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This article was published on: 08/01/2005

BUYER’S GUIDE: Virtual Tours

BY MICHAEL ANTONIAK

Windows of opportunity

Virtual tours have made the rare leap from novelty to marketing must-have. As more buyers begin their property search online, a Web tour is often their preferred introduction to their next home and to the real estate professional who’ll guide them to closing. For sellers, tours help separate serious buyers from lookie lous.

Today’s tours can be a simple series of photos and text or multimedia extravaganzas with maps, floor plans, 360-degree panoramic images, and a sound track. Many providers also offer lead capture and tour promotion services.

You have two choices for creating tours: Produce them yourself or entrust them to an independent contractor. Tour vendors offer turnkey services on a market-by-market basis through authorized local providers, starting at about $100 per tour.

The downside to outsourcing? It may be days after you get the listing before your tour is available. If you’re looking for expediency, produce the tours yourself or delegate the responsibility to a team member.

Of course, doing it yourself adds another task to your already jammed schedule. But DIY solutions are as easy to use as they are sophisticated. They feature Web-based applications or software you install on your computer. Depending on the vendor, DIY packages may include stitching software to combine several photos, image editing and resizing tools, and an audio component. Unless you buy a camera-software bundle, you’ll also need a digital camera.

All virtual tour packages offer hosting, either for a modest fee per tour or for a monthly rate. Most DIY solutions combine a one-time setup fee with an ongoing subscription, usually about $30 per month.

Look for solutions that comply with the Internet data exchange (IDX) standard for display on other brokers’ Web sites and with Homestore.com’s PicturePath program. For an added fee, PicturePath-approved vendors link your tours to REALTOR.com, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ well-trafficked property listing site, which is operated by Homestore.

Remember, location is just as important for tours as for your listings. You want your tours where the Web traffic is.

What makes a good tour?

Easy navigation. An inviting tour makes it easy for visitors to find their way around a home, to quickly find pictures of specific rooms, and to zoom in on features of special interest.

Plenty of good photos and text. Does the DIY package you’re interested in come with image-editing software or utilities to remove clutter, fix colors, or compensate for poor exposure?

Panoramic and 360-degree images. Not every room, view, or exterior warrants this showcase but you want that option to highlight dramatic or unique features.

Audio. A sound track is more a novelty than a necessity. A voice-over narration, however, can be effective for directing viewers to selling points.

The flexibility to repurpose content. Some providers offer services to convert tours into brochures or save them to disk for off-line promotions.

Easy linking. You’ll want to be able to link to real estate sites, search engines, and a portal such as REALTOR.com. The linking may be included as part of the service. If you use REALTOR.com, you’ll need to pay for the PicturePath option, which allows you to upload tour links to the site from approved tour vendors.

Tracking. Where do visitors arrive from—specific search engines? How long do they spend with your tours? What rooms or features are they most interested in? You may notice patterns that will help you make the tours as relevant to consumers as possible.

Fast load time. Millions of people still connect to the Internet via dial-up accounts. If the tour doesn’t load quickly, they may not view it.

Price. There’s great variance on what tours cost, depending on the type of content, such as audio and additional pictures, and whether tours are displayed at real estate portals, for which some providers charge an additional fee. With turnkey creation services, especially, know what the fees cover and what they don’t, before scheduling a tour.Virtual tour Options

CirclePix Virtual Tours CirclePix.com, 877/390-6630.
Virtual tour creation services from local authorized service providers. Prices start at $69.99 for a standard tour, including five 360-degree images and one outside shot. IDX compliant for posting tours to MLS. PicturePath compliant for linking to REALTOR.com. Fee-based options for adding audio, linking tours to major search engines, creating e-mail–compatible tours, and marketing tours.

HomeTour360 Homestore Inc., www.hometour360.com, 866/483-4749.
Price set by local provider depending on tour features and fees. Tour-building services and hosting through network of local service providers. Tour package includes up to 12 full-screen interactive photos and six regular photos, a printable brochure, mapping/driving directions, and Desktop Tour for saving tours to computer or writing them to CD for distribution. Administers PicturePath program, which allows other vendors’ tours to be posted to REALTOR.com.

IPIX Virtual Tours IPIX Corp., www.ipix.com, 800/336-7113, ext. 6557.
Price varies depending on solution and service provider. Offers various packages incorporating 360-degree immersive imaging technology, which puts viewers in the middle of the space. Options include do-it-yourself software and imaging kits for those with or without cameras, as well as tour creation services via a national network of authorized providers. Starter kits, including hardware and software, which works with select digital cameras, starts at $1,494. PicturePath compliant.

Obeo Tour Bronze www.obeo.com, 800/729-6236.
Turnkey Bronze package with four panoramic images and up to 11 standard photos costs $109; price varies depending on local fees, package level, and tour features. Optional interactive SpaceDesigner lets buyers see listings’ floor plan and drag and drop furniture to visualize different layouts.

RealAdvantage Voyager 360, www.voyager360.com, 866/902-3600.
DIY hardware/software packages and network of authorized tour service providers. Voyager 360 Optic/Virtual Tour Software kit $1,479, plus $49 for unlimited number of tours. Ring adapter allows creation of 360-degree images with most digital cameras. Image-processing software to stitch images together. Voyager 360 Tour Camera system, combining Nikon camera, software, and hosting, available for $2,599, plus $49 monthly hosting fee. PicturePath compliant.

Real Tour Vision Real Tour Vision Inc., www.realtourvision.com, 866/947-8687.
Fees vary depending on package; $10 hosting fee per tour. DIY solutions and turnkey services through a network of authorized service providers. Basic $299 360 Stick kit provides digital camera owners with monopod for capturing 360-degree images and Tour Builder software for creating/posting IDX-compliant tours to Web. Tours can include audio sound track or voice-over narration. PicturePath compliant.

TourBuilder RealBiz LLC, www.RealBiz360.com, 888/732-5249, ext. 81.
$49 setup fee; $26.95 per month after free three-month trial period. Web-based tour-building software and hosting. Software wizard guides user through creation process. Includes iseemedia Photovista stitching software for combining photos into panoramic image. Supports high-definition images. Zoom feature. Subscribers can create unlimited number of tours. PicturePath compliant.

TourFactory HomeDebut.com, www.tourfactory.com, 888/458-3943.
DIY Web-based solution starting at $49.95 per tour; tour creation services starting at $109.95. Tours can include panoramic and still images with text. File folder interface for easy navigation. Converts tours into flyers or saves to CD-ROM for distribution off line. Optional audio sound track or narration. Third-party stitching software (sold separately) required to create DIY panoramic images. PicturePath compliant.

TourManager 2.0 Property Panorama Inc., www.propertypanorama.com, 877/299-6306. $24.95 per month after 60-day free trial period; team packages also available. Unlimited number of tours. Web-based solution guides users through creation of tours. Unlimited images and text. Free customized branding of tour window. Tours can be converted to promotional brochures or burned to CD. IDX, PicturePath compliant.

Tour Now 3.0 The Tour Now Network LLC, www.tournow.net, 877/868-7435.
$27.95 per month for DIY solution. Tour creation services also available in some markets, with fees set by local provider. Web-based solution for creating tours combining still, panoramic, and 360–degree images. Tour window branded with contact information, photo. Audio sound track or narration. Converts tours into flyers or saves to CD-ROM. IDX, PicturePath compliant. Tour tracking with reports on number of viewers.

VisualTour Agent Starter Kit TRF Systems Inc., www.visualtour.com, 800/873-0700, ext. 230.
$199.95 setup fee; $29.95 monthly subscription fee. Tour-building software and hosting. Unlimited number of tours incorporating up to 50 still and panoramic images. Talking guide steps user through tour creation process. Stitching software for panoramic images. Unlimited text for each scene. Automatically resizes images for faster downloads. Narration. Saves tours to disk or CD. Reformats tours for viewing on different real estateportals, with automatic linking to the tour. IDX, PicturePath compliant.

Voices of experience

Denise Anderson
salesperson, Horizon Realty, Bradenton, Fla.
“If I don’t create a virtual tour, I feel as if I’m not servicing my clients and customers,” says Anderson. “I can’t think of a better way to spend $100 marketing a new listing.” Virtual tours benefit everyone, she says. “There’s less stress on buyers because they know something about the property before they visit it, less stress on sellers because they don’t have as many people traipsing through their homes, and less stress on me because I’m no longer playing tour guide.”

Benji Tomlinson
tour creator, Century 21 Sussex & Reilly, Chicago
“Virtual tours have become a service you have to offer,” says Tomlinson, who creates tours for the company using a Nikon digital camera with a fish-eye lens, Panoweaver stitching software, and Adobe Photoshop. On average, he produces between six and 10 tours each day. “When people are looking for property today, they tend to look at a virtual tour first. We also want people to visit our Web site.” The company estimates that visitors to its Web site view 9,000 virtual tours each month, and that 1,000 of those monthly tour takers turn into qualified leads.

Jim O’Connell, CIPS, CRS®
salesperson, RE/MAX Partners, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“I don’t know why anyone in this business today wouldn’t provide virtual tours,” O’Connell says. “I’ve sold several homes as a result of tours before people ever stepped on the property.” He includes at least 40 pictures of each home. O’Connell also snaps pictures when showing homes so that he can create a special tour to remind prospects of what they liked about a property.

VIP partner
REALTOR VIP®Alliance Program partners offer special pricing to NAR members. Learn more at REALTOR.org/realtorVIP.



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