Getting More from Your Virtual Tours

Technology guru Rolf Anderson shares suggestions on ways to maximize the value of your virtual tours.

Many salespeople are reluctant to use virtual tours because of their complexity and the expense involved. What alternatives are there for those who don’t want or can’t afford a full 360-degree virtual tour?

Anderson: There are several types virtual tours, and only two of them involve 360-degree views. The simplest type of tour—and one that I use on the front page of my real estate Web site—is nothing more than a simple, self-running slide show of still pictures taken with my digital camera. The technical term for these files is an “animated GIF file.” Software to turn several pictures into one, self-running GIF file are plentiful, either free or available as shareware. A couple of programs that work well are Gif Construction Set Professional 2.0 and Animagic Gif Animator. GIF slide shows are quick-loading files and also can be copied to a floppy disk to hand out to buyers. The only negative is you cannot easily add text or voice to the files.

Another type of virtual tour is what I call a “pictorial tour.” This tour is made up of small, flat images. But the viewer can click on any image and increase its size on screen. Commercially available software, such as VisualTour.com, allows a salesperson to create a multimedia, pictorial presentation for a seller, copy that presentation to a disk for distribution, and then put the same presentation on the Web with a distinct URL that can be pasted into e-mail messages. Stitched pictures, up to and including a complete 360-degree view, can be included in these presentations.

Of course, there also are the 360-degree panoramic tours. You can make your own or hire a company to create them for you. You can decide on a flat 360-degree tour (the viewer can’t look up or down), or you can use the patented lens and software from iPIX and get the “bubble” tour. With that effect, the user can actually “step inside” the picture and look around.

Even if you photograph the tours yourself, you will still have to pay a small fee per picture for a vendor to “stitch” the photos together into a seamless view. The cost is small, much like a processing fee for regular film.

The benefits of doing the tour yourself are timing and control. I can take pictures of new listings and within minutes have the pictures stitched and up on my Web site.Once the pictures are saved, I can use them in a variety of ways.

Such as?

Anderson: First of all, be sure to advertise that you offer virtual tours of listings on every piece of marketing material—your signs, sign riders, your business cards, your newspaper ads. My classified ads are now only two or three lines, just a headline, a phone number, and a Web site address where prospects can take the virtual tour.

Offering other salespeople your virtual tours on [a CD or other portable format] is a great listing tool and gives them an efficient way to “walk through” your listing before they show it. Also, hand the sellers a stack of these CDs to give to anyone they think might be interested. Don’t forget to have them available at open houses.

And, of course, you can put the virtual tours on the listing portion of your Web site.

Anderson: Certainly, if you have listings on your Web site, you want to include virtual tours. If your listings are on REALTOR.com, companies like iPIX will put the link on for you. But virtual tours are not just for listings. We developed a complete tour of our community for our Web site, using different types of virtual-tour technology. We included the local churches, inside the classrooms of the public schools, the local college, and views around our city. It built tremendous good will and name recognition for us. We give community-tour CDs to the human resource departments of big employers in town, and send them to our relocation clients. The CDs are a tremendous promotional tool.

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