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The New TourFactory Tour Design

December 9th, 2008

I noticed that TourFactory has a new tour design. There are several things about this design that I really like:

  1. The huge photo size gives an opportunity to show off great photographs. The area for photos in this design is 1235 x 680 and the tour itself is about 1343 x 967. I’ve always felt large photos are a huge plus but this size image rises to a new level.
  2. I like the Ken Burns effect. Even though we all know these are stills, to the non-tech savvy viewer this feels like video. In this day an age when video tours are in, video can be a plus.
  3. The navigation is simple, intuitive and elegant. Everything you need and nothing you don’t. This design has the two essential tour navigation requirements: take control if you want but automatic if you do nothing.
  4. All the the stuff like that many agents want like, schools, e-mail, property info, maps etc. is there but for the most part discretely hidden along the left on a fly-out menu.

In short, this is a masterful design. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is a product that real estate photographers can easily build into there product offering. I think they are setup to sell directly to agents.

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20 Responses to “The New TourFactory Tour Design”

  • I’m going to have to disagree on this one, and I’m not targeting that website in particular. I may also be biased as I work in real estate marketing and offer website services.

    I think it’s time for realtors (and photographers) to move away from pre built display packages and to get a full featured website instead.

    Those packages may seem neat for someone who has absolutely no clue how to make a website, but paying $20 a month for pictures fading into another and pans doesn’t seem like a good investment to me.

    Sound and music on the internet is usually to be avoided. I don’t want to get into details but let’s just say most people don’t expect it and it’s not always welcome either.

    You should also stay away from any virtual tour that requires the client to download a plug-in. This website doesn’t seem to be plagued by that issue.

    People who look at houses online want to get to the content fast. Elevator music and slow panning pictures for five minutes is not a good sales pitch.

    The website interface might be neat and clean, but it doesn’t reflect the agent’s image at all. If the agent is trying to brand himself, he is better off having his own website.

    The neighborhood info also seems to link to an external website which doesn’t look very professional to me.

    Once clients are on an agent’s website, you want to keep them there. Sending them to another website to get the photos and on yet a third one to get the neighborhood info is not something I would suggest to my clients.

    Getting your own website is cheap nowadays and it does a lot more for your image and business.

  • I tend to agree with Laurent. The Tour Factory seems to be very generic. If there’s any excitement generated, it’s the from the initial flash template but it seems to just go on and on and the glitz wears off fast, becoming, I dare say blink blink eee ish.

    I do like the large images and am kind of borderline on the Ken Burns affect and music. (I am feeling pressure from all of the other tours out there that I should also have music).

    I have some down time over the holidays and this is the time that I use every year to update my tour template for the new year – come out looking fresh and new.

    So I’d love to hear what other real estate photographers think of template designs for their images, more importantly it would be good to hear from the home shopper as to what they like when shopping for a house online – also must not forget, the listing agent needs to impress their client, so it is good to also hear what home owners like as well.

    Happy Holidays,
    Cheers, Aaron

  • Laurant- On many of your points I agree. I am attracted most by the photo-size.

    I hate music on tour but there’s a percentage of agents that want it so for me as long as there’s an easy to find off button I don’t complain.

    Yea, I also hate monthly charging for tours. Their prices are too high unless you use all their bundled services.

    What plugin? To me Flash is ubiquitous enough that it’s the only plugin that you can depend on everyone having.

  • I agree with the other posters that the best part of this upgrade is photo size. At TourBuzz, we’ve had Hi-Res photography for 2 years. Our stills are 1500×1000, and our pans are 8 Megapixels. The Ken Burns effect is also a great way for people to feel like they’re watching video without the expense of producing it. We’ve had the Ken Burns effect for about a year now as well.

    I also agree about music; we discourage people from using it, but clients typically demand it, so what can you do?

    I didn’t realize until just now how expensive their tours are, $50 per tour! TourBuzz has been $12-15 per tour since our inception. TourBuzz is made for professional photographers, though, and is not aimed at agents.

    All in all, though, I think now that other players in the industry are slowly improving the quality of their tours that it’s actually good for everyone in the long-term. Today only about 5-10% of listings have professionally shot virtual tours, and I think part of that is still due to the negative stigma of poor quality from the IPIX days and other low-quality tours from previous years. I hope over the next few years to see the market share of both DIY high-quality and professional tours increase as people realize that a good tour is the most affordable marketing tool you can use to sell a house.

  • The new size and overall presentation is a definite upgrade for TourFactory but it overlooks one key factor: the quality of the photos.
    This format practically demands high quality professional photographs
    yet the majority of their tours in my area are poor – and most agents
    seem content with this. I would say a bad photo large is almost worse than a bad photo small.

  • The point I’m trying to make is that virtual tours are good, but they have to be fully integrated with the agent or photographer’s website.

    Having your own .com is cheap and opens up many possibilities. It will allow you to talk about your services, get new leads, host virtual tours branded with your image and much more. Once the website is paid for, you can add as much content as you want without paying extras.

    It is also the first step to having a real Internet marketing strategy which is the future for real estate. People don’t look at houses in newspapers anymore, they look online.

    If clients are impressed with music and panning photos, remind them of their own Internet surfing habits. When is the last time they stayed to watch the whole three minutes flash intro of a website without clicking that “slip intro” link?

    There is a reason most TV commercials are under thirty seconds. People have a short attention span, especially online.

    If you’re currently using virtual tour services on a regular basis, you can probably have your own website for the same price.

    As someone else pointed out, the big photos look good because they are high quality photographs. Unfortunately, if this service is aimed directly at agents, they usually don’t take very good pictures.

    I also don’t think it’s a good idea to have pictures bigger than most people’s resolution. People here might use a 1600 resolution but the average customer doesn’t. In my opinion, having to pan to see a whole photo seems like an annoyance when you’re trying to browse through pictures quickly.

    I am sorry if this is coming off as a rant, I appreciate your blog a lot but I just think it’s time to move away from pre packaged virtual tours.

    Branding and Internet marketing will be very important in the future, and you just can’t do either properly if you don’t have your own website.

    Larry: I agree with you about flash, I consider it standard as well. What I meant is that other tours require you to download external java plugins sometimes. This one doesn’t, and it’s a good thing!

  • There is another point to be made. Whether or not this is a useful product depends on my ability to sell it to a realtor at a profit. I know some who hate tours and some who love them.

    I don’t get too philisophical about this stuff. As far as I’m concerned it’s another arrow in my marketing quiver.

    Tour Factory’s offering has a great high-end look that will be easy to promote to receptive agents. The rest of the argument means little.

  • First off, I really appreciate this post. Having the opportunity to hear the responses to our work is invaluable for setting future direction.

    It is fascinating to me how closely the points that are being debated here parallel our internal discussion as we developed the design. The one thing we all agreed on – large photos are what people want.

    Our target market is agents that are looking for complete solutions that are fast and easy. It may be slightly cheaper to build your own custom site to feature a listing… but I ask agents all of the time… Do you want to save $20… Or sell the home 30 days faster?

    Agents that run their business as a business, rather than a hobby, know that their time is best spent networking and marketing. In my experience, the most talented agents are extroverts that are not interested in playing on a computer for very long. Our mission is to help agents do what they do best – get out and put deals together.

    It is important not to underestimate the value of our syndication relationships. Not only do we provide a good looking presentation of the home, but we also get it linked up on sites that people use to shop for homes.

    To mitigate the diversity problem, our other layouts offer color options. Down the road, we hope to offer several additional layout options to help agents further differentiate themselves.

    We actually first introduced a viewer that used the Ken Burns effect two years ago – people tend to like it. Personally, I’m with you fellers – I’d rather drive the site myself. Although I must say that the Ken Burns effect was the only way to go when we rolled out our video tour last year.

    BTW, Allen – we have a program where we refer work to local photographers. If you’re already promoting us to your agents, we have some tools that may make your job easier and more profitable. If interested, hit the tiny link at the bottom of our home page titled “Join Our Team”.

    Herb Dierks, CEO
    TourFactory.com

  • Laurant – I’m no stranger to website hosting. I do my own and for a couple of clients. However, I don’t do my own tour hosting. There is too much involved with this process I’m unwilling to devote time to manage. I rather spend it “doing” photography. Paying up to $12/tour that never expires is OK with me when its simple to set up each tour with unlimited scenes, Ken Burns effect (yes, I’m a fan of this), individual scene pan controls (up/down, right or left, and speed), large full screen format, links with and without agent branding that include all the appropriate links to their stuff, lists of all present and past tours accessible via agent’s name & host’s url, and the list goes on and on. I use uBuildTours.com and think highly of their tech support. They have a good photographer account setup to manage all your clients.

  • I’m glad to hear everyone’s opinion on this. I think it’s an important topic and it’s good to see how others feel about it.

    I’m not saying agents should make their own website. As you said most of them are busy selling houses (or should be) and would rather not spend hours learning how to fade images into another and creating virtual tours.

    What I’m saying is that they should work with people offer complete websites and Internet solutions for real estate agents.

    Virtual tours are only a small part of what the Internet has to offer and I think it’s time to start exploring all the other options and possibilities that come with it.

    “Do you want to save $20… Or sell the home 30 days faster?”
    To that question I would answer, do you want to save $20 or get 20% more quality leads and STILL sell the home 30 days faster.

    I actually wouldn’t say that because it’s not the kind of sales pitch I like giving but you get the idea.

  • Herb,

    I don’t like it I love it. I’m the marketing director for the largest homebuilder in Utah and we have 40 decorated models–I’d love to see them all presented this way (our tour provider is a friend and he would likely agree with Laurent so I’m not sure how I’m going to swing this).

    Web designers think different than users–they think they want things that they really don’t want or don’t care about.

    There are two fantastic elements that are important to USERS (prospects).

    First and most important, it’s fast and easy.

    The easy: I can leave my mouse in place and the thumbnails scroll into place. Many of you might think that sounds lazy and it is…and that’s exactly what web users want.

    The fast: When I click on these pictures, the photo appears immediately and turns off the Ken Burns effect. Nothing is more frustrating than a photo that fades in slowly. I leave sites that don’t give me what I want IMMEDIATELY when I want it.

    Second: It’s very nice to look at –obviously made for homes that you want to show off, not entry level in my opinion. The critical element is that the BEAUTY of the site does not get in the way of the most important element: fast and easy.

    I disagree with all of you on the Ken Burns effect. I don’t think you need it because prospects want it, you need it because owners of the homes want it. I think most prospects want to get virtually in and then out in an efficient manner (Laurent pointed this out and I fully agree with him).

    Here, they’ve done a good job pleasing both the owner and the prospect–you get the Ken Burns effect to make the homesellers happy but again, this effect does not supersede or get in the way of the critical element, fast and easy.

    When I clicked on the tour, my sound was off. (thank goodness–elevator music being a negative is another point on which I agree with Lauren–homesellers want it, prospects don’t–unfortunately, no way around it)

    Overall, outstanding!

  • As a Realtor and real estate photographer, I use Distinctivehometours.com for my tours. They offer a full screen photo size and Ken Burns effect for $40 a tour. Even though it is higher than some other providers, I feel it is definitely worth it. The presentation is elegant, their tours are easy to build and their customer service is excellent.

  • Nobody’s talking about the warped fisheye images. How do people find this acceptable? Don’t people ask if the walls are really that curved? How do you play pool on that pool table?

    I don’t mean to be so critical, but to me, those images don’t show the property properly. Can these tours show real 360º tours?

  • The only thing I dont like with tourfactory is the fact there is no true 3D 360 pan viewer. I recently switched to tourfactory as my provider and this is really pissing my clients off!

    I personally dont like shooting pans but my clients like them and there use to seeing them in a true 3D mode. I really hope to see this added ASAP!

  • What digs under my skin is the way that services like Tourfactory and OBEO and Circlejerx operate. Yeah its great that they have the resources to build fancy viewers but has anyone realized why thats possible? I can tell you why. They hire inexperienced photographers and pay them dirt low rates and make a huge markup for not really doing much. I understand companies like that have invested a lot in designing and programming their websites and applications, but has it ever occured to them that if they lowered their prices and raised the rates they pay their photographers that they would be associated with a better quality product?

    Does anyone know what they pay? I know from experience that OBEO charges 100 dollars for their slideshow tour and pays 25 dollars to the photographer. They’re making 75% and the most they did was give the photographer a login to the system. Tourfactory allows photographers to set their own rates but they encourage photographers to not go over 65 dollars, that way they can keep their tours at 140 in this area and make 75 dollars off the photographers’ work. In fact, they keep a 15 dollar “scheduling” fee over what the photographers’ charge even if the agent never went through the system to make the order and everything was set up by the photographer. Not to mention their yearly membership is actually higher by 60 cents than paying the monthly membership every 30 days (small amount I know but still weird). 12 photos and a weakly branded virtual tour for 50 bucks, not really worth it.

    Then you have the bargain basement king, Circle pix. They go into offices, find out what agents are paying for virtual tours and underbid them by 20% if they can get the office to guarantee 20-40 tours per month. Then they hire “no experience needed” (from one of their wanted listings on craiglist) photographers and pay them 20-30 dollars to do all the work.

    How can a photographer pay car payments, buy health insurance, replace worn out camera/flash equipment, and expect to have anything left for personal advancement after making 10-20 dollars and hour. It would be much easier, and less expensive figuring in expenses, for a person to just go get a job at the local auto parts store for 10 dollars an hour.

    I think the software company should be separated from the photographers, like what Tourbuzz and some of the others smaller companies have done. Its my opinion that it would be much better for a photographer to charge what he feels he should charge and not what is being forced on him by his boss at the software company making 75% of the price of the tour. I’m sick of companies like OBEO and Circlepix and the rest like them coming in with their inferior quality photos and inferior quality branding options and lowering the value of quality photographer. All I hear from people is that they could get tours for 90 bucks from Circlepix. They go to my website and see my samples and know that my photos are better quality but much of the time I end up having to give them a free tour or a 2 for 1 just to convince them to hire me. Once I get the first one out of them they stay loyal, but before I get them on board their minds are polluted by the walmart philosphy that companies like circle pix blah blah have created.

    Wow, talk about a rant.

  • Larry, and all

    As a recent new architectural/real estate photographer I feel I have the equipment isues under control now thanks to your columns and readers, but am still evaluating tour hosting.

    Some of the largest have a full packet of features, but small, poor photographs, others seem to be directed at agents. I was formerly a broker in New England, and believe an agent should be listing, selling and marketing and not spending time in site photography and Photoshop sessions.

    Looking at tourbuz, justsnooping (why that name?) realbiz360,
    et all. What say you and your readers; I feel I am openig Pandora’s Box…

    Fred
    Lowcountry Panorama
    fred@netbusiness.com

  • Well, that’s why I’ve found it very difficult to compete in the residential market. Many agents are not willing to pay a fair price for the work. They seem to be fine with poor quality photography for some reason. They just don’t value a photographer’s service.

    So what I’ve done (and I’ve not done this for residential real estate — just commercial) is offer more than just virtual tour services. I offer complete marketing services including website design, email marketing and other things. Therefore the photography is just one thing out of many things that I offer. I can’t survive on selling just photography.

  • This new look is very much like the other companies and later on that have been providing the full screen virtual tours for a while now like justsnooping.com and later realbiz360.com. Keeping up with the Jones’s should not be big news, but for TourFactory, I guess that’s all they got.

  • I strongly recommend that you turn the No Follow off in your comment section.

    I’ll watch Google Webmaster Tools, and if the links don’t show up after a couple of weeks — I won’t go back to that blog again.

    Another suggestion: you should have a Top Commentator widget installed.

    Do Follow and Top Commentator will ensure that you have a successful blog with lots of readers!

  • Bump.

    I thought it might be interesting to resurrect this and see where we are today, a little over a year later. Despite all the things that people decry above about TourFactory and other mass-market tour/photography providers, these companies have come to dominate even very high end markets. Annoying music, out-of focus and poorly lit photos, inconvenient site navigation and slow loading times, and realtors are all over it. Why? Is it because that, although they are using professional photography, they still don’t really get it; that they are not really using professional photography because they believe in it but because someone told them that it is just something they need to do or they are just reacting to their competitors’ use of these services? I don’t think it is necessarily about cost either. I would guess that you could offer a lot of realtors the best photography in the world for the same rates as the mass-market tour providers and they wouldn’t go for it. They don’t want to have to actually think about it. They just want to call up a brand they recognize and get everything ordered at once. So, I wonder if Fred is wrong about separating the photography from the tour provider. In fact, Obeo and Tourfactory will sell their tour templates independently of their photography, but how many realtors actually just buy the template and hire their own photographers? And, there are other tour-template providers which offer the same services, similar pricing, and a superior presentation to Obeo/TourFactory, yet how many realtors actually go for this?

    As people here have mentioned repeatedly, the number of realtors who really take marketing seriously is very small, and these realtors do not use the mass-market tour providers.