Cherie Irwin mentioned that "...I’m not a Virtual Tour provider, but I am curious about what kind of options there are for building your own tours, hosting them and then posting to Realtor.com through their Picture Path program, without using a Big Box Virtual Tour provider or hosting program."
Hosting your own tours is not difficult. There are several bits of technology you need to master above an beyond photography:
- You need to have your own web site with the space to post the tours. There are hundreds of places have you web site. I use www.vario.com and subscribe to their $19.95/mo hosting plan that provides 10 GB of web space and 400 GB of bandwidth. I've never come close to using up either limit but I only host tours for our own listings. If you host tours for hundreds of Realtors you may come closer to these limits.
- You need to learn HTML and a web site maintenance application so you can control what your web sites looks line. There are many good web maintenance/HTML apps out there but my favorite is Dreamweaver.
- You need to come up with a design for what your tour looks like and how it works. I think this is the crux of a good virtual tour. I've worked at this over the years but never been totally happy with a design. One of the major decisions you'll need to make in this design is what display technology to use. The major available technologies are: QuickTime, Java, Flash and Shockwave. They all have their upsides and downsides. If you are only going to do slide shows Flash is probably your best bet. If you are going to do 360 VR you'll probably want to offer several options and let the viewer choose their favorite.
- If your clients are going to want to post tours to Realtor.com you'll have to go through Realtor.com to post Picture Path tours. I've never needed to post tours to Realtor.com because in our area the brokers sites are more important. However, the importance of Realtor.com varies around the US. Brad at buildatour.com says the posting to Realtor.com is not a big problem. Brad says it costs $19.95 to post a non-showcase tour to Realtor.com and it's free to post a showcase tour. There is a Picture Path information page here but I don't know how up to date is it.
One of the things that motivated me to host my own virtual tours is that it gave me total control over the content and allows me to put links to flyers, legal descriptions, floor plans, local sites and I don't have to make a special tour to burn on CD for the seller and buyer. Sure, creating your own tours is extra work but the extra work is mostly setting things up. Once you have a tour template you can just copy it to a new folder on your web server and change the appropriate items.
Here are some of my attempts at designs for tours:
Lately I been doing mostly full screen 360 tours and Flash slide shows. I really don't know how important 360 type tours are. They tend to be more complicated for viewers to figure out. The great thing about Flash slide shows is the viewer doesn't have to do anything. The tour works even if the viewer does nothing.