of information and a chance for interested buyers to ask questions. Many buyers are now insisting on live showings or video chats with agents to get a better feel for properties on their list. The casual, virtual showing done well encourages buyers to request more information. Done poorly, it can deflate their interest. 

The listing agent you hire to sell your home needs to have some video skills. There are plenty of apps, training videos and tutorials available. Larger agencies will train their agents in the latest technologies.

The walkthrough video should have good sound and a smooth feel to it. The camera angle should be flattering to your exterior and interiors. The motion should be slow enough to avoid confusion and that dizzying nausea that comes from watching speedy camera work. 

A virtual tour, on the other hand, is like a TV infomercial for your property. It's usually a more sophisticated, more complete package, showcasing the special features of your home. 

The virtual tour is placed on your Realtor's website either to be viewed by the public, or held for private viewings to parties that have been preapproved as buyers in that price range. 

The virtual tour can show 360-degree views and floor plans, include aerial shots, and provide a more comprehensive feel of any given room. It may have a music soundtrack or highlight amenities of the area, things that can't be easily done with the more simple showing. If it's a public video, it might even be shared on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram.  

Both kinds of videos act as substitutes for in-home tours, so they keep you and others safe. 

They also cut down on wasted time. You won't have to be on call for showings, having to maintain an immaculate, organized home, taking on the stress for a physical showing. Instead, the video captures your home at its best. 

Neither you nor any agents will need to keep a list of in-person contacts, at least until you entice a serious buyer who schedules a personal tour. That's when the masks and booties and sanitizers come out! Real estate brokers are being trained in all aspects of safe showings. 

Your video lets buyers with mobility issues or who live further away from the property still get a 3-D tour. They can take their time inspecting the photos. You should always assume that some prospective buyers are new to your locale. Right now, more than ever, people are relocating to new areas. They may want to be closer to family, look for better employment, or leave densely populated areas for small town, suburban or rural locations. 

How to homestage for a video 

When you prepare your home for a video, it's not altogether different than regular homestaging -- deep clean, declutter, depersonalize, and decorate to impress. Make it look like it's easy to keep clean. 

Eliminating or tucking out of sight all your small items is more important now than ever. The camera sees too many details as distractions and confusion. Especially hide valuable or highly personal things -- jewelry, small antiques, precious collectibles, computer equipment, as well as things like medical supplies or devices.      

But a house can't look sterile, either. The video should make it feel inviting and comfortable. To add that quality, choose and place your furnishings to tell a story. 

Let the artwork you hang and colors you decorate with reflect the history and feel of your home's architectural style and your locale -- natural colors and materials for a rural or woodsy location; industrial chic for an inner-city condo; or cool pastels and carefree fabrics for a coastal home. Plants and large books are always appropriate. 

Does your home tell a compelling story, capturing the imagination of buyers? Does it encourage buyers to "think with their hearts?" Have you made it clear what you love most about your location? A good video will include footage of the perks in your neighborhood or city, giving viewers a taste of what it will be like when they live there.

Keep furniture arrangements simple so the camera will pan rooms smoothly. Check with your Realtor to see if the videographer prefers window treatments open or closed, whether lights and fans should be on or off, and if there are other special requests. Usually, photographers like to work alone without distractions like children or pets. Don't be the opinionated homeowner telling a pro how to do his job. 

Let your Realtor or the camera person know what time of day is ideal for filming -- when your rooms look their best. If your home's exterior, its landscaping or its views are major selling points, suggest the best times to shoot outside. Stage your exterior to conceal things like garden hoses or bicycles when possible. There should not be any vehicles on the property, even in the garage.  

Three years ago, about 11% of the U.S. population relocated. And today, even though we're still in the midst of a national health crisis, Americans are still on the move, but they want to find their new homes in safer ways. As a result, agents and sellers are embracing digital technology. 

I hope these tips put you in a better position to sell your home more quickly -- and more safely -- during these unusual times. 

Top photo: Rocket Mortgage