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On the House: Snapchat emerges as a new way to sell real estate [The Philadelphia Inquirer :: BC-REAL-ONTHEHOUSE:PH]

If you're currently on the hunt for a house to buy or an apartment to rent, I get it: The search can be onerous.

By now, you've probably viewed multiple properties in person. There's a chance you may have bid on one, maybe even a few. Are multiple house-hunting websites bookmarked on your computer? There are others like you out there.

So what if you could skip the open houses, the tours, the hours searching online? And what if something delivered to you each weekday a fresh set of houses, newly listed within the last few days? Even better: You wouldn't have to leave home, with the ability to watch video walk-throughs straight from your phone. Would you use it?

Because it's out there. And it's free. There's just one caveat: You have to get hip.

Called SnapListings, the service is featured on Snapchat, the trendy picture-messaging app that successfully debuted on the stock market earlier this month. As an account Snapchat users can add as a "friend," SnapListings posts video "stories" five days a week spotlighting new apartments and houses on the market.

Created in October by Dolly Meckler, 24, and Michael Hoffman, 27, the SnapListings account is consistently run by four licensed real estate brokers four days a week - with a guest broker on Fridays. With each having the authority to control the account on an assigned day, the brokers can take followers inside listings all day long, recording and posting 10-second videos of interiors and exteriors, adding them together to create a comprehensive "story."

Billed as a sales tool and a way to inspire real estate envy, the account mostly focuses on lower-priced listings - hoping to capitalize on Snapchat's predominant user base, 70 percent of which are 18- to 24-year-olds, according to one report. Still, with Snapchat reportedly reaching 35 percent of Americans, the pair said some agents still showcase "glam" listings, adding "a balance of entertainment and utility," Hoffman said.

Based out of New York, SnapListings, for now, largely focuses on real estate there. Yet the company has expanded: It has featured agents in Baltimore, Washington, New Orleans, Los Angeles - and, soon, Chicago.

To become a broker on SnapListings, you have to audition. "We want to find young, charismatic brokers who have not broken through and give them a shared platform to show off their personalities," Hoffman said.

So far, it's paying off: Meckler and Hoffman will not disclose how many sales have been made off properties on SnapListings, but they conceded that "each agent has made a deal from the account, and many have made multiple deals." The pair have not monetized the service for themselves, though they say they are "looking into a variety of avenues, and for now, just enjoying the ride."

Each Snapchat "story" tends to attract thousands of views a day, they said, acknowledging that some view the account simply for amusement.

On a recent Thursday, Kevin Lewis, a licensed salesman with the Keller Williams Levin Chang team in Tribeca, took over the account to showcase an apartment listed that morning: a two-bedroom, two-bathroom rental in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City for $4,350 a month.

Early that morning, Lewis flipped the camera to himself and started recording.

"Let's have a look at this amazing place," he said, spinning to show a living room with wood floors, built-in shelves, and remarkable amounts of natural light. For the next two minutes, Lewis walked through the space, highlighting bedrooms, bathrooms and closets. At the end, he posted a photo of his business card, encouraging followers to reach out.

"People can just (direct-message) these agents straight through the account," Meckler said. Or, they can message, call or email the brokers, asking them to find listings with certain parameters.

"People are like fangirls or fanboys who are like, 'This is so fun,' " Meckler said. "The brokers find a lot of clients from SnapListings."

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Readers may email Caitlin McCabe at cmccabe@philly.com or write her at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia PA 19101. Volume prohibits individual replies.

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