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Why Do So Few Realtors Use Virtual Tours?

January 7th, 2007

While browsing through the listings in our office today I noticed that out of 60 listings that our office has only the listings my wife and I have have virtual tours. This was surprising. I decided to look at a wider sample so I spent some time on our local MLS service and did some searches in the area we do most of our business (area 540). This area is on Seattle’s eastside (East of Lake Washington) and includes the city’s of Issaquah, Sammamish, Snoqualmie.

Here’s what I found:

  • Out of 445 active listings only 36 (8%) had virtual tours that agents paid for.
  • In the $300,000 to $600,000 price range (132 listings) 7.5% had virtual tours.
  • In the$600,000 to $1,000,000 price range (217 listings) 4.6% had virtual tours.
  • In the $1,000,000 to $5,000,000 price range (96 listings) 16% had virtual tours.
  • In the $1M to $5M range there is a huge mixture of types of tours services being used (13 different services for 16 virtual tours)
  • In the lower price ranges there was less variety of tour vendors but no vendor really dominated.

I’m sure there are several messages in these numbers. But think the main question is “Why do only 8% of these listings use tours?”

One possible explanation of why tour useage is so low is that for the last several years the market in this area has been very brisk. Homes have been selling without much marketing. As a result most agents think they don’t have to do much to sell properties so they don’t.

I think another explanation of the low tour usage is that Realtors are not very impressed with what they get for the money. I think this is the reason that in the highest price range where more sellers expect and demand virtual tours Realtors are trying everything almost every Realtor that used a virtual tour in this price range used a different vendor. The only vendor that more than one Realtor used was tourfactory.com, Russell Productions (a local guy) and Circlepix. No one is making much money selling tours on the Eastside of Seattle!

I’m going to start asking Realtors why they don’t use virtual tours.

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27 Responses to “Why Do So Few Realtors Use Virtual Tours?”

  • I feel your pain. Why should Realtors spend time and money learning something new when the market is hot and the properties sell themselves? 🙂 The only good thing about other Realtors not using tours is that it gives me a competitive edge.

  • These numbers seem to be reflected everywhere. I do think it has to do with the fact that a great majority of REALTORS have only been in the market since the ‘boom’ time, and the concept of actually marketing a property if very foreign. Marketing to them is plugging a sign in the front yard and handing the secretary the MLS data for entry.
    Sellers are getting smarter – they are demanding that the agent market the home. They know that’s what it will take to sell their home in today’s market. The agents that get on the ball and do something above and beyond will definitely stay in the business – those that don’t will be working at Sears.
    I personally don’t care for 360 spinaround tours. I market real estate video tours, which are several steps above the typical spinaround tours. The pricing is considerably higher as well. I market to agents based on setting yourself apart from the competition. It gives them a distinct edge in a listing appointment. Since I am the only one doing this in New England, they can be virtually guaranteed that nobody will trump them on the video tour! Many put riders in their signs promoting a VIDEO TOUR, which catches the eye of the neighbors.. and says "this agent is doing something better, something different."
    All REALTORS look alike these days… they all have websites (and most like exactly alike…because most are… just template sites with a different photo….), all have the MLS search on their site, all offer a free CMA…. what’s to set someone apart? It’s like laying out 24 agent business cards on a table and saying "pick one" to sell your home… based on the picture of the agent?
    Spin around tours are still not that common that they can set you apart to some degree. Video Tours for real estate are much less common… right now…. so it’s a perfect slam dunk for making you look like a star. Yes they’re more expensive, yes, they’re more time consuming to put together, but that keeps them more exclusive as well.
    And recently, ‘doing something different’ got me and a client some great national press as a story was done which went out nationally via the Associated Press and was printed in most major newspapers in the country…. another benefit of not being just a clone REALTOR.
    "Think different"

  • GMTA Larry,
    I was walking the office floor Sunday asking a simple question. Are you happy with your VT’s. Out of 11 realtors I got the same basic answers.
    1) They dont like the way VT’s warp the interior shots
    2) There not happy with the overall quality of he imaging and have on many ocassions told the VT guy to reshoot it (at his expense)
    3) The all thought video is the way to go since you have a better vision and feel for a property.
    4)They only have them done to ’cause everyone else has them.

    In addition VT’s are starting to slow down in place of video tours.

    There has been a real shift among sellers. They want their properties marketed, heavily marketed and I’ve seen listings pulled for lack of marketing activity.

    We maintain about 22 agents with 190 listings on a 7 mile long island. Along with that there are 5 other large offices in the same 4 block area with similar listings and agents so the market is saturated here. So its a death battle to keep listings and make sure all properties get good exposure.

  • Most realtors dont even show decent photographs, much less tours. Drew, I agree. I can see video replacing virtual tours quickly for a few reasons:

    Video is faster to take
    Less expensive options
    Easier to do it yourself
    No complicated equipment or techniques
    Free hosting (youtube)
    Audio/music dubbing with little fuss.

    I spoke with an agent that said “tours dont sell homes” like it’s a fact. She probably heard or read that somewhere along the way. She said the ONLY reason agents do it is because it impresses the seller.

  • “She said the ONLY reason agents do it is because it impresses the seller.”

    I’ll echo that last sentence that Carson wrote. Most sellers have an irrational/emotional connection to their home that interferes with their marketing efforts. It’s why they think their house is worth more than it is. It’s why they leave all their stuff everywhere for the photographer to take pictures of. It’s why they should hire a good agent who knows what he/she is doing.

    Before attempting further discussion on this topic, one needs to define what exactly is meant by the term “virtual tour.” In my opinion, the term has come to mean “some web-based marketing effort beyond MLS sized photos.” But that still leaves things pretty broad.

    The bottom line is that, no matter what format, the quality of the images is the foundation and key to the whole effort. You can make the images move, add snazzy templates, noises, and a whole bunch of useless links…but in the end if the buyer has to wait more than a second to go from one picture to the next, or if the pictures suck, they’re gone. Good staging and good photography are and will always be the critical foundation of real estate marketing. Anything else that a “virtual tour” adds is secondary.

    I agree with Fred that video is going to be big. The one thing I don’t like about it right now is that you are forced to tour the house in a set path.
    * Fred – you should break up the video into room segments, I could watch the whole thing but if I wanted to look at a room again it would be easy.

  • Hi, It’s been five minutes and I am still waiting for your NasuaVideoTours to load. I already have all the suggested programs on my computer, plus a few more. So… I switched from Opera to IE7, still no luck.

    If it’s about appeasing sellers by having “high quality” pretty photography movies or otherwise, you are ALWAYS going to lose. It’s about selling the house and NOT about appeasing sellers. I mean come on, are you gals and guys still flat backing?

  • Greg – What’s “flat backing” mean? Is that some new slang for still photography? You may want to clarify the points in your post. I’m having a hard time figuring out what you’re trying to say.

  • Fred,
    Yes, I agree that tours are all about setting yourself apart from the competition. In real estate as with many other selling professions, less than 20% percent of the agents make over 80% of the money. And to be better than the competition you need to go above and beyond.

    But to me video is frequently not all that impressive, particularly on a small frames embedded on a page. Quick panning movements, shaking horizons and barrel distorted edges, which are all very hard to avoid, are not much different than small spinning 360s. Video can be impressive if well done but it’s very expensive to do it well and I’ve frankly not seen any real estate tours that I find impressive.

    To me it’s hard to beat a series of 800×600 quality images put together in a smooth slide show. To me the best “video” tours I’ve seen are the Ken Burns like panning over quality still images.

    Larry

  • I have to second Carson on his post. Video is really easy, no special software to run in a browser, cross platform complient…..

    On a side note: Our MLS wil only work in Explorer 6 on PC, if you use firefox, IE7 or a mac your screwed…. gotta love programers writing (i used to be one) propriatery software, forcing they do the upgrade…

    Drew

  • i don’t use virtual tours because i don’t think they help sell houses at all. buyers don’t have the time or inclination to sit around and wait for them to load either. they’re impatient and seeing great pictures quickly is much more effective. the only time i’ll ever look at a tour is if for whatever reason i haven’t actually seen the house and it’s sold but i need to include it in a CMA. photos give me much more control on how a house looks and shows. i have no issues about spending money to get my clients’ homes sold. i stage all listings at my cost. staging a house and then getting great pictures holds much more value in my mind.

  • Flat backing is a popular way for agents to get the business of the seller and/or to extend the listing. All ya have to do is get naked and let the seller do what he or she wants. This is a popular way of getting listings, present company excepted. It is also the logical conclusion of the appeasement argument for listing properties for sale.
    There is always somneone who will charge less, or flat back.
    Appeasement, Professionalism, phantom market increases in the business section of the Seattle Times; the notion that what sellers really want is “service”, are all great for the OWNER of your company, because companies are competing for “market control.” What sellers really want is whatever they will get or buy when they receive the proceeds of a closed sale.
    The reason virtual tours don’t work for agents is because they do not use them to sell properties, even though the agent has paid for the virtual tour. In my opinion, this is because of the focus on appeasement of the seller rather than focusing on what the seller wants. And it is because agents do not use the internet to get name recognition for themselves, and they do not use the internet to promote listings via email. And it is because the agent fails to put the link to the virtual tour in as many places as possible.

  • Greg – thanks for the clarification on “flat backing.” I like that term!

    But I disagree with you on why virtual tours don’t work. Virtual tours don’t work to sell homes because the vast majority of them have BAD IMAGES. Your last paragraph is outlining a particular marketing approach (strong internet presence), not making a case specific to virtual tours. “Not enough links to the tour” is a fairly weak argument. Some agents use a similar argument with their clients when they suggest a price reduction due to “market forces”, when it’s really because the agent failed to adequately market the property.

    Like I said before and Tracy confirmed – quality staging and quality images are fundamental. Everything builds off of that. If your message (images and copy) sucks, the manner and frequency with which it is delivered matters little.

  • See, there ya go again. It isn’t about “marketing” It is about getting the seller what the seller wants as a result of the closing of the sale. Marketing is what your broker or franchise does to create brand awareness for your company.
    Regarding higher quality virtual tours for realtors Perfect costs too much and bad is not good at all. Therefore, why is it important to not have the windows blown out in the vt?
    Regarding not enough links, you prove my point that agents don’t know enough about how to get prospects on the web.

  • How do you control the “rolling ship” effect, and how do you control the lighting of videos? I’m interested in offering this to my clients but feel the technology is still in its infancy because I couldn’t sell the quality I’ve seen.

    In Comment 5, Aaron mentions that sellers leave stuff laying around for the photographer to take pictures of. Suggest that Realtors, photographers and VT providers take a peek at my Virtual Tour Preparation Tips (go to the webside, http://www.allaboutvirtualtours.com and there’s a link to it across the bottom).

    Kindly give me credit if you copy them..I’ve seen it done 😉 but definitely build your own using these ideas as a starting point.

    Send those out prior to the photo shoot. Keep in mind that homeowners are overwhelmed and really need a checklist to follow. I clearly state that if the home is not ready, I’ll leave and charge the agent.

    Dawn Shaffer, http://www.allaboutvirtualtours.com

  • Motivated buyers shop ANY ad, ANY photos, and ANY place on the internet or elsewhere that they can find. That’s why vt’s have to be good, but not perfect, vt’s in real estate are a disposable advertising product for a disposable inventory. At least they are if you quit worrying about “marketing” and start worrying about what the seller desires as a result of the closing of the sale.

    360 VT’s are under the control of the viewer, and as a direct result of that they create more interest for the buyer than video or still photos. Still photos and movies are under the control of the person who takes the video or photo. Videos have a lot more information in them that the buyer doesn’t need. For instance buyers don’t need to know how it feels to the person taking the video photgraphy when they walk up the stairs our open a slider. Buyers have done that before and therefore they don’t much care what some salesperson thinks about it. If the video photographer says it feels good to walk out onto the patio or up the stairs, the buyer can disagree or at least discount what the video photographyer or agent has to say about walking up the stairs or out the slider. Why give them reason to object?
    On the other hand, when windows are whited out in a vt and yet the rest of the room is properly exposed, most people will not make up a story that the windows in the house are defective.
    *This post is Copyright Greg Sparkman All Rights Reserved.

  • One more thing…..
    You can focus on being superior to the flat backers with fluff, or or you can focus on getting the seller what the seller desires as a result of the closing of the sale of the house. 360 VT’s do a very good job of giving a lot of info about the property, without uncessary info that distracts buyers.
    Come on guy’s do you really and truly believe a buyer is not going to call you because they can’t see in the vt what the sky and ceiling look like directly above the photographer? Isn’t seeing most of the ceiling and floor good enough? It’s not good enough when you are using fluff to compete against flat backers or the next agent with fluff. It is plenty good enough if you are concentrating on what the seller wants as a result of the closing of the sale of the property. And it’s hard to think about what someone else like the seller wants, isn’t it? It’s much easier to concentrate on thinking how good you are because of “marketing.”

  • Greg – Virtual tour technology is available which does not white out the windows.

    Click on the hands to move between the rooms.

    http://ts.rtvpix.com/tour/RE/tour.view.new.php?utl=RE-2560-5XOK5N-02

    This technology has been available for 8 years and is available to individual realtors as well as VT providers and I’d be happy to chat with anyone about it, just contact me through my website, http://www.allaboutvirtualtours.com.

  • What makes you think I believe there is no virtual tour technology to stop windows being whited out? That has nothing to do with my last post. After all I said about selling houses using virtual tours and that’s what you got out of it?

    Realtors are not going to pay you what it costs to make the windows beautiful. If they are doing that now, they are going to switch to video that they shoot themselves.

    360 VIRTUAL TOURS FOR REAL ESTATE SALES ARE A DISPOSABLE ADVERTISING PRODUCT FOR A TEMPORARY BUSINESS INVENTORY.

    That’s all they are. If you need to make them more so that you can differentiate yourself from other Realtors and thus obtain a listing, go ahead. Swim with the flat backers, commission cutters, and “professional” Realtors.

    It’s hard to think about what someone else like the seller wants, isn’t it? It’s much easier to concentrate on thinking how good you are because of “marketing,” and “professionalism.”

  • Greg – Your points have been made. No need to say the same thing over. Though I am sure you don’t mean it, your posts tend to come off as slightly combative and condescending. Maybe try adding some emoticons to your sentences to liven things up a bit. 😉

    The topic of Larry’s blog is photography for real estate. While there are often posts that lean more towards real estate marketing (like this one), the bulk of the readership here is looking to improve their technique of taking pictures and creating other visual representations of homes. Thus the emphasis on making our work THE BEST IT CAN BE. If you are satisfied with the quality of your work, and are satisfied with what you get paid for it, that’s great! 🙂

    The bulk of the comments that you have made in this thread concern particular marketing approaches (approaches that tend to only work in a seller’s market I might add) that are not specific to the topic of virtual tours. You can call it what you wish but ALL real estate agents do MARKETING.

    From Websters: Marketing – “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services.” The marketing that agents do could be split in to two general categories: marketing of the PROPERTY for sale to the consumer, and marketing of THEMSELVES to potential clients. Both categories of marketing happen at the same time. Some marketing approaches focus more heavily on one or the other. Call them “flatbackers” or whatever you want but ALL successful real estate professionals engage in self-marketing. It’s called good business practices.

    In a seller’s market where buyers are desperate (or as you say “motivated”), then all one needs to do is follow your instructions: make a “good enough” virtual tour or take some photos, post the ad in every place you can think of, wait. “Motivated buyers shop ANY ad, ANY photos, and ANY place on the internet or elsewhere that they can find”: is the mantra of an agent operating in a seller’s market. There are other blogs where we can discuss real estate market trends.

    Virtual tours and other visual-based approaches used to MARKET A HOME are NOT a disposable advertising product because, by virtue of their use, they end up MARKETING THE AGENT as well. This happens whether the agent wants it to or not. And it is a big deal. As a potential client I want to see if an agent has their act together. I want to see how they walk their talk. In addition to all the other things, the manner in which they market others’ homes shows me that. The virtual tour that they are using to market a home is marketing them as well.

    The bottom line is that most Virtual Tours add little benefit to marketing a home. Real estate agents know this, which is why they don’t use virtual tours often, or only use them upon their clients’ request. Most virtual tour providers only help perpetuate the practice of “flat-backing” by selling their services so cheap. What’s a hundred dollars to get my clients off my back so I can focus on selling their home? Even if it doesn’t help at least it doesn’t hurt (Dawn and Larry have examples of homes selling based entirely on virtual tours).

  • I can also vouch for virtual tours selling homes. One client of mine had a customer see a video tour on his website of a multifamily (he was in Europe). He flew in a week later and bought the place that day. Not only did it sell the property, the agent sold his own listing! In fact, he sold TEN of his own listings last year and credits the video tours 100%. Customers found the tours on HIS website and contacted HIM.

    Video tours create EMOTION. Emotion sells homes. It’s much more engaging usually then still photos or spin around tours. I think its important to offer BOTH the video and good stills, that was the viewer has OPTIONS.

    In regards to the “rolling ship effect” and lighting in video tours…. you need to invest in some sort of a stabilizer. (I use the Steadicam Merlin). They’re not cheap and there is a pretty steep learning curve (and I am STILL curving!), but the result is pretty incredible if you’re doing walk thru type tours. As far as lighting, if you get a decent camcorder (the cheap ones don’t do well in low light) and make sure ALL house lights and lamps are on, it usually is OK, although I do always bring auxilliary lighting just in case, though rarely use it. When the videos are compressed, the video gets darker for some reason, so I ‘lighten’ the video up just a bit during compression, and for the most part that works well.

  • Maybe u all r just computer geeks, but i think virtual tours r a great way 2 sell a home. Video production of a house; give me a break. This is not a Super Bowl commercial, not 1 will spend the money 4 all that. Virtual tours are the perfect merketing niche for real estate, and i must agree that it’s all in the quality of the shot. U can sell a home with a disposeable still camera if the shot is right. As far as the comment about people not having the patience 2 wait for a virtual download, come on give me a break. If i’m making the biggest and most important purchase of my life 4 me and my family; I’ll wait for the download or get a faster connection.

  • Really sorry you guys think talking straight about something is being combative. Please consider that your feelings of upset over my “combativeness” are because you are attached to the notion that the purpose of real estate photography is to make you look good.

    One more time:

    It’s not about making your self look good, it’s about getting the seller what the seller wants as a result of the closing of the seller’s property.

    Regarding the webmaster marketing definition above, you win. Feel better now?

  • http://www.erealtyweb.net/tours/733999/169043/Tourviewer_MarkGanier.html

    The link above is a great example of a nicely done 360 vrt. You don’t just have to spin in a circle you can zoom in and look around a bit, get floor plan information and how it relates to your current prospective while looking around the home. Homes are getting tough to sell and making them stand out in an ever increasing crowd is very critical. I find well done 360vrt can definitely make a home stand out and get it noticed.

  • Ok – It’s now a few months later and I take back what I said about video being easy. It’s not – It’s really hard. I learned this by actually doing it myself – With a Sony HDV FX1, Century wide angle lens, and editing on final cut pro.

    True real estate photographers are picky… and to get professional high quality results using video is a workout, and a load of money. Especially when you find out you need a fluid-head tripod, steadicam, wireless mics, and last but not least, lights. Not to mention editing. Just shooting video raw-dog will result in shaky ameteurish tours.

    Normal realtors may not need or be able to afford all this extra equipment, but I forsee the embarassment when more and more ambitious realtors try to produce video on their own. I see ugly, ugly results. So real estate video as a profession will definitely be on the rise.

    Virtual tours when done properly can produce more consistent results with less errors and a lot less post-production time compared to video. They also require less creativity.

    Imagine sites like wellcomemat.com or yourvideoviews.com going mainstream. Ultimately, video has the potential to be more engaging, entertaining, and can stir real emotion in a prospect… think http://www.turnhere.com

  • Hi Everyone, a colleague forwarded me this blog and I feel I have to comment. I am the founder of a virtual tour company in Northern California. I created a Virtual Walk-Thru technology 5 years ago because video on the web makes no sense to me. The web is about interacting with others and interacting with content. Video is meant for television – something you watch. Video is not meant as something you interact with.

    We do alot of spin tours and a few Virtual Walk-Thru tours – example: http://www.ewalk.com/tour-a.cgi?id=14712

    But, I must admit, the content and technology behind a tour is not as important as how many different places you are able to distribute your tour. Of course, having great photos is very important, as when a buyer finally finds your tour, the home must look like something they want to buy, but getting them to find it (and your listing) is more important.

    We have developed alot of technology for distributing tours as ads and placing them on places like Craigslist, Trulia, Google, Edgeio and Vast. And, of course we get as many distribution agreements as possible with places like realtor.com, homeseekers.com, coldwellbanker.com, etc…

    As for video, I think attaching user created video or even professionally created video to a virtual tour that is distributed to real estate sites makes the most sense. Just creating a video and uploading to YouTube and your website is a waste of time. What we decided to do was allow YouTube videos to be embedded in our tours, so that when someone clicks on a virtual tour from, say, realtor.com, they can view the YouTube video (most serious home buyers won’t visit youtube.com to find a home…) Here is an example of that: http://www.ewalk.com/golyon.cgi?id=222145&page=videos

    So, of course I think virtual tours are important, and I also think photo quality is important, but again, distribution is the key.

  • […] only 8% of the listings I reviewed on our local MLS (Seattle’s east side) had links to tours. Click here for last years details. This year when I looked at a similar number of listings (452) in the same geographical area and […]

  • I did a search for the Steadicam Merlin and google pulled up this blog post- I did find it interested to read and the comments are quite interesting.

    I’m wondering how the housing market has changed and if the ideas are still correct. I’ve looked at doing head shots for realtors but haven’t pursued it (seems pretty boring…). Now with video, it is so much easier to shoot and edit video than ever before- and it’s cheap to shoot! (not initial costs, but variable costs are almost non-existent). It takes a butt load of practice and expertise, but my question: “is there a market for it?”

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