The Virtual Tour Dilemma

The term ‘Virtual Tour’ has been left open to interpretation to the point that the term is open to just about anyone’s understanding or definition. Two definitions found on Google using the exact same search phrase (define: virtual tour) directly contradict each other. One states that a virtual tour is any graphical representation of a property while the very next definition states that there should be a feeling of actually walking through the property.

There are a lot of misconceptions about virtual tours. There are many people that even think that still pictures that fade in and out constitute a ‘virtual tour’. I do not and neither should you.
As technology evolves, the term virtual tour should only be used when the experience is near equal to that of having actually physically visited the property.

With slide tours, you cannot get that type of tour. You are limited to the photographer’s angle and you have no idea what the photographer may be hiding. With a true virtual tour, you are allowed to see the entire property. Video tours are useful, but most virtual tour providers either don’t provide them or are ineffective at filming the entire property due to lighting differences.

Do-it-yourself (DIY) solutions are rarely, if ever, truly virtual in nature and most of the time cannot even be considered a ‘virtual tour’ of any kind. Most DIY virtual tour solutions allow the end user to upload a set number of images and then use these images to display a moving (or sometimes even non-moving) graphical display of still images. Imagine being promised a virtual tour of New York City only to find that the provider simply gave you five pictures that move left to right. I don’t see how you can classify five pictures as a ‘tour’. In reality it is nothing more than a slideshow. There is clearly nothing ‘virtual’ about a slideshow.

What’s even worse is that many DIY solution providers and some larger full service companies have even been so bold and misleading to the customer as to name the resulting graphical slide show presentation a ‘Video Tour’. These companies are not misleading and preying on unsuspecting real estate agents who then go out and scream to the world ‘I am now using the latest in technology’ while in reality there is nothing new at all about the slideshows that they are using. This damages the credibility of the virtual tour industry overall. If they want to call it a video tour at least they could describe the underlying technology that is being used for the customer’s sake.

Then there’s the ‘one-shot’ solutions out there. I have used this so called ‘virtual tour technology’ before. While the end result is a 360-degree panorama, the quality is horrible. The resulting images distort the property and make counter tops and walls look rounded. You cannot use the cameras flash to brighten particular portions of the room like you can with photo stitching software. You are unable to do 180 degree panoramas and must do an entire full 360 of every room. You’re left with blown out windows and white balance problems. Finally the resulting images from this dreaded technology are not printable for your client to use outside of the virtual tour. A lot of low-quality providers use these solutions to present real estate and the result is a complete misrepresentation of the property.

Why would you purposely misrepresent a property by using a low quality virtual tour? Why would you not want yourself and your properties to look the very best? Would you show up for to a listing presentation wearing sweat pants? It’s pointless to throw money away like that. Seeing is believing and people do believe what they see. You may have had an interested buyer from across the country close your tour off their screen because they simply didn’t prefer to buy a house with ‘rounded walls’ and thought it looked too ‘futuristic’. Meanwhile, it could have been the perfect house. But, you will never know and they will never call. technology utilizes optical correction on all of the images within the virtual tour making sure every wall appears perfectly square and just as it would if you were there in person.

You have to keep in mind that virtual tours are very effective marketing tools. If you have any doubts, go check out the 2006 NAR REALTOR Technology Survey and the 2006 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. It is no secret that both home buyers and home sellers are now using the internet extensively and are much more technologically inclined than they were just 10 short years ago. It is definitely no secret that Buyers and Sellers demand more technology from real estate agents today than ever before.

One of the most important points to having a virtual tour is that they should not be used solely to market a listing. They should be used to market YOU. One of the most important things you should have included in a listing package is a CD of one or more of your full-featured virtual tours. Show prospective buyers HOW you are going to market their property before saying a word. Handing a prospective seller a package that includes brochures, marketing materials, DVDs and CDs says much more to a seller than any words you could ever speak. Handing them a full-featured INTERACTIVE virtual tour puts you ahead of competition that has yet to figure out that their homemade ‘video tour’ is nothing more than a slide show.

QUICK TIP. Do not give prospective sellers a marketing CD or DVD example from a house in their listing price range. Go a step above or well above their listing price range. Why would you show someone a marketing package for a 2006 Mercedes if they are selling a 1994 Buick? Simple answer: because they don’t believe that they own a 1994 Buick.

Cheryl Waller
Treasure Coast Virtual Tours