image of Compass agent Brian Lewis
Compass agent Brian Lewis.

As a former actor and now property expert for the BBC, Brian Lewis specializes in producing original property videos for sellers, which generate interest and leads in a competitive market. By appearing as a real estate expert on NBC, PBS, FOX, CNN, and in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, and more, he frequently gets his sellers extra press for their homes. To understand why People magazine calls his virtual movie tours “the most inventive the real estate world has ever seen,” StreetEasy sat down with Brian Lewis to gather some of his tricks of the trade.

Some of Lewis’ most-watched tours are of luxury buildings like 200 E. 69th St. and 520 Park Ave., though not every video has to be of a luxury property to jump off the screen. Used in accordance with public health and social distancing protocols, and the tips below should help up your walkthrough video game and make a listing at any price point come to life on screen.

Approach With Optimism

“Whether it’s a park-facing masterpiece or a low-light walkup, approaching the property with optimism will help you find its best angles,” says Lewis in a phone interview with StreetEasy. “When it comes to getting the best optics for the unit, don’t focus on trying to hide something — they’ll see it eventually. Instead, walk through the home asking yourself what you can highlight.” For example, if you’ve got a property with old fixtures, north-facing light, and no amenities, take your video in the morning daylight; and use your narration to mention the quiet street, great location, or other attributes that aren’t visible on camera. Every home has something special, so find that thing and highlight it by leaving it for the finale or opening up with a story about it. 

Make a Checklist

Is now the best time for the light? Are toilet seats down? Is clutter put away? “These are some basic questions you’d ask before beginning an in-person tour, so ask them of yourself before you begin filming,” says Lewis. If you can’t get into the unit to take the video yourself, consider creating a checklist for your owner so they feel prepared to create the highest quality video possible. 

Details May Earn You the Sale

“A video tour is a great way to convert someone from a passive browser to an interested buyer, but be prepared to offer a live virtual tour if you can,” says Lewis. If the unit is vacant, you may be allowed to safely visit, and host a FaceTime, Zoom or Instagram video call with a buyer. “This is when you can turn on faucets, show them views out each window, report the sounds you hear, the experience of walking around, and even the temperature, the breeze, and more.”

Sometimes, recording a tour with that level of detail is helpful, but watch out that it’s not too long and cumbersome. Lewis encourages agents to try it, and play around with what level of detail feels comfortable. “The worst thing someone can do is not watch it, but when the right buyer appreciates this level of detail, you may have earned yourself the sale.”

Embrace the Scrappy

When NYC was put on pause, Lewis, like many of his colleagues, had a property he was no longer able to visit. The super generously agreed to film it on his behalf and captured something that was clear and straightforward enough that a buyer could get the idea of the space.

“Instead of presenting this as a polished cinematic feat, I embraced the style it was filmed in, and worked with my videographer to create a side-by-side video with me speaking in one panel, as the other panel showcasing the tour.  This way I could offer the verbal side corresponding with the footage and have fun, making light of the film quality,” he explained. This way, Lewis was able to use the homemade footage, and invite buyers to embrace the scrappiness at a time when everyone is forced to be a bit more flexible. Ultimately, several interested parties found the video charming enough to reach out anyway, and Lewis is hosting virtual tours whenever he can.

If you’re trying to create a virtual property tour on a tight budget, embrace the scrappy style and maybe even make it part of your brand. Keep it light by making jokes about your missed opportunities as a videographer, or point out the value of having a video on the listing, amateur as it may be. 

Focus on Your Strengths

“I came into this unprecedented time more prepared than I realized. When I first got into the real estate world, I knew there were areas where I was never going to be the best. However, my acting experience meant I knew how to shine on camera.” By making video his niche right from the start, Lewis let his strongest quality work hardest and built a substantial business for himself by focusing on his greatest strengths. As NYC remains on pause, Lewis is relying on video more than ever, and he attributes that unprecedented preparation to staying true to himself from the start. 

“No one is good at everything,” he concluded. “But in times of difficulty, we’re met with the opportunity to find strength we didn’t know we had. I encourage everyone to stay safe and use this time of isolation to reflect upon your greatest strengths. You may surprise yourself.”