Why Most Virtual Tours for Real Estate Suck, and 14 Ways to Make Yours Amazing

Andrew J Carr
Dec 18, 2017 · 11 min read
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Technology has transformed the decidedly old-school world of real estate, but few people in the real estate business use technology like virtual tours to their full advantage. Instead, they commit the same mistakes time and time again that mar the experience for potential home buyers. In the process, listing agents lose countless potential inquiries and offers on some of their most important blue chip properties.

To fix these problems, home sellers and their agents have to get the right perspective on virtual tours. Then, they have to follow through with best practices that make the virtual tour not only more impressive, but also a more pivotal part of the home buying experience. That second part is actually even more important. Things like bad lighting can take away from a virtual tour’s impact, but if someone can’t access the tour without waiting five minutes, they won’t be interested at all.

If you are a real estate agent or home seller looking to make the most out of their home listing’s virtual tour, we’re here to clear the air and get you on the right path. To improve your chances at getting more buyers interested through virtual tours and getting bigger offers, consider some of the following major points below.

Very Few Virtual Tours Actually Fit the Needs of the Buyer Market

Many call video walkthroughs of homes “virtual tours,” for instance. While a great listing video can complement photos and really drive interest, it is definitely not the same thing as a virtual tour. A proper virtual tour is interactive, allowing the prospective buyer to view the home at their own pace and according to what draws their particular interest. Since a video railroads them down a particular path and only highlights select images of the property, it does not suffice.

Other people describe a navigable 3D model of a home as a virtual tour. In the real estate industry, 3D approximations work far better for properties not built yet. By taking a real home and changing it into a 3D video-game style simulation, you compromise the actual sights and experiences of walking through the home.

Some people have the nerve to even describe slide shows as a “virtual tour” since people are walked through photos in a natural progression. Since these still images do nothing to represent a 3D space, they do not satisfy the needs of someone looking for a true, interactive virtual tour.

Qualities Needed for a Virtual Tour to Be Real and Effective

  • 3D exploration of the home space under the full control of the viewer
  • Uses actual footage of the home, not a digital recreation
  • Options to explore any room at any time, backtrack, or linger at their discretion
  • Easily accessible to the lay person through a web browser or mobile device
  • Abides by a high standard of quality, including both technical aspects like load speed and aesthetic aspects like clear lighting or great image resolution
  • Compatible with common smart phone models that provide millions with their primary point of internet access
  • Intuitive to control with minimal frustration or friction
  • Positioned in a way to complement the home’s natural features as well as other real estate marketing collateral
  • Duplicates the experience of visiting a home in person

Prospero is one of the few firms in the world out there right now hitting all of these bullet points at once. Our virtual home tours use 360° photos stationed at strategic points throughout the home. This format allows effortless control as people try to get a sense of what it’s like to stand in the home, even if they’re thousands of miles away. The photos also load well on common Android and iPhone devices, allowing people to switch between 2D photos and 3D tours at the click of the button.

Each isolated 360° view is stitched together to give the user the chance to look at every unique or interesting viewpoint they would want when walking through the home. They can click within each viewpoint to move to another one. They also have the option to choose a room or level from a drop-down menu. These 30 to 40 or more 360° views stitched together result in an intimate and immersive view of the home that accurately depicts a real-life walkthrough.

When making home tours, we ensure that we follow many guiding principles that improve our results and do justice to the gorgeous homes we help sell.

You can put the following 14 best practices into play when making or commissioning your own virtual tours to get maximum results and increased interest for your listings.

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1. Hit the Right Happy Medium With Home Staging

On the other hand, cluttered homes or overdone staging takes the attention away from the space and towards the objects themselves.

Listing agents must therefore strike a “Goldilocks” balance when staging by placing objects that provide familiar forms and functions while accentuating the features of a home, not drawing attention away from them.

One of the most important ways to do this is to show purpose for non-standard rooms through clever staging. For instance, a sample listing at 239 N Lake Merced Hls, San Francisco, CA includes a bonus studio room on the ground floor (see viewpoint #35). While this space could be used as a home theater or rec room, we instead coordinated with a home stager to place a few yoga mats and small pieces of exercise equipment, implying that the space can be used versatilely according to the immediate needs of the owner while demonstrating its spaciousness.

2. Have Consistent, Bright Lighting Throughout the Home

When giving a virtual tour, there are two dangers with lighting. Firstly, dim or overly “moody” lighting can make a space look smaller or less inviting. Second, inconsistencies in lighting from room to room can create a jarring experience that’s far from immersive.

In response, we send out a skilled lighting crew to accompany our 360° photographers. We ensure that all light levels are consistent throughout every shot and that all areas are well-lit to make a home feel spacious and inviting. We also pick optimal times of the day for shooting based on the home’s cardinal orientation relative to the sun’s position.

By combining beautiful daylight with subtle but high contrast light, we give an accurate view of the space that reads well in every single image.

3. Make the Tour Self Guided

Giving people control not only improves their experience, it also encourages them to dwell within the virtual tour longer. Longer dwell times generate higher levels of buyer interest while increasing memorability of your listing compared to others.

4. Choose Viewpoints That Reflect a Natural, Human Perspective,

The effect is that the “virtual” tour really does duplicate the in-person experience. People viewing homes tend to linger when standing on landings overlooking other floors or standing near windows offering interesting outdoor views.

Keeping this in mind, we will choose shooting locations in hallways or at different corners of the room, letting people have options as they feel out a space and decide if it’s right for their personal needs and aesthetic preferences.

5. Let Each View Stand on Its Own

That may sound obvious, but the alternative is to shoot in places like a secluded corner of a room. People may become disoriented if all they see are walls. Similarly, we try to select views where outdoor visibility is high, demonstrating how connected to nature and the outside world a property is.

6. Isolate Unique Niches and Features Within the Home

Going back to that gorgeous condo in San Francisco, you’ll notice that viewpoint #10 is tucked into a corner of the living room. Although this shot obscures much of the living room space, it does duplicate what it feels like to stand next to the built-in shelves and stare out the elegant window onto the peaceful scene of the back patio.

Again, little touches like these help people feel like they really “know” a home and create stronger memories for a listing.

7. Capture Outdoor Areas to Emphasize Curb Appeal and Liveability

Taking a look at other outdoor areas of a home makes it feel for versatile. If you take a look at our sample listing in Pacifica, CA, you’ll see that we got a couple of different 360° shots throughout the back patio area. We wanted to highlight the unique effect evoked by both the staged area with patio furniture and the more unexpected joy of standing next to the beautiful planting areas created throughout the space.

8. Double, Triple Check for Continuity Errors

Shooting can be difficult when trying to capture things outside in high winds or when animals are about, so you may need to schedule reshoots if outdoor views are marred by these aspects.

9. Reference the Virtual Tour in Collateral Materials

You can also reference the virtual tour in assets like room descriptions or photos. For instance, you can say, “if you take a look at the virtual tour at position X, you will notice…”

Having the ability to switch instantly between 2D and 3D views like Prospero does further facilitates and enhances the synergy within listing assets.

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10. Optimize for Mobile 360° Video and Common Smartphone Accessories

These phones can accommodate a “VR” mode using devices like the Google Daydream, Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, and others. Test with these devices, and strongly encourage those viewing listings to try them out for the best experience possible.

11. Reduce Load Times, Latency and Crashing to Almost Zero

12. Let Other Listing Assets Like Photos and Floor Plans Complement the Virtual Tour

Providing a floor plan of the home can similarly help the buyer or agent connect their walkthrough experience to the technical dimensions and exact layout of the building.

13. Back Up Your Virtual Assets With Digital Marketing Campaigns

can even create ad campaigns on search engines or websites retargeting those actively looking at home listings in your area. “Take a virtual tour of this gorgeous property at ___ address” can drive clicks and interest to your listing in effective ways.

14. Survey Home Owners and Other Agents to Track What Worked and What Didn’t

For instance, asking the following questions to someone who ultimately bought the home can tell you a lot about how to improve performance:

  • Did you view the virtual home tour provided on the listing?
  • How many times did you view it?
  • What type of device did you view the tour on?
  • If using a mobile device, what was the brand name and model?
  • What was your favorite or most memorable room/view on the tour?
  • Etc

You can also track analytics based on clickthroughs from your website or other campaigns you ran. By looking to data, you can draw conclusions and notice patterns that make your creation and promotion of virtual tours more effective than ever before.

Want to Try Doing Virtual Tours the Right Way?

Co-authored by David Streltsoff Co Founder of Prospero

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