SHORT HILLS, N.J. — Hundreds of people walk from their BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and Rolls-Royces into a local shopping mall each week, where one of the first things they see is Tom Skobo's television showing videotapes of million-dollar houses.
Often enough, one of them buys, Skobo says, producing a commission of $20,000 or more for his 2-year-old real estate firm, Distinctive Properties Inc.
"One woman told me she could never have gotten her husband to go to a real estate broker until she showed him the video and whetted his appetite," Skobo said.
Distinctive Properties specializes in selling houses worth $250,000 or more, and Skobo said sales had increased enough recently to justify the cost of professional-quality videos and prime shopping-mall space.
"I think that for brokers who want to compete in the high-priced real estate market, videos are going to be a necessity in the very near future," he said.
The National Assn. of Realtors, based in Washington, said only a few members were using videos to sell houses, but spokesman Bill Adkinson said the practice was catching on among those who serve the wealthier market.
Joan Knox, president of the San Fernando Valley Board of Realtors in California, said most West Coast real estate firms saw videos as "a thing of the future," with just a few companies in areas like Beverly Hills able to afford them.
Even Skobo, who credits videos with helping his firm earn hundreds of thousands of dollars since he started using them last summer, said, "If I were selling $100,000 houses I wouldn't use them."
But, he added, "because of the market I'm in, videos are worth it. It takes a little extra effort to sell a home in the affluent market."
One advantage is that he can show the videos constantly on the TV outside his shopping mall office.
The mall, which attracts upper-income shoppers with brokerage firms and stores that sell designer clothes, is particularly suited to Skobo's firm.
"I'll take out a $1,000 ad in a national magazine and I'm very lucky if I maybe get 20 calls," he said. "But on a typical day in this mall I'll have maybe 15 to 20 people stop in to look at videos of different homes.
"You wouldn't believe how many houses we've sold where people are just passing through the mall here and happen to see a video tape," he said. "They stop to look and end up buying."
To attract potential buyers, it is important that videos be made professionally, he said."I tried making some with a little hand-held camera, but they came out terrible and actually made the house look worse than it does in real life."
So he hired Steven Glassman, a local professional with a $25,000 camera and access to top-line editing equipment.
Skobo said he made sure the video was shot at a time of year and time of day when the house looks its best.