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This article was published on: 06/01/2003

TECH WATCH

Online tours
Getting that Virtual Advantage

It doesn’t have to win an Oscar. A simple virtual tour can sell provide a big sale boost.

REPORTED BY MIKE ANTONIAK

Once something of a novelty, the online virtual tour has become one of those rare technological innovations that really pay off. For the seller, it’s an effective promotion; for the buyer, a convenient way to preview properties; for real estate professionals, a tool that makes them stand out from the crowd and helps them weed out the lookers and make more sales.

“Most real estate professionals now use the virtual tour as a part of their marketing strategy,” observes J. L. Winn, vice president of marketing with VisualTour.com. “Today’s sellers want immediacy. Showing them how soon you can have their property showcased on the Web can help capture the listing.”

In some hot markets, where homes sell almost as soon as they’re listed, an online tour of the home may not have much impact. That’s the exception to the rule, however. For most real estate practitioners, the virtual tour has become a core component of how they market and promote their listings.

“Virtual tours are one of the best ways to show eager buyers what you have that’s new today,” says Winn. With more than 15,000 registered users of VisualTour, and more than 100,000 tours built to date, Winn has some insight into what makes a virtual tour effective.

Here are his suggestions.
  • Remember that most of the public you’re trying to reach still uses dial-up Internet accounts. A tour needs to load quickly if it’s going to grab and keep customers’ attention. If they have to wait too long, they might lose interest." One way to improve loading speed is to build the tour from several smaller images rather than one, large interactive image files requiring lengthy downloads. Homes without great views or a wide-open floor plan can usually be promoted just as effectively with standard photographs.
  • Don’t skimp on pictures. Even a small home needs from six to eight images to give people a real idea of its feature. At the same time, Winn suggests, there’s some advantage to withholding pictures of one or two features and describing them only in text. That way, interested prospects have an incentive to contact you.
  • Use tours to focus the buyer’s attention on the home’s best features. Shot each room from several angles to see which looks best. Also select and crop photos to keep particularly unattractive features out of the photos.
  • Let your tours keep selling. Take your digital camera along when you show a home and take pictures of features prospects like. Then create a personalized virtual tour and e-mail the buyers a link. “It only takes a few minutes, and it makes it much easier for them to remember what they liked in the different homes they’ve visited,” notes Winn.

Getting Started
These days, creating and posting a virtual tour on the Web doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. It’s really just a matter of taking the pictures, uploading the files into templates, and adding text. Visual Tour offers its tour solution on both a purchase and subscription basis. (Click for a pricing breakdown.) The company has also announced an agreement with REALTOR.com allowing Visual Tour subscribers to post their tours to REALTOR.com with a few clicks of the mouse for an additional $21.95. The option should be available by the end of June.

Other options for virtual tours include Hometour 360, Picture Path, and Virtual Homes.

As far as capturing those digital images, a mid-range, 2-megapixel camera such as the HP PhotoSMart 620 or Kodak EasyShare CX 4300 could be all you need, unless you frequently use digital images for printing. If you do decide to invest in a higher-end, 5-megapixel camera, use a low resolution setting when taking pictures for the Web. “Anything in an image file over 2 MBs will be lost in the image compression as the file is converted” for display in a tour or on the Web, notes Winn.

With digital cameras so affordable and buyers increasingly reliant on virtual tours to preview property, the virtual tour may be one of the most effective promotional vehicles to come along in years.

More Resources
For more tips on using virtual tours, click here.
Virtual Tour Buyers Guide, Michael Antoniak, July 2001.
Which Virtual Tour is Right for You, Heather Riley, August 2001.

    Previously by Antoniak:
    Color Printing on a Budget
    Listing Data Entry Goes Wireless
    Tech Products for Special Needs
    Color Printing Made Easy


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    Do you have technology you’d like to learn more about or a new user twist that you’d like to share with your peers? Let me know about it by e-mailing antoniak@dtccom.net, and I’ll do my best to give it the coverage it deserves.


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    Mike Antoniak is a freelance journalist, who writes frequently on technology.

    Send your questions to:
    antoniak@dtccom.net

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