5 Ways to Dress Up Your Virtual Tours

New enhancements to virtual tours give potential buyers a real-life feel for a property while they're sitting at their computer.

November 1, 2008

Not that long ago, having a virtual gave your online listing "wow" value. Today, virtual tours have become a routine—and even expected—element of property marketing. But that doesn't mean your virtual tours have to be boring.

New advancements and add-ons are taking this tool to the next level, helping buyers get a better feel for the home and the neighborhood without having to leave their chairs.

The biggest virtual tour advancement over the past two years has been the growing popularity of video tours. Video is great for conveying the look and feel of a house, the flow from room to room, and the visual appeal of selling points.

Here are several other new tools, perhaps lesser known than video, that you can use to make your online tours more appealing and informative. Some of these are widely available, while others are exclusive features available only from certain vendors. In my opinion, all of them are underused—which means you have the chance, once again, to stand out from the crowd.

1. Show Off the Floor Plan. Other than actually walking around the home in person, interactive floor plans are the best way to give buyers a sense of how the home is laid out. Interactive floor plans typically display an illustrated map, and let users click on areas of the floor plan to see an image or video clip from that vantage point. 

How you can add it: Many vendors offer this feature, including TourVista, Flyinside.com, VHTMapsAlive, and floorplansonline.

2. Help Them See Improvements. Don't just ask them to "imagine" what new cabinets or flooring would look like. Show them. Prospective buyers can click on an image from the virtual tour and instantly change the wall colors, redo the countertops, add a new roof, and more. Then they can print out the results. 

How you can add it: Obeo's StyleDesigner is an upgrade to its HomeSite virtual tour packages. You can virtually decorate the space and then send the image to clients, or e-mail the image to clients so they can do the decorating themselves.

3. Make Marvelous Maps. Most buyers are just as interested in the community as they are in the property itself. Map mash-ups are an effective way to present that information visually. Your MLS likely provides a basic mash-up map populated with landmarks linked to listing photos and information. But you can combine maps with other types of information, too: schools, recreation facilities, shopping centers, restaurants, and even commute times. For example, REALTOR.com’s “Find A Neighborhood” feature combines housing and demographic information with maps consumers can use to explore what’s available. 

How you can add it: For an idea of how mash-ups are being used in real estate, check Google’s Maps Mania directory for real estate. Sophisticated as any of these mash-ups may seem, if you can drag and drop, cut and paste, you can create one. It’s just as easy to incorporate it into your Web site or add it to your tour. To learn how, start with Google or Mapbuilder.

4. Use More Pictures, Better Pictures. If you're looking for an easy enhancement, simply add more photos and using some tools to improve the presentation. A survey by Point2Technologies earlier this year found a direct correlation between the number of photos and the effectiveness of online tours. Also, consider adding photos of the view. 

How you can add it: TourFactory’s ultimate tour package now gives you the option of viewing pictures in a standard or widescreen mode. JustSnooping.com offers a High Def Home Show package to showcase listings at the maximum image quality and resolution attainable on the Web. For exploring an area, Realtor.com’s HD City Views of select cities (see New York, for an example) demonstrate how far digital imaging has come in its ability to capture the details of a neighborhood in an inviting, interactive image. To improve photos taken of a city view, Imagemaker 360 has a unique feature to called VIEW Technology that restores clarity lost in backlit situations for a more realistic presentation of how the outside appears through the glass.

5. Go 3D. Microsoft has just announced its Photosynth stitching technology that takes two dimensional images and re-renders them in a navigable 3D image. They’re similar but not quite the same as IPIX immersive images. The big difference: you can create them from pictures taken with any digital camera and free software from Microsoft.

Do Your Listings a Favor

Everyone knows how important it is for buyers to be able to view homes on the Web. Yet, too few real estate professionals are rising to the task and offering top-notch virtual tours. Do your listings justice and impress your clients by investigating some of the extras I listed above. In a challenging market, the listings that are presented best on the Web are the ones that will get the most attention.

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