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How Will Zillow 360 3D Tours Change the Real Estate Photography Industry?

Published: 20/06/2018

Jason in Missouri asks:

In reference to Zillow 3D Tours which will allow a free walk-through tour taken on iPhone in 30 minutes and listings with these tours will get preferential treatment on Zillow listing sites. How do you think this technology from Zillow will change and disrupt the real estate photography industry?

In my opinion, the aspect of Zillow that is disruptive is that:

  1. Zillow has all the listings in the US.
  2. Any home buyer in the US is likely to use Zillow first because whichever neighborhood you are in, the Zillow SmartPhone app will quickly and easily give you great information about homes for sale.
  3. For me, the 360 3D feature is a yawner. I would never use it. Even the video walk-throughs are usually uninteresting. The important Zillow technology that is disruptive is that it is a massive public real estate database accessible instantly via your smartphone.

Many times when walking through our neighborhood, my wife says, "Oh what's so and so selling their home for, or what did that property sell for?" I bring up the Zillow app and within a couple of seconds, see everything anyone ever wanted to know about the property next to you.

And because of this popularity, they are starting to control many of the marketing rules.

Larry Lohrman

22 comments on “How Will Zillow 360 3D Tours Change the Real Estate Photography Industry?”

  1. I see the 3D tours as a gimmick or, at best, a very secondary/tertiary marketing item. When I was looking for a home, some listings had videos and after watching a few I quickly found out that they were indescribably bad in my area and I stopped wasting my time. If the photos interest me, my next move would be to call my agent or the listing agent. I turned out to be an outlying case since I wound up buying a property a friend of mine inherited nearly unseen. He made me an offer I couldn't refuse.

    The problem I have with phones is that they can "kinda" do certain things but not at a very good quality level without all of the types of equipment (tripod, gimbal, lighting) that is needed with a more dedicated piece of hardware. At that point, the phone is hampered by a very small sensor, an un-optimized camera data path and a cheap quality lens. Any agent using their phone is also not going to be very savvy in post if the "app" allows any post production. All of the shortcomings conspire to take the same amount of labor and cheapen the end product with the hardware.

    I think people do notice when media is done on the cheap. We are used to seeing very high production value on TV and movies and while many couldn't point to exactly why an amateur production looks cheesy, they can spot one in seconds. Houses are expensive items and agents should not feel they are doing their clients a good service if they won't even invest a few hundred dollars in quality visual marketing.

  2. We started providing the Zillow Walkthrough Videos as an add on late last year and it has been well received in our market. It has been added income and was easy to shoot and upload. We explain to our agents that it is only a marketing tool to get their listing to the top of Zillow and is not a high quality video. The 3D Tours are not yet available in our market.

  3. I’m with Ken, sort of....Zillow aside, 3D technology is cool and allows such an immersive and detailed view of the home it’s a game changer. Problem is in this instantaneous society of ours, people want to be able to screen a properties online quickly and it’s only after they’re interested will they take the time to navigate through a 360 tour. It’s photos that get their attention so it’s not like an agent would do a 360 tour in lieu of photos, they would do it in addition to photos.

    Crisis avoided for professional photographers right?? Well not so fast.. What if you can get decent still photos from the same camera and technology being used for 360s?? I would think that would cut into a professional photographers business, unless of course you were the person hired to do the 360s...

    I’m not a photographer but if I were, I would be watching the 360 technology very carefully and be thinking about starting to offer the services.

  4. After seeing a post here earlier this month, I looked into the Ricoh Tours system, and did a trial with them. It takes me, even on a big house, maybe 15 minutes to do a tour and have the link ready to share with a client. My clients love this added feature. I'm only charging $25 extra (as long as it's part of a regular shoot) but it bumps up my average take per shoot by 20% now. Two shoots a month pays for the subscription and the rest is gravy. I set the very nicely designed, compact stand with the 360 camera in the middle of a room, move out of the way, shoot with the iPhone app, name the room for the tour and then move on to the next room. No post-processing at all and the images are turning out very acceptably. The process they use on the website does a decent job of HDR so the windows (for the most part) are not completely blown out. There are some kinks being worked out by the developers, but they're very responsive to questions and are looking for feedback to improve and add features to their system. Right now you're stuck with the sequence you do onsite, but I was told that they're adding the ability to re-order the images after the fact very shortly.

  5. IMHO the 360 photos (ala Theta) give better information on how the house is laid out then "professionally" shot corner to corner views. I also feel that they are better than Zillows iphone videos. In the end the consumer decides, the quality of the photos is not that important in making the decision to buy, price, location, condition, financing and concessions are. As a real estate broker I believe Zillow has much more to offer buyers and sellers, including FSBOs than the MLS and as long as they continue to innovate they will leave the MLS and in the dust.

  6. As a semi-geek, I really like virtual walkthroughs as a way to view real estate. BUT I'd love to see some metrics in terms of their usage compared to photos or video. My gut tells me that they receive far fewer clicks just because of the time it takes to virtually move through a home. As a result, I don't think virtual tours are that much of a disruptor, they're just another tool that can be used to view a home. I see 360 tours more of a threat to video, not to photography. That said, I do think photographers are going to need to add 360 services to their list of services.

  7. Professional photographers changed the way homes are marketed, you have the opportunity to ride the wave Zillow is creating. Photographers, together with their clients, leveraged technology and created an industry. Zillow's low quality/cost solution targets Realtors and individual properties for page ranking on a single website.

    It does not create the engaging marketing that captivates the viewer and brings them to the point of physically visiting the home. That is our Job. Leverage the technology change and let Zillow make the investment. NAR and local MLS will change to accommodate 360°. Small changes have a big impact. Use your best tools and skills to build it. Creating an inexpensive 360° virtual tour using consumer technology delivers media that agents, sellers, and buyers love.

    Remember the audience. We are now creating marketing for millennials (36% of the market!) with different informational requirements on which to base a purchase decision. Mr. Castle and Ms. Richards have done the math. Making an inexpensive add-on tailored to what buyers expect today can significantly increase your income.

  8. Are all the folks participating in this part of the Zillow certified photographer program? I looked into the program, but still am not fond of the terms. Yeah, they let me keep ownership of images, but I'm not comfortable with granting "Zillow a non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual license to reproduce, display, distribute, publicly perform, and sublicense all Images."
    I emailed Zillow and asked if they would be willing to negotiate any of the terms and was given a flat "No".

    Giving a whole lot of uncompensated licensing to a shoot a crappy little video that I wouldn't be proud of isn't worth it IMHO. Extra income, maybe, but does it diminish the individual photographer's brand?

    I'm in the camp of shooting a nice set of compelling photos to get feet in the door. Let the prospective buyers visit and get a sense of the layout instead of giving them a chance to rule out the home based on too much info or poorly presented visuals before those feet enter the home.

    Am I a dinosaur?

  9. With my realtor hat on - being publicly traded company, Zillow has one thing in mind, TO MAKE MONEY. Change is inevitable and change is good. But anything Zillow does has a negative effect on everything associated with real estate. They make their money off realtors by selling them lead. They also make it easier to get exposure for sellers. Now were seeing more FSBO than ever. Now they are giving more tools to home owners to market their properties. I see professional Matterport providers and now professional creators of all types suffer from the Zillow machine. Again, change is good but Zillow is 100% self serving to their share holders. I get it. It's what many companies do. But Zillow is not in this game to "help" realtors, photographers, or any creators in this home selling process.

  10. One of the reasons I retired early from my licensed realtor and real estate photography businesses was that I saw Zillow marketing and strategizing rings around a market that the National Association of Realtors, and also, abandon or neglect. And it was clear Zillow would be, and by business rules should be, loyal to its stockholders and not my career. I was concerned that, in essence, the entire real estate industry business model would be restructured according to ethics and rules that did not have the market nor us at heart, and that we each were left gangling individually with no Collective bargaining power.

    I felt that the realtor code of ethics and industry norms would be overridden by the Zillow Terms of Service.

  11. @Charlie - Great summary! Here is data that confirms Charlie's statement, "we are seeing more FSBO's than ever". In the Seattle market in March 2018 170% of the properties on the NWMLS sold. That means that part over 100% were FSBOs probably sold by Zillow marketing and that percentage has been increasing every year. Here is the history:

    Not every real estate market is like Seattle's but this general phenomenon is going on all over.

  12. @Laura Fuelleman - we're also in the camp of shooting a nice set of compelling photos to get feet in the door. But these days that concept doesn't seem to be cutting it for us. A year ago we were very busy, this year not so much.

    Our area has TrendMLS who is now Trend Bright MLS and that's just the beginning. The concept is now "Power up! Learn about your conversion, register for training and get to know the new system. Click here to get started." We can't compete with that. We've also lost clients to Zillow who don't seem to care what their walkthrough looks like as long as it gets them top billing.

    I would suggest doing some market surveys to find out what agents want. I asked one real estate associate who expressed an interest in video if he considered Matterport video as opposed to walkthrough video. His reply was "too expensive right now."

    We're equipped to do our own walkthroughs but we have to charge accordingly. Of course, our work is higher quality which SHOULD justify the added cost.

  13. I am a 3D Virtual Tour operator and it has changed my game and upped my sales greatly. As far as the i phone this it will server it's purpose and we will move on.

  14. I'm waiting for the virtual tour glasses, where you can actually walk through the listing before I hang up my spurs!
    Likely not that far off, but I'm already semi-retired. (thankfully!)

  15. No getting around that Zillow is changing the industry by “napster-ing” the work of professionals using it as the main attraction to display an icon to linked “homemade” videos and 360. Zillow doesn’t’ syndicate to all the other property search sites, Agents cannot use it on other platforms.

    I am benefiting from Zillow’s megalomania, since we starting promoting 360° we are up 37% in sales from last year. A portion of the revenue is from new agents searching us out because we offer 360 images AND 360 video in addition to still photography. We use a Theta V, MadV and DSLR to create the 360s. In addition to several different types of tours Agents can download the individual 360s and use them anywhere they would a traditional image as long as the technology supports it. 360s presented alongside our stills in one virtual tour link adds about 15 minutes using the Theta or MadV on site. ROI is Great.

  16. I am not sure how much change will be had with all the different gimmicks put out by different companies, but I am sure that there will be change...

    When Zillow came out with the "Walk Through" program that anyone could do, including agents, I was intrigued by the program. Long story short, it has provided my company an added stream of income for a few minutes work. Talking to the agents, they love the SEO that it provides and understand that it is not "Professional Video". They like the fact that they can tell their clients that they do a short video that will put their listings to the top of the heap in Zillow. When we asked if there was a higher quality video available for a additional fee, 95% said no, it was not cost effective for them.

    So, for the last several years, I have been hearing how video is going to change the game.... It has fallen short. Just like the Virtual goggles that where supposed to be all the rage... Maybe it is the fact that photos are static and can be enjoyed/examined at ones leasure

  17. And out of the wings comes.... Homebloq! Who aims to dislodge real estate buyers from Zillow and Redfin.

    The Chicago-based company wants in on the age of disruption.. interesting.

  18. Question: What exactly is meant by "Zillow 360 3D". IMO if you want to shoot a true 3D image, you need a camera with two lens that shoot left and right eye views at the same time. The iPhones I've seen have a single lens, so that wouldn't be possible. I question Zillow's use of the term "3D" because about a year or so ago they announced "Virtual Tour" capabilities. What I saw as a demonstration of this was nothing more than a series of single images stitched together, basically like a slideshow with dissolving transitions. It was about as UN-virtual as you could get. So, can someone explain what is meant by "Zillow 3D"?

  19. Zillow 360 VS Matterport.
    Since a recent Zillow rep visited every agency in town many of clients are requesting Zillow 360 walk throughs with the new Richo Theta V. The Zillow quality is "not so good" how is everyone else handling this issue? I want to give my clients what they want BUT what they are asking for is an inferior experience being pushed by the big bully ZILLOW...

  20. Kenneth,

    While the Theta is a consumer camera, its processing workflow is significantly shorter to deliver an EDITED product than most of the 360 cameras around. The Zillow product is straight out of the camera. Agents love 360°, it offers an immersive experience for buyers and sellers. Yep, were' being bullied by Zillow. It does provide an additional revenue stream for photographers.

    I love 360° technology and I've got just about all the 360 consumer cameras around. Bang for the buck, and remaining sensitive to YOUR investment in processing time, I'd recommend a Theta and Pano2VR PRO for a Matterport look and feel. There are lots of products and services around. As with any camera, the Theta requires a tiny bit effort to get the results from the technology.

    Feel free to contact me offline if you'd like details of my settings, workflow process, software, and delivery system.

  21. Definitely a topic worth reviewing again. I bought a Theta 360 V about a month ago and returned it within a week because of it's inferior sharpness and image quality. I prefer the images from my full-frame DSLR, which even surpasses the image quality of a much more expensive 360 camera like the Matterport.

    The question remains whether a typical realtor would spot the difference in quality between a 360 camera and a full-frame camera. My hunch is no because they are looking at these images on a 4k or lower resolution or a smaller screen on a hand-held device... This does not bode well for those who prfer higher resolution images.

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