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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Nicholas Kennedy was in a rush to sell his condo in Sherman Oaks, California. He and his wife have a 3-month-old girl, and the couple wanted to be close to their families in the Dallas, Texas area.
So they met with area real estate agent Ben Salem about quickly offloading their 4-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath unit. Salem had some conventional suggestions - and one that surprised them.
"He talked about the open house, the postcards to send out, and the YouTube video," recalls Kennedy.
YouTube? Isn't that normally the realm of music videos and dancing hamsters?
"I had never heard of it before for selling a house," Kennedy says. "But it drove more traffic to our online listing."
Kennedy is convinced the 100-second video (a montage of still shots backed by flute-and-guitar music) helped sell his house in less than a week, for $560,000, some $25,000 above the asking price.
Using a YouTube video to sell a home isn't yet widespread, statistics show. Only 4 percent of real estate agents post videos on hosting sites such as YouTube, according to the National Association of Realtors' (NAR) 2012 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. That inches up for official real estate listing sites, where 14 percent of agents advertise with videos.
But buyers flock to videos. About 90 percent of buyers use the Internet to search for homes, says NAR spokesman Walter Molony. Of those, 21 percent said they utilize or look for online videos.
"More than 80 percent of all buyers now find their home online, so when you have a YouTube video that comes up on Realtor.com, that's huge," said Salem, Kennedy's agent with Rodeo Realty in Beverly Hills. "The best part is that you're one click away from showing it to the whole world."
Sohail Salahuddin of Jameson Sotheby's International Realty in Chicago has been using videos to sell homes for two years.
One of Salahuddin's listings that closed in April was snapped up by an eager buyer from Jordan just hours after it appeared on YouTube, even before it appeared on the Multiple Listing Service, he said.
Here are tips for videos that will showcase homes and prompt quick sales.
1) Hire a professional videographer
Salem does not rule out shooting the video yourself but warns that glitches, from bad lighting to shaky camerawork, usually make buyers wish they'd hired a videographer.
For the $300 to $700 you might pay in Los Angeles, for example, you'll get all the editing and shooting you need, plus a domain name for selling the video online.
"It's an investment," says Salem.
If you produce it yourself, avoid smartphone videos as they'll almost always look amateurish unless you have a rolling camera mount or proper tripod. Consider calling an expert to edit your footage seamlessly.
2) Keep it brief
Buyers looking at hundreds of properties don't have lots of time, says Salem. Highlight only the best features of the home.
"It's got to be two minutes max," Salem says.
It doesn't hurt to add some narration and subtitles to help viewers along, said Salahuddin, though it's not required.
3) Remember your original "wow" factor
A video should highlight unusual details, says Salem.
"You need to ask yourself, 'Why did I buy this home and what first stood out to me?' If it's a sweeping staircase with the wainscoting, a fire pit in the backyard, or a beach-entry pool, that's huge," Salem says. "Everyone else starts with the kitchen and the master bedroom, but you don't want to do that" - unless of course, the kitchen and master bedroom are "wow" places in your home. Otherwise, save them for later in the video.
4) Lighting, lighting, lighting
These three "Ls" prove more essential than "location." Utilize natural light, rather than artificial lighting, whenever possible.
During the "magic hour" of late afternoon, sunlight is softer and hits surfaces in a naturally flattering way.
Repainting can cost $150 or more, but certain colors make walls pop out in a shoot; Salem says Benjamin Moore's Revere Pewter, a faint gray that picks up light, looks especially great in videos against a light crown molding.
Leave enough furniture in the shoot to show viewers whether a large dining room table will fit, or where a couch might go.
Curate the order of your clips carefully and think about the video as a way to take the audience on a tour.
Build excitement as you go, adds Salahuddin.
"Give people reasons why they would want to come and view the home in person," says Salahuddin.
Remove personal property and jewelry that could tempt a thief. And if a room has crazy wallpaper or a highly personal shrine to some sports team, consider leaving that out altogether.
6) Don't forget social media
Your finished video, once uploaded to YouTube, can be easily submitted to the Multiple Listing Service website for distribution to Realtor.com and other web portals.
Then distribute it widely over social media, says Salem, who suggests posting videos to Facebook and Craigslist. Salahuddin also uses LinkedIn and Twitter to help get the word out.
7) On a budget? Use still photos
If you lack the budget for a high-quality video, edit photos into a clip that looks great. Kennedy's video, for example, used still photos in a sequence that duplicated walking through the home, starting with external shots leading to the front door.
Great stills with a slow zoom into the room give viewers just enough time to imagine themselves living there, and it's easy to do with drag-and-drop programs such as Apple's iMovie (free) or CyberLink PowerDirector 11 (about $50). These programs also let you import music from an MP3 file, and provide a voice over — nice flourishes to give your video a touch of class.
(The writer is a Reuters contributor.)
Editing by Chelsea Emery and Nick Zieminski