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The Evolution Of Tours/Marketing Systems For Home Marketing

Published: 13/08/2013
By: larry

HuiTourPresenting a property online is at the very center of real estate marketing. The options for doing that online presentation have increased enormously since they first became available in about 2000.

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 tours have evolved into multi-featured marketing site/systems. A tour is effectively a page or site dedicated to marketing a property. We should perhaps abandon the term tour since it means different things to different people. Typically marketing sites/systems can have some or all of the following: stills, video, floorplans, 360s, downloadable flyers, e-mail links, dedicated domains, music, syndication to national and regional sites, agent branding, links to local schools and neighborhood sites of interest. If used well by agents multi-featured tour sites have the potential to be a complete marketing system.
  • How does video fit in? Video, if done well can be a huge addition or replacement of a slide show of stills. However, large high quality stills can, but don't always, look more elegant than a low or medium res YouTube video. Shooting great video is much more difficult looks and takes specialized gear! Bad video can be a negative so get the equipment and build your skills before you call yourself a videographer.
  • What's the benefit of marketing site/system?  The single biggest benefit of having your own marketing site allows is a more elegant presentation of your (or your clients) property than you get on most real estate sites. Most broker, regional  and MLS sites have formats and designs that are stuck in the past. Having your own property site allows you to control the presentation of the property you are marketing.
  • Connecting marketing sites to For Sale signs: Marketing sites can be a very powerful marketing tool if a potential buyer and agents can access them 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. A simple URL is best because more people will access it. I would say this feature is essential.
  • Why are marketing sites popular in some places and not others? The big tour companies have spent years marketing their products to agents. The products that those tour companies sell are as much a property marketing systems 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 and created opinions among agents. My personal experience is that when agents compete for listings anything a listing agent can promise above and beyond the competition helps them win the listing and marketing is typically one of those factors.
  • Do independent real estate photographers need to provide marketing sites?  Many real estate photographers build a fine business just focusing on doing great photography and let the agents supply their own marketing site. 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 marketing sites 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:
  • Whatever marketing site/system you use take the time to see what it looks like on a SmartPhone and tablet. The whole world (especially real estate agents) are moving to tablets. You would be amazed at the number of real estate marketing systems that either don't work or look lame on tablets. The above products all work fine on SmartPhones and tablets.

I believe it makes great business sense to be able to supply one of these marketing sites/systems 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 it's likely you'll have to offer a marketing site/system just to compete. To some agents what tour you use is as important or more important than the photos.

27 comments on “The Evolution Of Tours/Marketing Systems For Home Marketing”

  1. Is it just me, or do others find the whole "zoom in-zoom out" on the images thing with the virtual tour to be a bit lame..It's almost like the image can't stand on it's own, it needs some help....

    That being said, how many of you incorporate the tours into your price, v's selling it as a seperate service?

  2. I really hate virtual tours/slideshows and point out to clients that ask me about them that nothing "dates" a realtor like 20+ year old technology. Besides, why would a viewer want to watch a slideshow, set to crappy music, sliding in and out so they can't even see the entire image at once, WHEN THEY'VE ALREADY SEEN THOSE SAME PHOTOS?!

    *stepping off soap box now*

  3. @Malia, I find that buyers would much rather view a slideshow/virtual tour instead of the tiny photos on the MLS. If a high resolution virtual tour that works on all digital devices including PCs, tablets and smartphones is 20 year old technology, what do you use to present your photos? I am always looking for better ways to serve my clients.

  4. @Tim and @Malia I agree - the fading, zooming, panning photos and music during a slideshow are distracting and take away from the photos themselves. It should be all about the photos. Does anyone find that style of presentation impressive anymore? Did they ever? And how about those 360 degree virtual room tours, they give me such a headache!

  5. Does anyone know if Real Tour Vision or PFRE offer "Shoot 'Em Yourself" Tours and/or "real" property websites? We think these are important to compete with Tour Factory.

  6. Are there any well-designed empirical studies which evidence the benefits of one 'marketing system' (e.g., stills, slide-shows, 360s, videos) over another for a particular market? If not, we are, at best, guessing or assuming that one's significantly better than another at selling a property, and may be getting little or no return on a marketing investment.

  7. The meat of the issue here should be, "Are buyers looking at virtual tours?" If photographs are sufficient on their own, why would ANYONE look at a virtual tour, right? Viewer statistics show that buyers do indeed look at tours despite having still images readily available to them on the MLS. That means there must be an appeal to them.

    We can all have our opinions about VTs (I'm ambivalent about them... maybe leaning slightly toward the "dislike" column), but my job is to do what's in the best interest of the client, and right now virtual tours are still popular among buyers so I will continue to offer them.

  8. @Gary- I know of no studies of any kind.

    @Jeff- The problem is there is no one simple answer... as with most issues you can find evidence to support almost any conclusion you want and the answers are highly dependent on geography.

  9. In Canada I know I saw a few studies and have talked to people at MLS ( that say the majority of viewers want to see some sort of multimedia presentation simply because the photo quality in these multimedia presentations is FAR superior (in most cases) than what the MLS is offering. The photo size on the listings in canada is pathetic, here is an example (no idea who shot this)

    Other then the photo quality improvement, I agree with Malia, tourbuzz and many of the other big brand companies look outdated, and to have to pay like $12 a tour to use it?....yikes. If you are going to offer a multimedia presentation, put some time in and design something original for YOUR business, something visual appealing for the year 2013. If you cant do it yourself, spend a little money to have someone design the template for you, you will use it over and over, making it well worth the cost.

    So many great photographers using the same bland cookie cutter tours that agents (or the public) also use when taking their own horrible photos.

    As a "professional" photographer, you are offering superior photography that the average person/agent cant do themselves, why would you then turn around and stick your work in a dated cookie cutter template that the average person/agent can use?

    IF you are offering a multimedia presentation, YOUR work + YOUR unique multimedia presentation......sets you apart.

  10. Kinda on the fence about this. My best real estate client, and a good friend of mine, has already closed on close to 70 homes this year. She doesn't use virtual tours, but instead relies on the images to help sell the home (mine!). She has a really easy to navigate web page and the images come up large enough to get a really good feel for the home.
    When I was looking for my home a couple years ago, I kinda found the zooming and panning of virtual tours very distracting and irritating.
    I would bet a lot of other buyers do too.

  11. @Malia -- compared to the alternatives (MLS, syndicator sites, most Agents' websites), is seems to me a *good* Tour or Slideshow is the best way for a buyer to experience a listing online. I agree with you that some of the bells and whistles are dated and distracting -- especially the radical zooming-in and exaggerated transitions. Instead, I want to offer my clients and potential buyers large rich images with the ability to go full-screen, something the MLS & syndicators won't provide.

    Can you show us an example of how buyers can experience a photo-only listing you have worked on that offers a better experience than a Tour?

  12. @Jim + others who don't use virtual tours

    How do you present your images? Do you rely on MLS to present the images or do you link to an external gallery page? Do you do a basic slideshow? A gallery "photo wall" page? Clickable thumbnails? Do you host these images yourself or use an external host? If you're hosting the images yourself, do you include listing & contact details on that page, or do you leave the details to the MLS page? Are you able to track viewer stats to see what images are most popular?


  13. I think a photo slideshow is fine IF:

    1) The photos are different than what they just looked at on the MLS listing. That means different shots, different angles, closeups, additional photos, or even just full screen larger photos.

    2) It incorporates something additional, such as neighborhood amenities etc.

    Our MLS photos are pretty miserable... both in size and quality. So offering something that improves upon that is definitely a plus. But just regurgitating the exact same photos people JUST looked at is pointless. And when the program automatically zooms in and out on random things like doorknobs and chair rails, and then you set it to funeral music... doth not make much of an impression. Buyers hate that.

    Our MLS here, in there infinite wisdom, offer FREE slideshow zooming tours on EVERY listing. All you need is a minimum of 3 photos. So if you take 3 blurry, dark vertical photos with your cell phone that you didn't turn horizontally, you automatically get a zooming tour set to crappy music with vertical, dark blurry pictures.

    It's frustrating to say the least, and has the same affect as car alarms in a parking lot. When buyers take the time to download a "virtual tour" from the MLS, and they get that crap all the time, they tend to not download ANY tours, assuming they're all the same.

  14. @Jeff, I agree. The stats on my virtual tours show that many of them get hundreds of views with many return visitors. A recent listing that I shot received 124 views with 40 return visitors and a total of over 4000 photos viewed on the first weekend. The agent received a sight-unseen offer the first day the home was on the MLS. My tours provide property details, maps, school info, local info and ways to easily share the tour on social media and by email all accessible on any MLS search - without relying on the buyer finding the listing on the agent's website. We live in an increasingly visual world and you only have a few seconds to grab their attention and you need visually stimulating media keep them engaged. You can't get that with the pathetically small photos displayed on the MLS. Tours can include video, panoramas of the views and narration. Tours don't have to use the KenBurns effect or have cheesy music but tasteful music or narration will help make a listing stand out from the crowd. And tours are not only good for high-end properties. A recent mobile home that I photographed produced a for for, sold sight-unseen in one day at full price - $119,000.

    I am open to any new ways to present listings that work and I agree that there are tons of really bad virtual tours out there. But when they are done right they are a very powerful tool.

  15. @ Fred. +1 on the low quality "free" tour offered by MLS. I have to deal with the same thing here and have expressed to the board (to no avail) that the less than 1/4 screen tour box recirculating the same low quality Realtor taken photos with Ken Burns effect added will sensitize the public to not look. As a Realtor, I love it when a listing expires and they DON'T have tours or other 'shortcomings' in the listing as the biggest obstacle it to keep the seller from doing the comfortable thing of simply re-listing with that agent. I go so far ad to bluntly point out that "commission" is nothing more than the "seller's marketing budget" and raise the question of how well the Realtor is managing that budget for the seller's benefit. Lack of tour, lack of the maximum 25 photos allowed by MLS, lack of professional photos are easy to see...what about areas they can't see that marketing was compromised on a home that did not sell. Sadly, the sellers don't have the expectation as the home I shot yesterday, the first words out of the sellers mouth when the Realtor arrived 10 minutes after me was "Wow, I didn't know you were hiring a professional...I was thinking taking with a point and shoot camera." That is how they have been conditioned with what they already see as the home shop.

    One expired yesterday was a $700k home with 1 photo that looked like a driveby with all the street in it. Within the narrative was message to view tour. I guess the Realtor paid for the tour only and not the individual photos. It was an Obeo with decent photography, a couple 360's segregated by a separate tab, and the video tab was inactive. Of course, the Realtor doesn't realize that on syndication, particularly with, that tour may not be there.

    Me personally, my video skills are not at the level of Fred, Malia and a few others here, but I am gaining practice with the creation of tours. I include stills, panos, and video all in the same segregated tabs! Panos are never 360, usually 110-200 degree sweeps, showing more of the room and adjusting the cylinder (oboe, circlepics and others haven't upgraded the platform and stuck on 360) to minimize the distortion. Also, full screen. I also try to develop a storyboard in the presentation, a logical walkthrough, and the front door opening to transition from outside to inside, then the rear, ending with a front shot - and in the process train myself for full video. Here is the one I shot yesterday that shows how I mix stills, 5 panos and 2 video clips. Verbage for flyer isn't in there as MLS will be created today and will copy/paste what the Realtor writes before syndicating out - but she has the tour link to include in MLS when initially launched. Not happy with a couple of the stills, cleaned up the red room bleed the best I could, and messed up the sky on the front pole shot. Will work with them a little more and substitute out.

  16. I've been making these multi-media shows for a long time for other things besides real estate. I make one for each shoot I do. Like it was said above, I can get much higher quality photos, the MLS here limits you to 25, no such limitation and if done tastefully it's pretty nice. I can mix, title, stills, and video and that's something you can never do on the MLS.

  17. I definitely agree that the term "Virtual Tour" has been degraded to be unspecific. I see the steps to marketing a property as staging, photographing, advertising and other. Video done well can be an asset, but is secondary to first having a good set of photos. Fancy presentation of the photos is far less important than having professional quality photos to start with.

    I believe that Larry makes a great point with how marketing (gimmick) companies keep a high profile at real estate agent conventions. They are likely sending out marketing materials via mail and email on a consistent basis. I have noticed a couple of agents in my area using a Ken Burns effect slideshow page with point and shoot snapshots. I have tried to sell to the franchise office they work from and have been brushed off. (I need to go direct to these agents).

    @Jeff The university study that was published in the Wall Street Journal is very telling about how people view real estate ads. From the information provided, I would think that people clicking on links to view multimedia presentations is likely to be zero unless they were very interested in that property. That interest is shown to come from the front exterior view photo a large percentage of the time. Certainly, people will view a few "virtual tours" but will stop doing that at random if the ones they look at are utter crap most of the time.

    @LarryG I try to steer my customers away from using the maximum number of pictures allowed by the MLS. Nearly all of the services will permit far more pictures than are needed to adequately market a home. I have all of my current clients sold on the reality that I can provide a reasonable number of great pictures better than a large number of so-so images for a given price. When I quote them on greater numbers of pictures, they are very happy with what they get. I state that I will provide UP TO 15 pictures in my basic package. It usually comes out between 11 and 17 for a modest home if I am not including powder rooms and close-ups of the laundry hook-ups, etc. I have seen high end homes with 5 pictures that would have me signing papers if I had the money to buy them. That said, I wouldn't try to deliver just 5 pictures or my customers would revolt.

    The most useless gimmick I see these days are the panorama images that get posted on, and They are all ironed flat, too small and look very unusual without the player. I'm not a big fan of the pano's to start with. The distortion bothers me and the photo quality is compromised by compression and the realities of having to shoot without proper photographic lighting.

  18. Im just amazed at the outdated 360 tours (panos) that companies continue to sell to agents as a "valuable marketing tool". It makes your company(and the agent using you) look dated and out of touch with current technology.

    When i see companies still offering dated 360 panos, they might as well offer Polaroid instant photography as well.....Hell, Polaroid can be shot and delivered in 2 min on the spot!, hows that for marketing ?

    The point being, both scream...."I am not in touch with today's technology!"

  19. @Tim, I can host them on my server, my SmugMug site or Viemo or YouTube. All are linkable and it's just a matter of which seems to work best for the given realtor.

    @Ken Brown, The last realtor I did a home for (I've only done 5 jobs so far...very slow go for me) had me shoot a 1300 sq. ft. home and asked for at least 25 pics. I suggested that might be a bit excessive (in retrospect it wasn't) but she told me that on, the listing come up based upon the number of photos. Interesting. So her 25 pics would show above one with 24 for a given search criteria. I cannot confirm this but I complied.

    As an aside, the last two jobs both went under contract in less than 3 weeks. I sure wish I could 'prove' it was the pics I took and my Virtual Tour. Now that would be nice!

  20. @Ken Brown... I probably hold some sort of record but I got 25 photos for MLS and a tour on vacant land! It was last month and my personal listing (not a photography client/realtor's listing) so it was a bit of a personal challenge to do it - but I succeeded. It was 10 acres fenced for horses but no structures on it. In reality, I was doing my best to impress the owner because I want to list his house, stables, paddocks and show track. Here is the tour.

  21. @Chet

    On, homes at the same price will indeed sort by number of images. But then again, if a showcase member listed another home at the same price as your client, they would get to post 36 images. 🙂

  22. @Jeff.......learn something new every day!

    For those of you curious about this 1200 sq.ft home shot on an awful rainy day (all the windows fogged up) and promise not to tear me up too much, you can see the VT (slide show) I put together. Two of these bedrooms are so small I had to stand in the closet to with my 16mm to even get anything. It was raining pretty hard when I did the outside shots! OK, enough excuses 🙂

    The only hi-res version is on YouTube:

  23. @Chet, There is a sort criteria on based on number of pictures, but the default sort is based on newest listed (that might be based on my last visit and not actually a default). I don't think that I have ever sorted based on the number of pictures on any service while searching. I always want to deliver the best pictures that I can and 25 photos for $125-$150 isn't going to pay well enough. I am trying to keep my time per job at no more than 3 hours total so I can handle up to three jobs per day. At 25 pictures, my workflow will have to get much faster to be able to deliver 25/job and still get sleep. Scott Hargis recently posted on article on his blog about always doing your best work regardless of the dollar amount. I heartily agree that it is best practice to always deliver your best effort on every job that you do, but I also feel that good business practice dictates that you can't provide $500 worth of service on jobs that pay $100 and stay in business. By calculating the quantity of work you can do for a given price point at your best quality level, you will have a good idea of what you can charge. For me, I need to stay around 15 delivered pictures at a $150 price point. I can always change that as I get faster and it still leaves me cushion when I do need to deliver a few more pictures to cover the property or take more time to get the right shots. It's great to hear that the properties you shot may sell fast. Claim the credit whether you can prove it or not 😉

    @LarryG, I bet your customer was very happy. The property looks to be quite nice. 25 pictures is certainly over the top for vacant land. I'd need a map of your shooting locations to make sense of all the pictures in relation to the layout. Hopefully the effort on the horse paddocks will get you the contract on the other photography. I'm out in the desert and it's very easy to shoot vacant property since it all looks the same and I can just drive to the end of the street to take representative pictures of any patch of land. j/k. The agents grab screen shots from Google Maps or Google Earth and draw an outline of the property boundaries. I'm not sure if that's within Google usage permissions, but the same agents use Street View photos of homes for NOD and foreclosure properties. I've never been asked to photograph vacant land or even asked what I would charge. I would try to find the actual lot for a picture. I am guessing that if I was ever asked they would want me to do it for the price of a Big Mac combo. I'll hold out for a Six Dollar Burger meal at Carl's.

  24. @Chet, don't let your panning/zooming effect stop before you have made the transition to the next shot. In the same vein, make sure the effect is moving as you enter the next frame. Have you tried fitting in static pictures? You can keep the motion going by fading in/out a text description of the room or property.

  25. @Ken - Yes, I noticed that too - after the fact. I never leave a frame stopped but this one slipped by. I could have re-made it (rather quickly) but didn't this time. Funny you would catch that! It's is annoying- isn't it! I don't know but this realtor insisted so being her first job, I just did it. Oh well, if I ever get so busy that my workflow gets to be a problem, well that would be nice. I'm not trying (yet) to make a living at this....I'm trying to get good at it so when I retire I can be up to speed. Thanks for the comments!

  26. I believe that every business or firm need healthy Marketing in this time. Because, competition is too high in market to sell your product. And, for that above tips are quite interesting for that evolution. So, I like to read that how important Property or Real Estate marketing.

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