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

Andrew J Carr
Dec 18, 2017 · 11 min read

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

A “virtual home tour” can be a vague descriptor for many different things.

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

So what would we call a “real” virtual tour? Here are a few criteria we think a virtual home tour should satisfy, at minimum:

  • 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.

1. Hit the Right Happy Medium With Home Staging

An empty home is a bit too blank of a canvas. People want to imagine how they could live in or use a home’s various spaces, and empty rooms create optical illusions that play tricks with our eyes. We need familiar furniture and objects to give a sense of scale.

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

Lighting can dramatically change our impression of something’s size, shape and overall feel. This fascinating video shows just how much of an impact changes to directional light, warmth and overall brightness can have on a subject.

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

Anyone taking the virtual tour should have full control over each view. They should have the ability to move around between rooms at will and control their viewing angle within each position. For this reason, linear tours like videos do not qualify to us as a true virtual tour.

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,

We are very picky about the 360° shooting locations we choose. Every position reflects a natural stopping point that a person would have when taking an in-person tour of a home. This approach differs from, say, always positioning in the exact center of a room.

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

Every position chosen for 360° shooting has some connection to other spaces within the home. In other words, you feel like you are learning about not just the space you’re “standing” in but how each space in the home flows into the next.

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

We’ve already touched on this a few times, but we’re going to put it bluntly: don’t overlook opportunities to capture unique features of a home during a virtual tour. Some spaces don’t seem terribly important to the function of a home, but they do help reveal its personality.

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

Some virtual tours miss the opportunity to highlight the home’s outdoor areas. A tour isn’t a true tour unless it starts with a view from the street! That way, people can know what it feels like for guests arriving at their home. For the types of properties typically showcased by virtual tours, making a statement is as important as functionality.

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

As a final tip for shooting virtual tours, do everything in your power to prevent changes to the staged objects or movement near the cameras while they capture the space. Movement shows up as an ugly blur in all panoramic photo shots, especially 360° ones.

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

Moving away from shooting tips, ensure that the virtual tour is showcased within your home listings. Reference it repeatedly to encourage views, and make sure that the viewer knows they can use their smartphone and a device like a Google Cardboard or Daydream to explore from a true first-person perspective.

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.

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

Speaking of mobile viewing, ensure that your video is compatible and loads quickly on a variety of different devices. Include both standard phones like the iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S8 as well as larger feature phones, like the iPhone X and the Pixel XL.

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

It’s nearly 2018, and people have zero patience for technology that doesn’t work. Optimize your files so that they can load quickly yet have great resolution. Work with your web hosting company to ensure that your virtual tours load quickly and can be navigated without errors or hitches.

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

If your 2D photos and other assets can work in concert with your virtual tour, all the better. For instance, Prospero’s technology lets you switch from the 3D view to see multiple professional 2D photos. Each works together to give the viewer a more accurate and immersive idea of the property.

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

The way to get the most ROI out of your virtual tours is to promote the living daylights out of them. Share the tour on Facebook, and include a mention of it to every interested lead. You

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

If you can get an extra moment of time from your clients and those they sell to, you can gain tremendously valuable data that allows you to make incremental improvements to your approach over time.

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?

We have years of experience exploring and innovating the way people sell luxury homes as well as a proven track record of successes. For virtual tours, drone fly-bys and other premium real estate listing services, take a look at our website and then contact us today to see what Prospero can do for you!

Co-authored by David Streltsoff Co Founder of Prospero

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