Buyer’s Guide: Virtual Tours–Windows of Opportunity
Virtual tours have made the rare leap from novelty to marketing must-have. As more buyers begin their property search online, a Web tour is often their preferred introduction to their next home and to the real estate professional who’ll guide them to closing. For sellers, tours help separate serious buyers from lookie lous.
Today’s tours can be a simple series of photos and text or multimedia extravaganzas with maps, floor plans, 360-degree panoramic images, and a sound track. Many providers also offer lead capture and tour promotion services.
You have two choices for creating tours: Produce them yourself or entrust them to an independent contractor. Tour vendors offer turnkey services on a market-by-market basis through authorized local providers, starting at about $100 per tour.
The downside to outsourcing? It may be days after you get the listing before your tour is available. If you’re looking for expediency, produce the tours yourself or delegate the responsibility to a team member.
Of course, doing it yourself adds another task to your already jammed schedule. But DIY solutions are as easy to use as they are sophisticated. They feature Web-based applications or software you install on your computer. Depending on the vendor, DIY packages may include stitching software to combine several photos, image editing and resizing tools, and an audio component. Unless you buy a camera-software bundle, you’ll also need a digital camera.
All virtual tour packages offer hosting, either for a modest fee per tour or for a monthly rate. Most DIY solutions combine a one-time setup fee with an ongoing subscription, usually about $30 per month.
Look for solutions that comply with the Internet data exchange (IDX) standard for display on other brokers’ Web sites and with Homestore.com’s PicturePath program. For an added fee, PicturePath-approved vendors link your tours to REALTOR.com, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ well-trafficked property listing site, which is operated by Homestore.
Remember, location is just as important for tours as for your listings. You want your tours where the Web traffic is.
What makes a good tour?
- Easy navigation. An inviting tour makes it easy for visitors to find their way around a home, to quickly find pictures of specific rooms, and to zoom in on features of special interest.
- Plenty of good photos and text. Does the DIY package you’re interested in come with image-editing software or utilities to remove clutter, fix colors, or compensate for poor exposure?
- Panoramic and 360-degree images. Not every room, view, or exterior warrants this showcase but you want that option to highlight dramatic or unique features.
- Audio. A sound track is more a novelty than a necessity. A voice-over narration, however, can be effective for directing viewers to selling points.
- The flexibility to repurpose content. Some providers offer services to convert tours into brochures or save them to disk for off-line promotions.
- Easy linking. You’ll want to be able to link to real estate sites, search engines, and a portal such as REALTOR.com. The linking may be included as part of the service. If you use REALTOR.com, you’ll need to pay for the PicturePath option, which allows you to upload tour links to the site from approved tour vendors.
- Tracking. Where do visitors arrive from—specific search engines? How long do they spend with your tours? What rooms or features are they most interested in? You may notice patterns that will help you make the tours as relevant to consumers as possible.
- Fast load time. Millions of people still connect to the Internet via dial-up accounts. If the tour doesn’t load quickly, they may not view it.
- Price. There’s great variance on what tours cost, depending on the type of content, such as audio and additional pictures, and whether tours are displayed at real estate portals, for which some providers charge an additional fee. With turnkey creation services, especially, know what the fees cover and what they don’t, before scheduling a tour.