HGAR, NY Realtors Enter Brave New Video World

Mary Prenon | April 2020

WHITE PLAINS—The COVID-19 virus has changed all of our lives. Surgical masks and gloves are now part of our daily attire and “social distancing” has become the norm. Restaurants and bars are just empty shells of their past lives, nightclub floors are devoid of bands, movie theaters are ghost towns and video chatting has replaced most personal contact.

As we all learn to navigate this new world of virtual meetings, house tours and social gatherings, businesses like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Face Time, Google Hang Outs, Skype, HouseParty and others are helping to make socializing a bit easier for everyone.

According to many published reports, Zoom has been rated as one of the 10 best companies to work for in 2019, and has experienced tremendous growth over the past year. Founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan, Zoom is headquartered in San Jose, CA and currently employs more than 2,000 people worldwide. It boasts over 700,000 business customers and has seen a 61% rise in users from last year.
The publicly-traded company saw a fourth quarter total revenue of over $188 million—up 78% from last year. Total sales for the year topped $622 million, representing an 88% increase over the previous year.

John Dolgetta, Esq. in a recent HGAR informational Zoom meeting.

Since the Coronavirus outbreak, HGAR has relied on Zoom for everything from meetings to real estate continuing education classes. “Zoom and similar tools that are allowing HGAR to do meetings and live remote education classes have been vital to our communication and functioning as an association during this time,” said Gail Fattizzi, HGAR President. “As more of our staff and members get comfortable with the technology, it will make it easier to continue using these tools over the long-term.”

Zoom can accommodate up to 300 meeting participants and up to 10,000 viewers for webinars. For those working at home, the company also offers virtual backgrounds to hide messy home offices. If that’s not enough, there’s also a “Touch Up My Appearance” feature that helps to reduce dark circles or bags under the eyes, as well as mild skin blemishes. To date, it has more than 12 million users.

“We have been using Zoom for the last three weeks, and we actually like the concept,” said Carol Christiansen, principal broker/partner of Café Realty in Mount Kisco. “We will probably continue to use Zoom on occasion once we are all past this pandemic.”

Kerri Stretch, of John J. Lease Realtors in Middletown has actually been using Zoom for the past four years for her weekly sales coaching sessions that bring in Realtors from all over the nation. “In light of what’s been happening now, we’re using Zoom for office meetings and even happy hours,” she said.

Stretch also relies on video chatting with either FaceTime or Zoom for new client meetings. “I always do a welcome video chat with new clients,” she explained. “They’ve never met me before and it gives both of us a chance to get to know each other. It’s that personal touch.”

For Stretch, video chats are a ‘must” when presenting an offer to sellers. “I like to see their expressions,” she said. “Over the phone, it loses something, but when I see them, I know how to better direct things from there.”

Clayton Livingston of Grand Lux Realty Inc. in Armonk agrees that video chats and meetings are going to be the new way of doing business—even after the Coronavirus subsides. “Between Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Cisco, Facebook video and audio, it seems like all of my meetings now are scheduled around my screen,” he said.

While he misses those in-person meetings, Livingston said today’s new video reality has saved him many hours of commuting time. “I’m able to meet with people virtually anytime anywhere, so I don’t think that this is going to change after this pandemic is over,” he added. “I’m going to continue to meet with people virtually, as it is been such a bonus for not only myself, but also the people who I meet with.”

A more informal way of connecting is a fairly new smart phone app called “Houseparty.” It allows users to “announce” when they enter the app and are ready to video chat by sending a notification to all their friends, eliminating the need for scheduling. Anyone who receives an “In The House” notification can hop right into a video chat with their friend who sent it, and anyone else who happens to be in the app at the time. Up to eight users at a time can be on one chat, and the average person is spending about 60 minutes a day on Houseparty.

Launched in 2016, Houseparty is based in San Francisco, CA and was acquired by Epic Games of North Carolina in 2019. “We have a common vision to make human interaction easier and more enjoyable, and always with respect for privacy,” said Sima Sisani, Houseparty Co-Founder and CEO.

To date, the app has more than 20 million users. It is the sixth most downloaded free app in the U.S. and the most downloaded in the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand. In the U.S., the app is most popular in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas.

“We have heard so many stories of users hosting play dates, cocktail parties, game nights, business calls and even job interviews,” added Kelsey Grady, a Houseparty spokesperson. “It’s also becoming a great way for real estate agents to do virtual tours.”

On that note, Fattizzi believes that video technology will continue to be part of the new norm of doing business for everyone, and especially for HGAR members as the association’s geographic footprint continues to expand. “It will encourage more members from all our various areas to participate in committee meetings, training, CE classes and other programs regardless of where they are physically being held,” she added. “In fact, our Young Professionals Network Steering Committee even held a virtual happy hour to stay connected.”

In an effort to make working at home and attending video meetings and conferences more like in-person gatherings, Zoom has developed some helpful tips:

• Get dressed from head to toe. Put on an outfit you’d normally wear to the office and not the ratty old shirt you’d wear to clean your garage.

• Take five regularly. Just like the office, proactively take breaks every hour to avoid burnout.

• Stretch. Stop your video and stretch yourself a little bit every hour.

• Communicate your availability. Publish your calendar so others can see it and quickly understand your commitment. You can block off time for work on projects, set reminders for important tasks, and even toggle your Zoom Chat status to busy.

• Eliminate distractions. Shut the door to give yourself some privacy and separation. You’ll also want to close tabs and pause notifications so you’re not tempted to constantly check social media.

• Avoid isolation and loneliness. Many people need that personal contact with their team, so it’s helpful to have daily team stand-ups and check-ins. You can even set up a “group lunch” with your colleagues.

Mary Prenon
HGAR, Director of Communications