Do Real Estate Photographers Need To Provide Tours?

September 21st, 2015

TourBuzzAlan asked the following question a couple of days ago:

I’m new to real estate photography and I’ve been practicing my tail off for about 3 months, 4-6 hours a day. I’m now learning that many realtors want a virtual tour. I think this is a bit antiquated when we now have beautiful video available. Personal feelings aside, what are some of the professionals using, how is it set up and what are the typical costs associated with it? Is this something I really need to offer?

Yes, Realtors in many markets expect tours. It’s a form of media that has been sold to them for many years that does their marketing job because it frequently includes stills, video, 360s, links to google maps/street-view, links to school information sites and typically has agent branding. Frequently what you’ll find is that there are large nationwide tour companies operating in your area that are selling agent tours and photography shoots bundled together. So to compete with the tour companies, you may need to deliver a product that looks as good as the tour companies. Not all real estate photographers choose to do tours but if you are just starting out, you may need to, just to compete.

A very popular tour product designed for independent real estate photographers is tourbuzz.net. There are others, but tourbuzz.net is very popular because for $12 a tour you can bundle a tour with your photo shoot that has all the features (and more) that the big tour companies have. Or you can sell the tour as an add-on product to your shoot. Tourbuzz.net even has a photo delivery feature built into the tour.

If you need to compete with tour companies in your area I recommend that you raise your price $12 a shoot and just bundle a tourbuzz.net tour with your shoot. This immediately makes you look as good as the tour company!

Sure, real video can be far better than a simple tour of stills. However, real video 10x harder to do well than a set of still photos and you must charge more (because of the added time and equipment investment). Tours can be done for all properties but since you need to charge more for video it’s a product for an entirely different set of clients. Most video is shot for upper-end listings where the client is willing to spend much more on marketing the listing.

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15 Responses to “Do Real Estate Photographers Need To Provide Tours?”

  • I find virtual tours be be a place where I can use more creativity.
    Rather than simply paying for a service such as “Tourbuzz”, and sending a bunch of images to them, I use Microsoft Movie Maker. This PC based software is free.

    This software gives me control to “walk” the viewer through the home. It also allows me to zoom in & out from all angles, and pan up or down. I use these controls to bring the viewer into another area (such as zooming into a stairway to bring the viewer to the second level)
    Finally, I get to pick the royalty free music that fits best with the style of the listing.
    I also have control over how long the image is on screen and can add text in too many ways to list.

    I can upload the final tour to Youtube or others, or I can send the MP4 tour to the customer so they can upload it. (I only have one customer who chooses this)

    The down side?
    There’s no way to track who is watching it or how many times it’s viewed (which I understand Tourbuzz does)

  • Larry’s suggestion of raising your prices $12 and creating a virtual tour on http://www.tourbuzz.com for $12 is not a bad idea. I suggest you raise your prices $20-$40 and include a $12 (COGS) tour from tourbuzz.com. Might as well mark it up and charge for the extra time it takes to produce the tour.

  • @Beau can you clarify the acronym (COGS)?

  • COGS (Accounting term, I’m fairly certain…Cost of Goods Sold).

    I use tour buzz and I swear buy them.

    Been using the product now for about a year and Paul and his staff at Tour buzz deliver unbelievable service. Reply to email, phone calls – you name it. Tour buzz is always tweaking their product too. About a dozen templates to pick from, over 50 royalty free music, pan features, flash imagery, voice over narration – you can even do a little HTML if you are proficient enough to interface with tour buzz. In fact, I created 12 customized camera icons with a “spray” pattern emanating from the camera lens noting the angle the photo was taking from. I did this because I offer floor plans with my photo service and I can upload the floor plans along with my photos and lay the camera icons on top of the floor plan so that a viewer can not only see the photo, but the perspective or “angle” the photo was taken from. All a buyer has to do is hover their mouse over the camera icon to view the image. Anyway, tour buzz offers their own camera or directional arrows too. My point is, they uploaded these customized camera icons I created onto my account – no charge. Automated flyer down loads and two additional areas to create customized tab links – I can go on and on. Paul and his staff have an unbelievable product. $12 a pop, why won’t you use them? Oh yea, you post to realtor.com on behalf of the agent too…one mouse click and the tour is loaded to realtor.com. You can even load to youtube from tour buzz, for a small fee.

    But your question was: “I think this is a bit antiquated when we now have beautiful video available. Personal feelings aside, what are some of the professionals using, how is it set up and what are the typical costs associated with it? Is this something I really need to offer?”

    I don’t think it is antiquated. Stills have been around for a long time and I think they will be here to stay. Just hone in on your craft and shoot for near perfection with every photo – great lighting and perfect exposure. Create drama with your stills.

    Yea, video is sweet. But, can you afford it? Do you have the time? Do you have the expertise and equipment? Can you serve it up? Will your market support it? Other cats doing it better than what you can do?

    My 2 cents, but if you are starting off – and sounds like you are – learn to walk before your run. Do the tour thing 1st and take exceptional photos. Then if you think your learning curve for RE photos has apexed, then dive into video work.

    You also posted that realtors want virtual tours. Sounds like you need to listen to them if you want to shoot for them. Give the customers what they are looking for. Antiquated or not, if agents in your area want them, then it sounds like you have no choice but to offer it. And if you are going to offer VT, then tourbuzz is the go-to server.

  • I also have been using Tourbuzz for years and include it with the price. Don’t want the tour…sure, no problem but no price reduction either which has never been an issue as they tell me to skip the tour ‘for this one.’ What I particularly like about Tourbuzz is the inclusion of video clips as I stand out among all others providing tours. Limit it to natural moving scenes – community gate, front door opening, or pool/fountain features. May have up to 3 clips on a timeline sequence – landscaping to door focus pull, door opening, interior scene – and makes a good transition from exterior to interior transition with the overall tour storyboard. It also has given me practice and skill development with video, where now about ready to offer “true” video…not “stills to an mp4 file” video. It will not be “included” and cost will definitely be an issue so the tour remains in my back pocket as an alternative.

    Speaking of standing out (and slightly evil streak, passively shaming others not providing) I intended to have my first video on a personal listing on a $190k 1400sqft vacant home. No one would have a cinematic video with voiceover on that! Unfortunately, getting use to a new camera, shooting in S-Log 2, the interiors just didn’t turn out, so used a Tourbuzz tour to list it. Went back Sunday and experimented with various video profiles but too busy yesterday to process. Even if the home sells this week, could still use the video for portfolio reference and during listing appointments. When better, have ideas to develop portfolio with higher end properties, but need the workflow experience first.

  • Touebuzz is a great site, it’s helped me tremendously. A little while back I wondered about still providing VT’s to my clients, I knew that my competition wasn’t providing them so I was a little reluctant to stop providing them myself – then the new LR was released, the new panorama option solved my problem. Each year Realtor.com publishes a list of What Buyers Like when searching for properties, Stills continue to be no. 1 in their Likes. VT’s were further down the list.
    With the new LR I’m able to still provide my stills and add a twist to the VT’s my clients always expected. We are a nation of “I want it Now”, so instead of a full 360′ or even a 180′ that take up several several moments of a persons life, I began shooting short pans, just a couple or few horizontal pics to show off an area and not a whole room, that’s what my stills are for. I still will shoot a ful VT if my agent wants but everyone seems to like my short pans. I’ve found this saves me lots of time in processing, no more having to send pics to another app to stitch and then bring them back into LR. I can do it all without leaving LR. It lets me provide a Wider pic than my already wide picture and agents like that.

    Im sure this is no great revelation to many, but it did solve a problem, helps me add something others in my area aren’t doing, as far as I know. Several of my agents appreciate my efforts, while others just like what I provide.

  • I tried several of them. Real Tour Vision. Tourbuzz and I just took a look at PFRE Virtual tour… Tourbuzz is the most cost effective and will kick out a fairly nice Video Tour version all for under 20.00.

  • NEED to provide? No. Should we provide? Yes, if you want to be a premium vendor. I think ultimately it depends on your clients. My clients spend a lot of money on staging, photography and marketing, and I need to invest in the work in the same way they do. The homes I shoot are usually in the $1.5M to $3M range, so this makes sense for my business.

    I was charging for the tours… and now I’m including them. I was offering them as an additional option at the rate of $40 and $60 with a vanity URL. They were well received and occasionally added on to requested services. I’ve decided to drop my lowest price point off of my offerings to reduce or eliminate the number of condos/small homes that I do. Now that my starting price point is higher, I also wanted to create an added value for my clients. So now, I’ll be adding them to every order. Once the agent is setup in the system, there is little work involved on my end and the agent can manage of the details on their own. (Setting open house dates, adding photo descriptions, etc.)

    Why are they important? For me, this is also a TON of additional SEO. When you search for an address, my tours are often populating in Google search above the Redfin or Estately listings. I’m receiving new clients because they are finding the tours online – and that’s where my branding comes in! Other points…

    1. This is added value for the client. They don’t need to pay extra. (This gives me leverage over competitors who don’t offer them or don’t make them automatic.)
    2. My tour company also delivers the web and print size images so I’ll be delivering images this way instead of Pixieset. (Which I still love… but now the service is a little more automated.)
    3. Because the tours will stay online, the SEO is built-in when someone searches for the address. This can create future listings back to the listing agent from neighbors in the area. (“Hey can you market my home the way you did for the house on Via Nogales?”)
    4. This creates more content for my own site and my own SEO. I added the CNAME of tours.danatphotography.com along with clients.danatphotography.com and the agent logs into their listings at tours.danatphotography.com

    My personal choice for tour company is VeewMe at $14 per tour. The tours are white-labeled, so my branding is attached instead of saying the tour company name. (Non white label is $12 like TourBuzz). I’ve tried Tourbuzz, Primo Listing and VeewMe. The owner of Primo Listing is very responsive and willing to tailor the product to our needs as photographers, but I just feel like the back end of VeewMe is more intuitive and user-friendly and a little more modern than TB and Primo. I’m personally adding the vanity URL through my GoDaddy account for a 12-month period and then masking the URL.

  • @RobertMoreno – I use tourbuzz as a fill-in for clients who love moving photos and music and I have also found them to be very responsive to contact. Unfortunately they don’t actually do anything after their response. I have been requesting a specific and very simple solution to their nearly invisible floorplan link (hidden middle right of the page when not expanded) and for over a year have been getting the “we’re working on it” response. I realize I only do a small portion of my sites through them (100’s versus the 1,000’s I actually have live) but as someone who hand codes sites as well I’ve been very disappointed in their inability to help me solve this simple problem. I have even offered to create the graphics files they would need and still no response. I have never been rude or short with them and would love to know how you actually got them to do anything?
    Many thanks,
    Erik

  • I guess I am the dissenting voice here. I think (and so do the clients I work with) slideshow tours are ultimately a waste of the online viewers time. When people look online for property, they first see the pictures, then if they are further interested, they click the virtual tour to hopefully see something different – another perspective of the home! Seeing the same pictures put to music provides nothing for them. At this point in time, virtual tours need to be an enhancing experience, either through real video or a 3d tour.

    I understand if you are just starting out, video is not something you can offer right away. It takes a lot of practice to master and is also very costly (2-3x photo equipment cost). So you might need to offer slideshow tours to compete in the meantime.

    With that said, I don’t offer slideshow tours at all because my clients come to me for the whole package – pictures, video, & custom single property website. What I offer and create for them makes them look cutting edge! They tell me all the time that it was my ‘tour’ that won them a listing over the other agents that just offer a slideshow tour.

    It’s just a matter of time until all homeowners realize a slideshow tour is the cheap way out for the agent!

  • Matt, I agree 100% .. I think I took some flack on a thread the other day for a similar post. They’ve already seen the pics on the MLS most likely. what good is a slide show with some ken burns effects using the same photos? not to mention,slideshows (that are not turned into a youtube clip) have zero SEO value. and zero ROI. If a search engine can not find them, how will a buyer?

    Our clients understand this and we do not offer slideshows accordingly. When our clients go to a listing presentation and show their potential seller our HD video walkthru tours and photos that the agent offers as part of the marketing plan, it tilts the odds in their favor that they will get the listing…we hear this all the time. #1 they’ve just distinguished themselves from 99% of all other agents. #2 the seller learned that they will get more eyeballs on their listing. this is a fact.

    So, should all RE photographers offer Video? Definitely, if they have the time and desire to learn it … or maybe partner up with someone in your area.

  • All good comments. If I may..I also have a question for those doing tours. Is a virtual tour merely considered a grouping of the still shot images put together by a company such as Tourbuzz or is it a separate and standalone walk through video of the listed home? For those that do this regularly – are you using a video camera with stabilizer or your regular DSLR rig? Thanks!

  • @ Matt and John: You fellas are spot on with the value of video work and garnering more SEOs. I have no beef with that! And yes, the slide show is a bit of a re-hash of the mls photos. Yes, I agree. I think where the other value added benefit that might be overlooked is the presentation of the photos and how they are served up. Here in MA, the MLS photo quality is lame. REPs hands are tied. We can’t fix this. In addition, the size of photo that appears on the MLS is no larger than maybe a 2×3. Combine the lame size with how the quality of photo is served up, and results are just so-so. The benefit with a tour (as in tour buzz) is that photos are of a significantly higher quality when served up over the WEB, branding for the agent, being able to add more photos than the 30 offered here in MA MLS, adding some small video clips, printable flyer, school tab, neighborhood tab, gallery tab, map tab, etc. Again, just serving up a higher quality image for a buyer is huge and the image on a slide show tour is clutch – at least when you compare it to the MLS photos presented here in MA. I try and avoid the ken burns affect. When pixels have to jump to create that in-and-out affect, my razor sharp photos become fuzzy – defeating the purpose of the tours. A lot of agents dig the Ken Burns affect but I let them know what happens to the photos when the KB affect is applied. Most of my agents say “ok” and we don’t apply the KB affect. FYI. As a side bar, I am doing more and more video work because of the SEO’s garnered and you do get a better feel of the property when you do an interior walk-thru.

    @Pam. I’m using a gimbal system with a Canon t5i and an STM lens with magic lantern software. All in, I’m at about $3k just for gear. You need software and such to stich video work. I’m also doing interview-style video work. So, you need a good mic and two DSLRs or one video camera and one DSLR. Just a different style of creating a video walk-thru using the agent or seller to help narrate the tour.

    @Erik – maybe send me a PM? I’m not sure I’m following you with your floor plan frustration and tour buzz. I think I’m missing something. I’d like to better understand what it is you are trying to say. Cool?

  • @Pam, For us, VT are slideshows and mutually exclusive from Video. We market our tours as HD video walkthru tours. For my rig, I am using a Sony a77ii with a Tamron 10-24mm lens on a merlin steadicam.

    @Robert, great points. that is terrible re: MLS in MA. might as well still have the MLS book of listings. Do you have a link on the MLS that directs the viewer/buyer to SEE the VT? If not, we go back to the point of lack of SEO of a VT and how will a buyer find the VT.

  • @ John:

    Yea…I post all branded tour buzz links to realtor.com. On realtor.com, there is that word that reads “tour” very near the box of the 1st photo that pops up. A buyer/viewer can mouse click on this link and they are immediately directed to all versions of tours – Mattaport, vimeo, iguide, tourbuzz (though with my URL name), etc.

    I also receive an unbranded link from tour buzz for all agents to post the VT to MA MLS. Not sure if it is a national thing, but here in MA, all VTs need to be IDX compliant – no branding. I also send both branded and unbranded tour links from tour buzz to the agents so that agents can market their listing to other search engines – for example, Boston.com. Though MA MLS does have syndication arrangements with other companies (ZILLOW, TRULIA, REDFIN, etc), MA MLS does not post to sites like Boston.com or other more local non-print media outlets. So, the branded tour link comes in handy for many of my agents to take the URL link and post it to these other search sites. So in summary, there is a link on the MA MLS that a buyer/viewer and all MA agents can see. But the tour can also be viewed from Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia. The tour just needs to be loaded to Zillow and Trulia. I think Redfin picks up the tour, but not sure. FWIW, When Redfin picks up the photos from MA MLS, the quality and rendering is WOWZIE! Not sure what Redfin is doing, but man, my photos comes out a heck of a cleaner and slick – the way the should be displayed.

    Make sense?

    @Pam. Forgot to mention that my Vid tours are probably no more than 3 to 4 minutes in length.

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