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Observations On 360s In Real Estate Photography

March 28th, 2010

I’ve had several recent conversations with real estate photographers about using 360s to market real estate. Some of the conversations came from asking if pfretour.com will be supporting 360 images. Others are photographers wanting to get into shooting 360s.

First I want to point out that I’m making these observations coming from a background of doing 6 to 8 – 360 views for every listing that my wife and I have had over the last 10 years. During that time I talked to virtually every seller and buyer we did transactions with asking them what they thought about the 360s I did for marketing our listings. So, on balance I probably tend to be overly enthusiastic about using 360 images.

Here are my observations:

  1. To me when I say 360s tours I mean ones like Mario Restrepo’s tour that I’ve featured before. Full spherical 360s and tours that have many spherical 360s that have the capability of being viewed in fullscreen mode. To me this kind of cylindrical 360 is not worth the effort. I don’t consider this a 360 tour.
  2. Shooting these kind of spherical 360s takes a significant amount of practice and some specialized equipment like a panoramic head and a fisheye lens. The 360 parabolic mirrors that are mounted on a camera lens and shoot the whole 360 in one shot are of inferior quality in my experience. Don’t bother with them.
  3. Real spherical, fullscreen 360 tours are very dramatic and do a great job of showing off a upper-end properties.
  4. 360s like Mario’s are time consuming to shoot and to stitch and to show off to best advantage you need to host them yourself like Mario does.
  5. These kind of 360s are time consuming enough to shoot, stitch and host you need to charge many times what you would charge for a normal non-360 shoot. You have to be very careful that you charge enough to cover your time.
  6. I just did a survey of the tours currently being used on the Seattle area NWMLS and wasn’t able to find and any spherical 360s being used on any currently active listings on NWMLS. There were many video tours and a lot of tourfactory.com tours  and tons of Flash slideshows but no real spherical 360s.
  7. According to google search trend results Seattle is second only behind Brisbane, AU in the amount of interest (based on the number of searches for “real estate photography”) in real estate photography. The implication is that Brisbane and Seattle are the most sophisticated, progressive real estate photography markets.
  8. The implication of #6 is that agents are currently not willing to pay the price for good 360 photography and very few real estate photographers are offering them (at least in Seattle, one of the most progressive markets).
  9. In talking to real estate photographers all over the world, it is clear that buyer and seller interest in 360s is very localized. That is, they are popular in some locations and not in others.
  10. Our Buyers and sellers opinions are very mixed on the subject of 360s. High tech oriented sellers and buyers tend to be enthusiastic. About 10% of our listing customers are not impressed. Several sellers told me they make them sick and they plain don’t like them.

Conclusion: I think real estate photographers need to be very careful before they invest in the time and equipment to include 360s as part of their services. Do your market home work and get your pricing high enough to cover your time investment.

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26 Responses to “Observations On 360s In Real Estate Photography”

  • […] 3 votes vote Observations On 360s In Real Estate Photography I’ve had several recent conversations with real estate photographers about using 360s to […]

  • Well….nice post on real estate photography…Which helps….the users…!!!

  • Larry, I do these for fun http://www.stonesdigital.com/360panos.html but know of absolutely no agents here in Rochester that would be willing to pay a reasonable amount for them. I’m looking forward to the challenge of marketing these to Hotels, Bed & Breakfasts, Resorts etc. when I retire. but RE imo is not where it’s at with 360° images. Video will work though..

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  • It’s funny that when agents see a 360 tour they’re invariably impressed that mere mortals can create them, but charging any more than $1.25 for one seems unpalatable. heh. This is in Hershey, PA, though. There aren’t too many real estate photographers here.

    I’ve had a lot more success selling 360s to long-term applications, like hotels and factories.

  • I don’t see much difference between what you call full spherical 360s (with a fish-eye lens), and cylindrical 360s (with a very wide-angle lens) as long as both can be viewed full-screen and as long as the stitching and camera work are top quality. With the “full spherical” 360 yes, you can see the ceiling above the camera and the floor beneath it, but is that good? I find rooms easier to view when the photographer uses a high quality cylindrical 360. Just one opinion. Thanks.

  • @andy – I hear ya, when a Realtor hears anything over $10 for stills they start squirming in their seats around here. I had one tell me they only have a $30 budget for photos and its a $1 million+ listing! I invested in doing 360 vr tours and the only ones I have done were freebies to show what I could do when shooting stills at houses. As soon as a fee of any kind was quoted for them, the lost their sparkle instantly.

    I have been working diligently to improve my RE photo skills, and have moved my price point up to where I am comfortable with the balance of my fee and work involved. However despite even me seeing a marked improvement in my quality, the Realtor remain just as tight with their money lol!

  • Larry, you say you’ve been providing 6-8 spherical 360s for ten years. You say you’re very enthusiastic about them. Obviously you’re not the one paying for these on your listings, you do them for your own listings. The rest of your article would seem to reply that hardly anybody else does them, they’re expensive and time consuming and realtors just aren’t into paying for them.

    So, what I take away from this article is that they’re great if you’re the one doing them for your own listings, but not if you’re a photographer trying to interest realtors into paying you for them. I personally don’t like them, even as well done as the Baja example and I would love to know that they just aren’t a requirement in the average realtors’ mind.

  • @John- Yes, I’ve come to realize they don’t make make sense in all but the very top end of real estate. However, there are a lot of realtors and photographers that are using inferior quality 360s and like them.

  • I’ve been doing 360s for the past 4 years (not with a fish-eye, but with my trusty 10 – 22 – which translates to 16 mm). I got $200 – $225 for each one, and did hundreds of them. But another local photog recently started doing them for $150 and he’s getting the lions share of the business now (I don’t think his quality matches mine, but you know agents). I’ve seen interest in 360s wane over the past year or so. Video tours, interactive floor plans and pan and zoom tours seem to be the hotest tour options in my area at the moment.

  • It is very localized. In Los Angeles there is some small percentage of agents who pay for low-end 360’s on low-end listings but it is quite rare to see a quality listing site decked out with a virtual tour. I think in this area there is a sense that the 360’s are outdated and a bit of a gimmick. They aren’t associated with “quality” so most agents who spend money tend to spend it on quality still photography. This is feedback I get from agents every day – many of whom experimented with 360’s years ago (but didn’t inhale 😉

  • My company has been more successful selling 360 tours as a product along side professional photography, rather than selling professional photography alone. Our customers love the product. I couldn’t agree more with your points above. I think that bad virtual tours gave the industry a bit of a poor reputation over the years…but a good product should sell itself.

  • @ ERIK GRAMMER: I agree with your post for our LA market. 360’s are past. The new era of “360” with the same feel only better is VIDEO. This is the new 360 for RE marketing, video is better for showing higher end properties. Even looking at the 360 example from Mario, which has great photography, leaves me a little dizzy, at full screen.

    Rusty @ MLS Photo Pros dot com

  • We have been doing 360’s for a number of years. The agents love them, but only the younger newer agents see the value of good quality panos.
    Larry I sent you a sample of our tours a while back

    http://www.internetmediasolutions.ca/virtual%20tours.htm

  • My older agents that due high end property hate them and like photos and video much better. A lot of sellers I talk to also hate them. I have one competitor in town doing them for peanuts and he has a couple of younger agents as customers. Too much work and the agents are not willing to pay for your time!

  • I don’t do them simply because agents won’t allocate the funds for them unless they get a $3 million listing (or up). Over four years in this area of florida I’ve had one request for them. However, the last 6 months I’ve been getting requests for video tours which I used to so in Atlanta, but stopped doing when I moved here to florida because there was no interest at that time. Now its perking up.

    I have nothing against 360 tours personally. I’d shoot them if there was money in them (here).

    Michael James

  • For you photographers who are utilizing 360 tours, could you please elaborate on which software, lenses, hosting, and 360 tour company you are using, and if you would recommend them or not?

    As a real estate photographer just starting out, I have been researching adding 360 tours to the capabilities I offer clients, but was confused by the wide array of companies out there (ie. Obeo, CirclePix, TourFactory, HomeViewVideoTours, Voyager 360, etc.) Based solely on what I read on their websites, the one I liked the most was Voyager 360; however they seemed to be charging excessive fees and costs, and I’m not sure I’d want to have such a large investment in what may an area of photography that may not pay off (based on the majority of comments above).

    I am based in the LA area, so Erik and Russell’s comments do give me pause on whether to pursue this in this city.
    Erik, if I understand you correctly, it sounds like real estate agents on the lower end don’t disagree with the idea of 360s, but just don’t want to pay for them, and agents on the upper end, who could more likely afford them, feel that they’re outdated?
    Have you offered video tours to your clients? If so, are they interested in that capability?

    Thanks for any additional tips & info!

  • I’m curious what type of special equipment is needed to do the full spherical tours. What do you use for your 360 images? Right now I am just doing a pan/tilt head with 8-12 photos at 15 degree increments stitched in Panorama Factory, so it’s just an “unrolled” long photo the user can pan around. But the horizontal lines are very curved and isn’t suitable for my portfolio. I only do it because agents like it. I have to do significant Photoshop retouching to take the horizontal bow out of floors and ceilings.

    I’d love to know how your 360 images are taken and displayed.

  • @luke: not sure I could say definitively that 360’s are a thing of the past – just anecdotal experience w my client list. Ultimately agents are looking for something that draws traffic (it’s s numbers game so the more prospective buyers that visit the house, the better the chance for sale). if you can produce 360’s that serve this purpose than you will be busy 😉

  • In my area, 360s are definitely out. No one has the $$ to pay for them anymore. I can sympathcize with the agents, especially since the high-end listings aren’t selling and sellers are jumping from agent to agent, which leaves the agent holding the bill and no commission.

    I’ve changed my format to panoramic slide show using Adobe Elements with great results. Both in product and in retaining and growing my client base. Prefer Elements for stitching, mostly that it’s quick and easy (and time IS money). I also adjusted my pricing, based on sq.ft. My tours now range from $75-$400. I’d love some feedback on them. http://www.go2reassistant.com/virtualtours.htm

  • In the Denver market there is a big call for virtual tours – but, that can just mean a company that just hosts photos on a platform that can link to the web as a virtual tour….However, they are just still shots with minimal movement-kind of cheating as far as I am concerned. To the big company here, Obeo that does real panoramic 360s.

    I have been doing, what I would call real virtual tours for 5 years and I have found that I get much better results doing partial panoramics. They are less distorted (especially for long narrow spaces). I shoot vertically to get more floor and ceiling into the shot, giving a better sense of the space. I also do include wide angle still shots that move ala “Ken Burns Effect” I use these particularly for the smaller rooms.

    My goal is to walk the viewer through the home, giving them the best idea of the space they will see if they visit the home.

    Here is a sample of a recent tour. http://www.visualtour.com/show.asp?t=2131420&prt=10003

    I have been using Visual Tour for this whole time, though I have an old realtor’s account. Their prices are high for photographers unless you can manage doing 20 tours a month. I am currently seriously trying to move toward using Tour Buzz and am almost ready for the conversion because I can give my clients branded tours.

    As far as pricing…. It’s basically, $155-$175 for up to a 2500 sq ft home – it includes tour, links to mls (plus zillow, trulia etc) and realtor.com and 15 photos sized for the mls. Over 2500 sq ft homes I charge $.04 a finished square foot. This seems to be the going rate in Denver.

  • Hello Everyone,

    I shot the virtual tour that is the subject for this discussion.

    The question at hand is should you offer 360° virtual tours in addition to still real estate photography?

    I would have to answer that a real estate photographer should offer what they can produce at a very high quality and still have a marketable price.

    Very few of us can offer every service out there that accompanies RE photography such as 360° panoramas, video property tours, flash slide shows, floor plans, single property websites, flyers, etc. However you should offer add-ons when you can produce them of a very high quality at a competitive price.

    360° panoramas do take me extra time. But I am well practiced, so I can offer them at an affordable price. At first, it took me forever to shoot and process 360° panoramas, but I still charged a competitive rate, because in essence I was learning and I wanted that niche available with my offerings. Not everyone wants to pay for 360° virtual tours, but I can convert some by showing them quality.

    What I don’t recommend is offering anything of poor or mediocre quality, or high quality services that are unaffordable. Then you will spend too much time always trying to get new clients versus just keeping your old clients, and you will loose out on referrals, which is your best source of new business.

    It is sad that 360° virtual tours today are looked upon as being undesirable because of the poor quality delivered in the past. But if you are committed to offering high quality 360° real estate virtual tours, then I am sure you will find a market for it, even in LA where it appears to be a thing of the past.

    Like Larry, we use 360° panoramas for our listings at http://www.bajaopenhouse.com/. I shoot and I sell. 360° virtual tours are a listing tool, but it also brings us buyers. Buyers want to work with agents and brokers who are bringing high quality information to the market place. So 360° panoramas and RE photography help us on both sides of the transaction.

    As a real estate photography, let the agent paying the bill know that the quality you are offering will also help them on both sides of the transaction. This may get them to say yes to high quality services you are offering.

  • Notice: 360’s are officially dead for real estate photography. The bad ones look cheesy, and the good ones take too long to load if you want any kind of high resolution quality to look at. Most importantly, a good one is expensive if you properly factor in all of the time, experience, equiptment and software required to do them, and as well all know most realtors are penny wise, and pound foolish, and won’t pay for 360s. I did full spherical 360s with my 5D Mark II along with a Nodal Ninja head, Sigma 8mm lens and got fantastic results with it, but ended up selling the 360 gear because NOBODY wanted it. I used it a maximum of 2 or 3 times in 3 years, and that’s it. I shoot between 4 and 10 real estate shoots per week in a large US metro area, with tons of high end homes.

    If you are thinking about getting into 360s for real estate, think again. Don’t waste your time, or your money. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Photography is all you need.

  • Jim, that may be true for the area in which you live but not so for me. I’ve shot forty-six tours just in the past four and a half weeks. I would much prefer to shoot only stills but the realtors around here really like partial panoramas and even 360s. It’s all about where you live and of course, the market.

  • 360 is not dead by far!

    You need to know how fast you can shoot and process.
    And make a good price for that.

    I can do one panoramic image 3 bracket HDR in one hour including processing.
    Using the 5D mkII with a 8mm like you did would go faster. A 8mm on a 5DmkII is a huge pixelwaste. 21mpix camera
    Your panorama will be around 7000×3500 pix.
    On a 50d for example your image size wil be around 9000×4500 15mpix camera!!

    Loading is a problem when you use the wrong software.
    The software selected is most of the time a program that needs a little knowledge on editting a tour.
    But fails on many other grounds.

    Look at programs like,
    flashpanoramas.com
    krpano.com
    and also pano2vr.com

    They are not that simple to use but rock in quality. and you can use video, photo’s pdf, sound and a lot more.

    You can check mpst players on this website.
    http://www.panoramaphotographer.com/comparisons/

    Here is a tour I created a while back:
    http://kandiefoto.nl/panorama/tour2/
    No preloading is used here but is something that can be added.

    I did this shoot in under 3 hours. Editting in 5 hours.
    I already made a template for the tour and added it in 1 hour.
    So 9 hours of work to build this whole tour (excluding travel time)

    programs used.
    PTgui, $ 180.-
    Photoshop, something most of us already use or lightroom wich is also usefoull.
    Flashpanoramas, around $ 50.-

    Equipment.
    Canon 50D
    Sigma 8mm F4
    Nodal ninja 3 MKII
    Nodal ninja EZ leveler
    gitzo tripod

    My guess Video will not make it too.
    It is a is like pictures. People can only look and not actively look around.
    Slowly people will learn how a panorama works. Google streetview will help us with that for sure.
    google is also starting to use 360 in other bussiness with shopview (not active yet as far as I know).

  • Very interesting posts. I photograph real estate and architecture.
    Curious as to why you don’t just use Photoshop (I use CS3) to merge the photographs to a panorama?
    Whats the benefit of PTGui?
    Thanks
    Ralph

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