3-D Listings From Every Angle

Curious about implementing 3-D listing technology in your business? Here’s a guide to getting started.

September 26, 2014

Technological advances are promising consumers a more in-person, lifelike view of a home without ever having to step foot inside — through the use of 3-D listing tools.

Companies such as Oculus Rift — which is now endeavoring to offer virtual tours of college campuses to prospective students — 3D Property Tours, and Matterport all offer ways to capture 3-D images of homes and put them together to create a virtual property walk-through.

Matterport has gained particular notoriety, offering the $4,500 Matterport Pro 3D Camera, a cloud-based service where you can upload your images to be automatically configured into a 3-D model, and a portal that allows you to store and share your 3-D models with clients. Real estate brokerage Redfin announced a partnership with Matterport in August, becoming the first national brokerage to implement the 3-D technology. Over time, Redfin plans to convert all of its active listings — starting with those in its hometown of Seattle — to 3-D models using Matterport. Each Redfin listing page has a player uploaded on it that users can click to see the 3-D tour (3-D glasses are not required). Matterport was also the star of the Realogy FWD innovation summit in June.

“Buyers are always looking for more information, and there’s only so much we can give them with informational fact sheets and 2-D photos,” says Bree Al-Rashid, managing broker of Redfin’s Seattle operation. “It’s great that [Matterport] allows us to give them more information. It’s a big differentiator from other agents and brokerages, and it’s just plain cool.”

Here’s how it works: The Matterport camera sits on a tripod and spins around in a full circle, scanning a room and collecting the data to display in 3-D. Several “sweeps,” or scans, from different locations in a room may be necessary in order to capture the full image (youwill need to scan in front of and behind a piece of furniture so the 3-D rendering can capture the entirety of the room). Once you’ve got all your scans, upload them to Matterport’s cloud server, where the images are formed into a 3-D model of the home.

Take a look at a sample 3-D listing below.

But there’s more to it than just the capture phase. Here are some things to keep in mind when capturing and marketing 3-D listing data.

Whom to Target With 3-D Imagery

International or out-of-town buyers: Seattle has been experiencing an influx of wealthy foreign buyers lately, and the 3-D listing data is most helpful for clients who cannot be physically present to tour a home, Al-Rashid says. But for any market with a high volume of international buying activity, 3-D imagery will likely take hold in the future.

“We’re a port city with a lot of international commerce, and we’re a city that is heavily recruiting for international business,” Al-Rashid says of Seattle. “The 3-D listings give them an opportunity to see from afar exactly what they would see if they were here. One of our first 3-D listings was sold to an international buyer.”

Sellers concerned with privacy: Brandon Doyle, ABR, a salesperson with RE/MAX Results in Maple Grove, Minn., who has been using Matterport for several months, explains to sellers that 3-D tours will cut down on the foot traffic through their homes and attract more buyers who are ready to make offers.

“With 3-D listings, buyers get a better sense of the home’s proportions, and it gives them a better idea of what they will see when they tour the home in person,” Doyle says. “It helps them make a decision earlier in the process, so those who do actually come to the home are more serious buyers.”

Renters: It’s sometimes difficult to get reliable access to rentals, Al-Rashid says. Landlords are not always available, and home owners who are renting space in their home can be even harder to track down. 3-D rental tours can cut down on the number of times you have to request access to a property, making it easier on both the prospective renter and the landlord or owner.

Practical Tips in the Field

When you are out at a home, scanning images with a 3-D camera, there are some useful tips to make the work easier.

  • Have a sturdy tripod. Because the camera spins around during scanning, an unstable tripod can mess with the quality of the image and threaten the safety of the camera. “You don’t want any wiggling,” Al-Rashid says, “or you could end up with a $4,500 camera on the floor.”
  • Follow the likely path of a buyer. As you’re scanning rooms, move through the home along the path that a buyer would take if they were touring the home in person, Doyle says. “Start at the front entryway, work around each room, and put the tripod in a part of the room that the person would likely want to stand in and look at the room,” Doyle says. “I do the corners of the room, the middle of the room, and the focal point of the room.”
  • Watch the height of your tripod. “Your tripod should be set up at eye level,” Al-Rashid says. “That’s naturally where people want to look. Don’t set it up at, say, three feet high, where it might feel like you’re touring a home from the perspective of a child.” Al-Rashid experimented with tripod height during a mock tour of her own home, setting the height shorter than eye level. “It wasn’t a great perspective, but I did find things under furniture that I hadn’t seen in a while!” she jokes.
  • Stage to perfection. Once you’ve scanned a room, the image can’t be edited (though you can delete a scan and take another one). That’s why it’s critical that the home be staged as though a buyer were actually touring it before you begin scanning 3-D images. “Buyers are going to see everything,” Doyle says. Make sure all lights are on and all doors are open for a seamless walk-through, Al-Rashid adds. Also, “get all pets, humans, and extraneous things out of the way,” she says.
  • Don’t scan too much. Though it will take multiple scans of a room to catch the entirety of it in one 3-D image, don’t go overboard. “I don’t want to take so many scans of a room that it creates a choppy rhythm when looking at the virtual tour. Knowing something about buyer behavior, I just use my gut feeling on how many scans it will take to capture the feel of a room,” Al-Rashid says.

Property Considerations

New construction: 3-D tours work great for new communities where there’s a completed model of a home. A completed model is a blueprint for what buyers can expect from other homes in the community, but once it’s sold, he can’t keep touring it, Doyle says. Having a 3-D model of a completed home allows him to keep showing the property long after it’s sold, and it gives the buyers insight into other homes that are poised to hit the market.

Be careful with multilevel homes: When moving up stairs, you have to be mindful that the top of the last image you scanned must match the bottom of the next image to keep a rendering from looking choppy. Doyle says he scans an image every third step to ensure there are no gaps in the final 3-D rendering.

Open-floor plans: “Hallways and tight spaces don’t visualize well in 3-D format,” says Seth Price, vice president of sales and marketing at online real estate marketing firm Placester. That’s because 3-D imagery is designed to show the depth of a space, which won’t come across well with small spaces. Wide-open spaces, however, will look much better in 3-D, though they require more scans to capture the totality of the room. When walking through a home that has an open kitchen/living room layout, for instance, make sure to take scans from either end so that the depth of the layout will be apparent in the 3-D rendering.

Don’t Jump In Too Quickly

Though 3-D imagery is finding its place in real estate as a hot new marketing tactic, Price cautions real estate pros against going all-in before they’re ready.

“The 3-D revolution hasn’t quite made it to mainstream yet, with the exception of Google Earth and Street View,” Price says. “And those are still relative novelties being pushed further and further to the background of Google’s other products. That’s not to say that 3-D video technology doesn’t have a place in real estate; it just shouldn’t be the lynchpin of one’s content marketing strategy.”

Price suggests these “building blocks” of a marketing strategy should be in place before focusing on 3-D technology:

“Once those things are in play, you can start contemplating adding other content types, of which 3-D video would be an option,” Price says. “The truth is that the 3-D tech is still relatively young, not super user-friendly, and best practices — including best vendors — are still to be determined. The most important thing is to provide a good user experience. Many 3-D offerings haven’t yet delivered a UX that will please, rather than confuse, Web viewers.”

Graham Wood
Executive Editor of Digital Media

Graham Wood is Executive Editor of Digital Media for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at gwood@nar.realtor.