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Are 3D Tours the "QR Code" of Visual Media?

Published: 22/08/2019

Author: Vince Collura

As a techie, I get it–they’re cool and new and something else for me to talk to home owners and agents about. Some of them have video game-like qualities. Some of them have a “doll house” view that allows me to see the property as a whole. I can even use it with my Occulus Rift that I haven’t ever had a use for!

I totally get it! I've invested into the appeal, and even went on the road with Mattel a few years back to show how we may be able to give people walk-throughs with their next generation Viewmaster. We can’t deny that there’s a cool factor.

I even sold my last home because of one! Of course, that cost 3 guitars and a screen used prop from “A Nightmare on Elm Street” as part of a 3D scavenger hunt that went viral, but ultimately–my buyers found my home because someone said “Hey, you gotta see this.”

But what I want to know is: Are they useful?

I see the inquiries. I know that companies want it as part of their service offerings. I offer it today. But while I offer it, uptake pales in comparison to photography, floor plans, virtual staging, and drone services.

Why? One agent I spoke to said, “They give users so much info about the property that they never even need to go on site and see it.”

Another agent said, “I pay for a top industry photographer to come in and meticulously compose photographs for my listing. Why would I let the buyer change that perspective?”

Most MLS systems don’t have a great way of supporting 3D tours. Zillow has their own viewer now. Some of them outright ban some of the popular 3D providers because of the visible branding.

As a nerd, I love them. Some use lasers. Some create 3D models. As a photographer, I know that the array of 6 tiny lenses in unison with whatever IR Laser or LIDAR array won’t compete with my camera and post production team. If I was running a 3 person team, would I invest in the tech just to ride the wave that comes along with strong marketing coming from the providers, or just stick to what I can do better than most?

What are your thoughts on 3D tours?

19 comments on “Are 3D Tours the "QR Code" of Visual Media?”

  1. You're reasoning is very weak. Are these RE agents going to stand in the living room and make sure their clients only look in the exact direction the photographer shot that room? Please.

    And how is too much info a bad thing? If a buyer sees that the layout (via 3D tour) is not what they're looking for, then letting them come see the home in person is simply a waste of everyone's time. As a seller, I'd prefer to hear "We had 6 people come through that were absolutely interested!" as opposed to "We had 20 people come through but most of them weren't a fan of the narrow hallway."

    I don't know about your MLS system, but mine prominently features a "Virtual Tour" link. And since I use Matterport, there's a branding-free link that meets all the required criteria.

    For all the people I hear complaining about this type of "gimmick", I hear twice as many clients asking me to use it in their marketing...

  2. You raise some interesting points, I too am a matterport user just for the user interface. Having been a property photographer for 12+ years I see both side of the clients arguments. I’m my opinion this is a great tool for international buyers who can struggle to view properties themselves. I’m sure tyre is something to be said for an agent getting potential buyers through the door (both to make them look like they are doing their job for a vendor and to increase sale chances with a hard sell) but personally I still think that a buyer need to step through the door to get the feeling of a property. Either way this is less of our focus. From my perspective I would always consider offering any trending service as I find a lot of Uk property agents would prefer the one stop shop and having the tools in my toolbox will win both me the jobs but also can win my clients the instructions. It’s always worth bolting additional products to a property visit as you maximise revenue without additional travel and costs. I have noticed the 360 tours fluctuate in trends at present I seem to be picking a few up again which means Im also getting the photography on the same jobs too!

  3. I have one client who insists on my use of a Ricoh Theta to capture a virtual walk-thru. Granted it's not a Matterport but that's not the direction of my company right now. But she says that her clients, mainly under 40 y/o's, do everything on phones and tablets these days. They hardly go near a desktop computer unless for their work. That generation is expecting "interactive" and the finger tour format is much more captivating than my glorious photographs which simply do not show as well in a smaller format.

  4. Maybe the realtors should be less concerned about feet in the door, than conversion rates of eyes on the listing to offers? It’s not just international buyers whose time matters. We are rapidly reaching an era where the digital artifacts so much more efficient and immersion sufficient enough for buyers to make the call without ever setting door inside.

  5. As with all this 'stuff' we can offer, I think most agents can agree that only one things really sells a home: The correct price.

    With most of this other fluff..... pro photography, video, Matterport, 3D, etc., the biggest benefit is for the Realtor. It WINS them a listing over their competition, and it gets the eyeballs of new sellers who 'think' all of these bells and whistles will sell their house and they want to hire THAT agent.

    A properly priced home will eventually sell with a single blurry cell phone photograph. You can throw all the marketing money you want into an overpriced home and it will sit on the market. I can attest to this: Just this week alone I have shot video for FOUR houses that have been on the market for a long, long time... one 7 years! 3 of them I have shot before and 1 I've shot 3 times before.

    What did they do over all of this time that the house didn't sell? Repaint. Restage. Remodel. Relandscape. One even tore down a perfectly nice guest cottage by a pond and REBUILT a new one! But the price is the same. Or higher. And it sits.

  6. As a former probation officer, I learned a lot from my clients and as a photographer very conscious of how I frame out of a photo to be posted on the internet. The huge shortcoming of the immersion technology is that you can closely examine EVERYTHING with zoom in features. Realtors want to start a conversation...not have every question answered and struck off the list of homes to visit. After all, if the view the home and find that it is not right, they still need a home in that price range, and a competent Realtor with an ongoing conversation finds it for them. As a Realtor I was sitting through last months staff meeting and I am kind when other photographers present, but this was a home repair specialist that threw in a Matterport and photography. During their minute or so demonstration of a Matterport, my probation officer history took over. I asked them id they realized they just showed us where the interior security cameras were mounted, could examine the oil paintings on the wall closely, and that the owner kept keys on hooks in the utility room. Just what a criminal wants to know.

  7. I live in a market where, often times, the buyers are having to put an offer on a home before they even have the chance to go walk it. Homes in some areas just go that quick. In the realtors view point, I can see where they don’t need the extra expense but in the buyers view, I see how it becomes a very helpful tool. I have mixed opinions by my agents on the matter. Some agents use them for all their nicer listings (in their package as a way of marketing themselves to the seller) & then I have the agents that feel there is no need. ??????????? I also have builders and home sales that have 3D immersion tours on all their homes. It’s been a good extra source of income for us but has yet to compare w/ good ole fashion photos, aerials & the very awesome Virtual Staging. I will say, most agents are preferring the walkthrough videos tours over the 3D immersion tours!

  8. It's a great tool for burglars, rapists and kidnappers. They know all the entrance points, exits, how many steps to the kids' rooms, where you car keys are located and OH the gun safe!

  9. Let's remember what 3D tours are really after - our skilled jobs. Any kid with some basic skills can be trained to be a Matterport technician, moving equipment from room to room and being paid a minimal wage or salary. This is the way that the real estate photography profession can gradually be replaced by low level technicians employed by a few large firms. Seem unlikely? look at how skilled and decently-compensated butchers were gradually replaced with minimum wage cutters operating in assembly line factory meat cutting facilities. Or look at how skilled transportation mechanics are gradually being replaced with fully modular electric vehicles. A technician replaces a unit by exchange, rather than repairing it. Perhaps 3D tour technologies are inevitable, but there is no sense promoting your own obsolescence.

  10. I don't disagree with any of these perspectives. Yes, 3D provides more data than most people want or need, but a lot of people are primed to embrace any new tech twist. Remote buyers, and corporate interior decorators would might appreciate that level of detail. And I think they're gradually become expected in high-end listings, where money is no object.

    But mostly, I want to reinforce what Andrew says, above. I think we're all working within a tension between traditional, camera-and-lighting-based photographic skills and automated, routine, procedures. I've heard a local Matterport pioneer brag how all he does on the scene is set up the camera and move it every few minutes. The computers do all the work, leaving us to be merely to serve as their butlers and bearers. That's not why I became a photographer, not give up all my skills.

    But it's the common corporate model. The biggest local tour company here in Denver does all-HDRs, without flash, and so does much of their other competition. I've abandoned that kind of HDR for indoor shots, because of the way the results look. Without a good flash exposure with clean colors as a basis, batch HDRs always twists the colors this way and that. The color of wooden cabinets was especially ruined every time I tried it. It's a hassle to remember or guess the correct shades, and they often wind up desaturating the mess to nearly B&W. But it's easy to train new personnel; they're actually better off not knowing much about conventional color and lighting techniques.

    Give me buttons or give me dials, but as a photographer, I want to keep control of my lighting and exposures. Otherwise, I might as well join a surveying crew. I'd still carry a tripod and a hunk of optics. I'd just be carrying out a technical procedure, like HDR or Matterport.

  11. I love posts about 360° images - it sets this board on fire!

    First, let me address the QR Code analogy. I still see QR codes on agent yard signs; I still see agents using “Panoramas”. As a real estate photographer, it's my business to deliver what my customers want. So yes, they are useful to clients who see value in them and are willing to pay for them.

    The Net-Net is we are service providers. We provide Professional Photography, and the form that follows is a matter of service preference. Being a professional means, you may have to provide a little education to your customer or gently direct them to someone who provides that particular service. However, we are expected to understand how best to capture, format and deliver our product for the market place in a method our clients can manage, use, and most of all - enjoy.

    This brings me to branding and syndication of 360° images; I see there is some confusion about the function of branding. Provide UNBRANDED tours for syndication via MLS. Note that some MLS requires an approved hosting path for links to your virtual tours, slideshows, and videos. Furthermore, agents who violate these branding rules can be penalized by having the media removed or a monetary fine imposed (it’s rare but happens!) Provide separate branded tours, slideshows and videos for general web use, social media, or YouTube. Branded media is a great method of inviting visibility to your work while promoting the agent and property.

    Composition as with any camera and lens requires an understanding of the function of the equipment, your surroundings, the light, and your vision as an artist. Capturing a 360° is not a technical procedure where you simply plop down your gear and click a button. As with any form of photography, it takes practice and understanding. Understanding, that perhaps you may choose not to include a room with a gun safe, or take a slightly different angle that obscures it. With 360 tours you can protect your agent and homeowner with as much care and respect as with your still photos.

    How you choose to get there is one of the joys of our profession! I love 360° images and feel that I am a professional capturing a photograph, using whatever camera happens to be in my hand. Matterport, iGuide, stitched DSLR, one-click 360° camera (such as a Theta). What does matter is what you enjoy creating, can afford to deliver with regard to your investment of time and money and importantly what your client wants.

  12. I'm with Andrew on the skill assessment. With something like Matterport, I'm not bringing much in the way of skill to the service. A high school student can master the process in an afternoon and work part time for an office running the camera and likely being able to do their homework at the same time. The cost to acquire the gear and the monthly charge mean that you have to hard sell the service to make sure there is some return on your investment and still risk losing it all to an office that figures out they can do it themselves and not have to pay you the rate you need to charge to make it a business venture.

    I believe that RE marketing photos are part what you show and what you don't. I'll echo Larry Gray here. When I photograph a home, I don't include details about the security system. I'll edit out sensors and key pads in post. I've turned gun safes that I couldn't shoot around into filing or office cabinets. Safes under desks turn into art trollies. I've even had to swap out a Picasso original. Family photos might get blurred along with names on certificates. With most scans, none of this editing is available.

    Are my images cherry picked? Yep. The listing agent is engaged to sell the home, not to be "fair". Part of their job is to qualify buyers so they aren't showing a home to unqualified lookyloos. They also don't want images to show up slight defects on an otherwise nice home. It's easy to "talk" people out of calling about a home with too much information. It's impossible to know what will get a particular buyer to make an offer, but easy to know what will turn the vast majority off.

    If your market is already using pro photos, video and printed brochures, maybe you do have to add something like 3D scans to get the listings. But, it might be easy for an office to tell a seller they would be better off with a custom website (from a template) than the scan. It gets old really fast. When I was looking to buy a home I stopped looking at videos. Nearly all of them were cell phone vids than made me sea sick. They also took time to buffer and if the photos were good, the video didn't influence me very much. I already wanted to see the house or I didn't. That said, there are some videos that I've seen that I found very well done linked from this site, but none from the local MLS.

  13. Lot's of great feedback here, and really only one response that's marginally insulting! Happy Saturday! 😀

    The notion of "this needs no technical skill" resonates with me fairly well, as that is definitely part of what makes some of these ancillary services erode the value we bring. Who is going to help a good agent better? an expert photographer / visual media creator, or the guy down the road that offers everything that you could possibly want, regardless of the actual value?

    One could say that as service providers it's our job to have what the customer wants, my thought is as a service provider it's my job to help my client achieve their goals at all levels - from branding at the highest level to their tactical listing needs.

    Addressing a few comments specifically:

    @Andrew H: That's certainly a concern! Its particularly tricky in an industry like ours where the main outputs are subject to a massive range of interpretation. IE - a "photograph" is still a photograph if its captured via a medium format camera by a photographer with 30 years of experience, OR screen capped out of a 360 tour and riddled with auto-hdr.

    @larry gray, @cherrie johnson: I hear that. Funny enough, some of my biggest sources for 360's in the early 2000's were law enforcement --- capturing crime scene's after the fact!

    @jake: I'm surprised to see that you have twice as many clients asking for 3D tours than not --- are you able to charge a rate that is worth your while as much, or more so than traditional photography? or is the pricing so low that the demand is high? if I add QR codes to all of my packages, or offer them for 50 cents on top of my standard service, I can probably sell them on 60% of my business. But at the end of the day, is it providing value?

    I agree that the big players offer unbranded versions, for sure. I also know that many of them now offer exterior views as well -- I would love to know how you manage to never capture the yard sign!

  14. Let me chime in on 3D tour trends. One thing that I think everyone will agree on is that 360 visuals provide a lot of information about what's out there, more than just pictures (and we are not considering artistic quality of images). After that opinions diverge - many agents do not like that and want to be gate-keepers for information as they need leads to feed their business.

    Homebuyers feel differently. They need to make a decision whether it is a good house for the money being asked for it and for that they need to know as much as they can about that house. Both NAR and Zillow conduct studies every year that repeatedly show that people want more information (and floor plans are at the top of the list, btw).
    Zillow: https://wp.zillowstatic.com/38/ZGReport2018_Download-a27213.pdf, page 75.
    NAR: https://www.nar.realtor/sites/default/files/documents/2019-home-buyers-and-sellers-generational-trends-report-08-16-2019.pdf, page 57.

    Having the information empowers buyers to make a well-informed purchasing decision faster and be confident in value of that home, often leading to higher offer. We ran a study using MLS data where we analyzed days on market and sale to list price ratio for homes that were sold in that market in a 12-month period (over 9000 homes) as a function of MLS Virtual Tour field. Empty field was considered Photos Only listing, non-empty field was considered Videos and Virtual Tours and we segmented out listings with iGUIDE which we considered to have the highest information content due to floor plans, square footage/room dimensions, and a 3D tour.

    We found that iGUIDE listings sold up to 39% faster than properties with photos only and 14% faster than properties with video or other tours. The homes with iGUIDE tours sold at a 1.3% higher sale to list price ratio than listings with photos only and 0.6% higher than listings with videos and other tours. From that you can see how listing with photos only compare to other options. Charts from the study can be found here https://goiguide.com/blog/sell-faster.

  15. @vinnce "I also know that many of them now offer exterior views as well — I would love to know how you manage to never capture the yard sign!" I have personal experience with iGuide, DSLR, and many different 360° cameras. Several ways:
    1. Simple Clone - Results can be noticeable until you've had a bit of practice.
    2. Cloak of invisibility - Two shots layered: Shoot, walk to a different spot, shoot again and layer in post. The trick is to move enough and mind the shadows. Don't move the camera!
    3. Managed Perspective Point: By closely managing the camera's perspective you can obscure signage to where you see the just the Post, not the signage.

    "Big Boys" and branding: For $500 (Camera and footed monopod) you can get started. If your clients want a guided walkthrough feeling consider Pano2VR Pro for $400.

    A question to Matterport professionals: how do you manage edits?

  16. How anyone can stand to actually view these 3D tours is beyond me. All of them that I am aware of offer terrible viewing experiences. I get frustrated every time because of time consuming navigation, motion sickness or not knowing, at all times, where, exactly, I am inside the home.

  17. @Alex

    I really like iGuide. I don't consider it the same as an immersion 3D tour. To me, iGuide has the best solution. There are a couple of other similar solutions but they do not (as far as i understand) get the job done as efficiently as iGuide. I'm pretty sure I will offer it at some point soon.

  18. @Ken Brown @Vince

    I treat of 360s just like any other images. Any 360 panorama created by the iGUIDE camera system can be edited in whatever software you prefer. It's wonderful for removing personal objects, branding, reflections, etc.

    Here is a snippet of video showing the process of cloning out a yard sign, in an equirectangular panorama, in Adobe Photoshop for anyone who is curious: https://youtu.be/h5d-1XYa6GM

    I apologize for the music. 🙂

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