Virtual Tours & Realtor.com

Recently, I had a real estate agent ask me to explain to her what Realtor.com was.  My answer was very vague – a listing service for brokers so that potential buyers can look at houses they might want to see.

Then the agent said what is the difference between a basic listing and a showcase listing.  I answered what I thought to be the correct answer.  A showcase listing can have up to 25 photos and a basic listing only has 4.  Also a showcase listing can have a virtual tour at no extra charge.

Finally the agent said, so when I pay you the $25 for loading the tour, my tour is getting all 25 photos and the virtual tour, so I said yes – I actually have never bothered to check on it.

Over the last few days the RTV virtual tour provider facebook page has had some discussions about Realtor.com.  ie.  Where is the spinning house.  Where did the tours disappear to.  Why are there only 4 pictures showing when I paid the fee to put it through picture path?

Ok, it just so happens that Realtor.com – or rather move.com their picture path company is here in Scottsdale.  So, I decided – Road Trip!  They can pay to air condition their office and my office can be put on conserve energy!  How smart is that thinking!

Here is the scoop. 

To be a Showcase Realtor you pay an annual fee (broken out monthly) which is based on how many listings you do a year.  For instance if you listed 100 listings in 2010, then you would pay $2800 (approximately) to be a Showcase realtor in 2011.  In return for this you have the right to have 25 pictures and a virtual tour.  You can put in your own descriptions, your personal photos and your own email and contact information.  A Showcase listing is in Yellow highlighting and the tour symbol is an arrow that wraps in a circle on the very right side of the yellow bar.  There are other things you can pay extra for, but this is the Showcase package.  If a Virtual Tour provider has a picture path account, the virtual tour will pass through without a charge.  When you click on the tour icon on the yellow bar it takes you to the listing.  In the window with the photograph is the link to the tour on the lower right.  How many of you RTV providers out there have showcase agents that there is no $22.95 charge from RTV?

All other agents who are not Showcase agents are Basic Agents.  Realtor.com pulls up basic listings from the MLS.  It pulls up the MLS number, the first four pictures of the MLS and the basic MLS info as a description.  Contact information is the brokerage office rather than the agent.  Basic listings have a grey highlight bar.So…. How to get a tour, photos and agent contact information onto a Basic Listing.

This is where the RTV picture path charge of $22.95 (marked up by $3 – and then we can mark it up to $25).  What the fee does is put a virtual tour onto a Basic Listing.  The basic listing still only has 4 pictures, little contact information and little description.  With that being said, a clever provider with a great tour like RTV will be able to create a venue for potential buyers to be able to not only see stills and video about the listing, but also what I call – meet and greet the agent! 

Now,  where does the search engine come in between the showcase and the basic agents.  First of all, when you are general searching on google, the showcase listings get more pre-programmed google juice.  I’m not sure this is that relevant because if the keywords really narrow the field enough, the listing will pop up one way or another including the agents virtual tour itself on one of your sites or blogs!

If you are searching direct on Realtor.com, then the difference is as follows:
    You pull up a preliminary search based on price, neighborhood, bedrooms, etc.   Once you have these pulled you have several sort criteria – price hi-low, price low-hi, photos hi-lo, featured tours and open houses.  According to the very nice customer service person at Move.com (Nicky) most people search on price low-hi or photos hi-lo.  The next most chosen category is featured tours.  Realtor.com does not create a complex sorts on these criteria – you must sort on only one of the above. 

If you have a showcase account, on the photosearch  – the ones with 25 pictures come up first and then the number of pictures descend until there are only 4 pictures per basic account.  If you are a basic agent and there are 16 pages of listings in the criteria, you may never get seen on a picture search – this is the number one reason to be a Showcase agent.   If you are a showcase agent, or a basic agent, and you have a virtual tour, the sort will bring forward all listings with tours in the last search and sort criteria.  At least now you have a chance – the point for paying the additional fee for the tour if you are a basic agent.

So….the moral of the story is – yes, paying the money for picture path for non-showcase gives you a little bit of a leg up over other basic agents, but the best thing to do is to promote the heck out of the virtual tour using the PROVIDER’s EXPOSURE ENGINE.