Virtual Tour Options That Add Pizzazz

Enhanced audio, video, maps, and floor plans help your listings stand out and gives you a competitive marketing edge.

May 1, 2006

What separates a good virtual tour from a great virtual tour?

Today, it takes more than descriptive text, a set of pictures, or a panoramic image to make your listings stand out for potential buyers. Real estate professionals who aggressively market their listings on the Web are adapting (or adopting?) the latest options that can set their tours apart. After all, with most buyers now searching for property online first, the virtual tour is one of the most effective tools practitioners have for promoting their listings and services.

Audio, video, maps, and floor plans all add a competitive edge that can help you win the listing, attract potential buyers, and qualify buyers’ interest before they pick up the phone. Many of these features are now bundled with standard tour building software or services or offered as add-on enhancements at a premium price.

Virtual Commercials

Some virtual tours are stand-alone services in themselves. As specialists in multimillion-dollar homes, Jill Hertzberg and partner Jill Eber of The Jills team at Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Miami Beach, Fla., enhance standard virtual tour fare with video commercials highlighting the appeal of unique listings. Running anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes, these videos, with narration and soundtrack, are prepared by Reelestates.com for posting online or distribution on DVD. Pricing starts around $350 per video.

“When you have a high-end property, the seller expects you to do everything you can to promote the appeal of that home,” Hertzberg says. “The videos are very effective. They give buyers a chance to walk through and get a real feeling for the house, room by room, and decide if they really are interested.”

High-Definition Zoom

Matt Boughton, GRI, e-PRO, a sales associate with Realty World Pacific Northwest in Longview, Wash., uses searchable high-definition, 360-degree images in his virtual tours. (See a sample tour.) With this feature, offered by RealBiz360, tour visitors can zoom in on any part of the virtual tour without any degradation in image quality. The company will soon make this feature available for viewing tours on smartphones as well.

“The quality is excellent, but what really sold me on their solution was the fact I could get my tours up ASAP,” Boughton says. “I had been using an independent tour services provider, and it could be days after I got a listing before a virtual tour was available.”

Boughton shoots all tour images with his digital camera then uploads them to the RealBiz360 server. The company’s software than stitches all the individual images into a panoramic view and adjusts the image resolution as tour viewers explore different features of the home. “With the zoom function, they can take a close look at whatever interests them and always see the best image,” Boughton says.

Audio and More

Tommy Thompson, CRS®, GRI, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty Plano in Plano, Texas, experimented with voice narration as a way of enhancing his virtual tours. He uses Visual Tour for the audio-record capability. (See a sample tour.)

“At first I thought adding voice would bring another dimension to my tours on the Internet, but I ended up backing off on that,” Thompson says. “I’d spend a lot of time working on the recording to get it right.

“It impressed sellers during my listing presentations, but when I asked buyers about it, it really seemed to be a moot point with them,” Thompson says.

Thompson does think adding a music soundtrack will enhance his virtual tours and is awaiting a service upgrade that will allow him to attach audio files of favorite Texas tunes.

What has helped make his tours more effective is the number of pictures he can include. “With Visual Tour, I can use as many as 50 pictures, and that’s enough to give people a really good idea of the home,” Thompson says.

The software also allows Thompson to create a series of folders he attaches to each tour. “I’ve tried to create a community of information around each tour to show people I am a real resource for information about this area,” he says.

For these folders, Thompson combines a brief article about some aspect of the community with relevant photos. “I’ll tell them about the schools, show what they look like and where they are,” Thompson says, “or I’ll just create a folder to give them a better idea of the neighborhood where the listing is located.”

The View From Space

Satellite images are the latest tour enhancements to give viewers a better idea of where featured homes are located. Kevin Johnson, CRS®, GRI, a sales associate with Century 21 Distinctive Properties in Dixon, Calif., recently activated this feature on his virtual tours, created using the Real Tour Vision virtual tour solution.

Depending on the size of the house and tour features, the price for the Real Tour virtual tours ranges from $140 to $200. Most include audio, either as background soundtrack or voice-over narration of the home’s distinct selling points.

“With the satellite feature, I can link the tours directly to Google Earth and Google Maps,” Johnson says. “I’ve already gotten some positive responses. People like the way they can use it to zero in on the property for a much better idea of exactly where the home is located and what’s in the area immediately surrounding it.”

Prospective buyers can use clickable links embedded within the panoramic tour images to see adjoining features. “If people want to know what’s down the hallway or in a room, they just click on these ‘hot spots’ and the tour takes them there,” Johnson says. “It gives them a much better idea of the house and the layout of the rooms.”

Hands-On Experience

Johnson says one feature of Real Tour has proven especially valuable during listing presentations.

“On every window, I can click on a small icon to see how many hits I’ve had and how many people have actually taken the tour,” Johnson says. “When I do a listing presentation, I bring along my laptop, open up my tours, and show the sellers just how much interest these tours generate.”

The Obeo virtual tour system also allows you to track hits, a feature that David Legaz, CRS®, GRI, a sales associate with RE/MAX Universal in Bayside, N.Y., use to convince home sellers of the value of SpaceDesigner, an optional feature. SpaceDesigner adds an interactive floor plan to the virtual tours. Tour viewers spend time playing with the floor plan, deciding if the home fits their taste and style in furnishings.

“It allows potential buyers to take virtual ownership of the rooms, and move things around to see how well the furniture they already own will fit in that space,” Legaz says.

“Without a doubt, the [ability to track hits] is a way to show sellers that these tours help attract buyers who are really interested in a home,” he says.

Informed Decisions

When your listing’s virtual tour provides a three-dimensional, realistic view of the property and the interior — enhanced with audio, video, maps, or floor plans — potential buyers can better determine if the home meets their needs before they ever set foot on the property.

“When they do call us to make an appointment to see that home, we get a potential buyer who is much more motivated and educated than someone who has just seen a standard virtual tour,” Legaz says. “With 70 percent of buyers now coming to us from the Internet, that’s the kind of impact we like to see from our tours.”

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