Adding Interactivity to Virtual Tours

Tour technology becoming a necessity for real estate professionals.

April 1, 2001

In recent memory, virtual tours were considered more of a frill than an essential part of a property marketing plan. But today’s Net-savvy buyers are increasingly relying on virtual tours to prescreen properties before they contact a real estate professional. As a result, offering buyers virtual tours of your listings has moved from a nice touch to a necessary strategy.

To some, the virtual tour is synonymous with the interactive, 360-degree panoramic images pioneered and delivered by IPIX. Site visitors use a mouse to navigate these images, which create the illusion that the viewer is moving around a room. Panoramic tours are now offered as 360 Home Tours through, which has licensed the rights to market IPIX technology to the real estate industry.

Virtual tours may also encompass other types of images, including 180-degree panoramic images, or a series of standard photographs that can be used as a slide showshowcasing a property’s selling points. Some tour solutions, like Online Open House from Virtual, offer the option of adding an audio recording to the tour.

Seattle-based UR Real Inc. has taken the virtual tour concept one step further with a solution it calls LiveTour. This service combines the selection of traditional and panoramic images and text describing the property make up the standard tourwith instant messaging capabilities to deliver truly interactive tours in real time.

What distinguishes LiveTour from most other virtual tour solutions is its interactive conferencing capabilities. When building the tour, you and the seller can confer over the Internet to select images and content for the tour. All that’s required is both participants be connected to the Live Tour site with a Web browser. Once the tour is complete, you can use the scheduling component of LiveTour to set up and host one or more tours live over the Internet. You do this by assigning buyers, sellers, and any invited guests an access code that lets them view the same window on their browser screen simultaneously and converse back and forth. Live Tour supports both instant text messaging and voice-over-Internet protocol for spoken conversations online. Both are provided as part of the LiveTour package.

As the tour’s host, you can communicate with all participants, remain in the background, or monitor several different tour groups at once. The service even provides a screen pointer for highlighting features in the tour’s images. Each of these tour sessions is also recorded for later review.

LiveTour is currently available only in the Northwest and the San Francisco area for an annual subscription at $35 permonth and could become available in other markets if demand warrants according to a company spokesman.

An interactive tour is certainly not for everyone, nor for all transactions. Because they’re hosted, interactive tours bring a real estate professional into the transaction much earlier, which may not appeal to Internet users who want to sample properties before engaging the services of a salesperson.

But there are some distinct advantages as well. By actually conducting the tour online, you can further refine buyers’ interest before taking them to visit any properties. In relocation situations, this solution can let buyers get answers to questions from the seller and real estate practitioner, in real time, and spare them the expense of travel until they really know what they want.

Right now, interactive virtual tours may seem a novel concept, but when it delivers practical benefits, such innovations can evolve into the new standard in services. Just ask anyone who enjoyed an early competitive advantage from the virtual tour.

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