In the last few months I've gotten quite a few questions about tours so I though it would a good time to revisit the subject.
The central question is are tours important? Should real estate photographers provide tours? Here are some basics:
- What's a tour? Historically the term virtual tour meant a series of 360 views. Nowadays the term has evolved to refer to anything from a simple slide show to a video slideshow of the property and everything in between.
- What's the benefit of tours? A tour much like a little website dedicated to marketing a property. It's a template that you can add stills, video, 360s maps etc. If done well a tour looks much better than most of the regional or broker websites. To me the single biggest thing a tour allows is larger photos. Most broker and regional sites have photo sizes that are too small for my taste. If the quality is good, big stills come across much stronger than dinky ones.
- Connecting tours to For Sale signs: Tours can be a very powerful marketing tool if a potential buyer and agents can access the tour from their SmartPhone or tablet when they park in front the listing. You can do this with either a short URL or a QR code on the For Sale sign.
- How many agents use tours? In 2007 & 2008 I did a survey of listings on the Seattle NWMLS and found that in 2007 only about 8% of listings over $300,000 had links to tours. In 2008 14% of agents used tours. In both studies upper-end agents used tours significantly more that low end by a factor of two. Tours impress home sellers, so many times promising the home seller a jazzy tour can help the listing agent get the listing contract. Tour usage seems to vary widely from place to place.
- Why are tours popular in some places and not others? The big tour companies have spent a lot of time over the last 12 or so years that tours have been available, marketing their tour products to agents. The products that big tour companies sell are as much a property marketing system as it is just a tour. Tour companies are present at real estate conventions and many come around to real estate offices selling their products. All this marketing to agents has worked, so many listing agents are totally convinced they need a tours. My personal experience is that when you are competing for listings anything the listing agent can do above and beyond the competition helps and tours can be one of those factors.
- Do independent real estate photographers need to provide tours? A tour product is not essential. Many real estate photographers build a fine business just focusing on doing great photography and let the agents supply their own tour. However, some established tour companies sell tours and a photography shoot bundled together so if you are going to compete in the same market as an independent, it can be very useful to be able to supply a high quality tour that has some or all of the features the big guys have.
How do independent real estate photographers supply tours without having to build them themselves? There are two popular companies that host tours that are designed to be resold by independent real estate photographers. That is, you purchase the tours and either resell them or bundle the tour with your shoot:
I have used both types of tours and recommend both. They have similar but not the same features and both are very reasonably priced (they start at $9 to $12 depending on how many you purchase). Check the websites for details.
I believe it makes great business sense to be able to supply one of these tours with your shoot if your client desires. Tours will likely give you a marketing edge with some clients. If you are in a market area that has one or more of the big tour companies operating in it you may have to offer a tour just to compete. To some agents a tour is as important or more important than the photos.
By the way, in the interest of full disclosure I have no financial arrangement with either Tourbuzz.net or pfretour.com. In years past I've done paid advertisements for Tourbuzz.net and in 2010 I partnered with the guys that built pfretour.com. I no longer do either because I feel I can give more unbiased advice and opinions in posts like this if I don't have financial relationship with the companies I'm talking about.