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What if you could do a real estate showing any time, with no appointment and with no travel? Turns out, you can! Virtual tours, aka 3D tours, take real estate photos to another dimension. Before the pandemic, they were a nice-to-have, but once things got shut down, they became a critical part of presenting a property. In this article, we’ll explore what they are, how they’re made, and how you can use them to cut market time, boost offers, and increase your productivity.
What is a virtual tour?
First, let’s establish what we mean by a virtual tour or 3D tour. There seems to be a little bit of confusion between virtual tours and video walkthroughs. While a video walkthrough is just what it sounds like – a video shot while walking through a property, a virtual tour is a little more complex, and much more useful. Like traditional real estate photos, a video tour is controlled by the photographer, or videographer in this case, and accepts no input and offers no control to the viewer. A virtual tour, on the other hand, is a series of 3D images linked together in a way that simulates actually walking through a property. The viewer controls where they walk and what they look at when they get there.
One of the attractions of an open house is that it allows prospective buyers to wander around a property at their leisure. They can open doors, peek around corners, and literally look around in the kitchen. They can choose where they want to go, do it at their own pace, and look where they want to look. A virtual tour simulates this experience by allowing a viewer to click a point on an image to virtually enter a room, and then, using a mouse (or finger on a touch screen), look around 360°, look up and look down. Then they can pick a door or entrance to another room and virtally walk into that room. Click here to try it yourself.
Virtual tours increase your productivity
When you use virtual tours, your open houses are not limited to weekends, and you don’t have to meet buyers at the property. No arranging times to meet, skipping dinner to meet a buyer, or worrying about keys and lockboxes. Well, you still have to do those things, but not for tire kickers or casual browsers. You can have an online open house 24/7, for any buyer anywhere (great for the relocation market), and the buyers that you do meet will have gone through the process and be serious about the property. What’s more, you’re not limited to serving one client at a time. Online virtual tours, along with other online tools, multiply your efficiency and productivity by servicing multiple clients at the same time, anytime. With virtual tours, buyers spend more time exploring your properties, which means they pay less attention to the competition and focus on your listings.
Like so many things that changed and became a ‘new normal’ in the last year, you can expect virtual tours to be an important part of online real estate listings for the forseeable future. Even though we are finally starting to put the pandemic behind us and are able to accomodate actual viewings, buyers still appreciate the convenience of virtually visiting a property online. Just like successful restaurants and retailers will continue to deliver to customers’ homes, successful real estate agents will continue to deliver virtual open houses and tours to the buyer. Real estate shopping has been an online process for a while now, and will only get more virtual as the technology improves and buyers’ expectations evolve. Listings with more info and more available online tools will sell faster, and for more money.
How is a virtual tour created?
Like everything else, the technology to create a virtual tour has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last few years. The critical components of a virtual tour are 360° panoramic images. That is a single image that encompasses an entire panorama. In a 360° image, each side of the picture lines up with the opposite side. Time was, to create that image, the photographer had to take multiple images, either with an array of cameras (usually low end cameras like GoPros) mounted in a special spherical rig, or with a single high end camera mounted on a pano head which allows the camera to be precisely pointed in different directions from the same point. We still occasionally use pano heads for specific applications like large, poorly lit warehouse spaces.
Matterport 360° camera
Then came 360° cameras, like the Matterport. These cameras carry a hefty pricetag, and require proprietary software to process the images. Matterport cameras are still around, and while the price has come down, they will still set you back a few thousand dollars, and require a software subscription. Matterport still offers cameras, but their focus has shifted from hardware to software. Like all things tech, 360° camera technology has become more affordable, and now you can get your hands on something like a Ricoh camera (we use Ricoh Theta series cameras for most of our virtual tour work) for a few hundred dollars. It is now even possible to shoot panoramas with a cell phone camera, but in truth that’s a time consuming process with sometimes inconsistent results.
Example of a virtual tour photo
The tour is created by taking 3D images of each space in the property. The camera needs to be positioned so that there is a view to the adjoining spaces in the shot. This allows adjoining spaces to be linked together in the tour. The images can be edited in photo editing software like any other image. The exception to this is Zillow Home 3D. The Zillow app is a closed loop and can only use images straight from the camera taken with the app itself.
Once the images are captured, there are two steps to creating a 3D tour. First, the images must be processed to allow viewing in 3D photo software. Then, the images need to be combined to create an interface that allows a user to seamlessly move from one image to another. That’s easier than it sounds. There are several software packages available to accomplish this. There is also a requirement for special server software to host and deliver the 3d tour to the end user. Once again, there are multiple choices for hosting your virtual tours. Ahead Photography offers several options to do this. The most convenient choice for most real estate professionals is to take advantage of Zillow’s 3D Home software. As a Zillow Certified Photographer, Ahead Photography uses Zillow 3D Home for most of our real estate virtual tours. Zillow hosts the tour, so you don’t need to worry about hosting costs. And we’ll upload the tour to your existing Zillow listing so you don’t need to worry about that either. Ahead Photography can host your tour if you don’t want to use Zillow, and we include six months of free hosting when we shoot the tour for you.