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What Independent Real Estate Photographers Need To Know About Tours/Video

Published: 30/05/2014
By: larry

HuiTourMany top real estate agents use some form of tours or video. In the following I refer to tours/videos because there is a transition in progress. Tours used to be the top real estate agents marketing choice but agents in some markets that want to be on the leading edge technology wise are more and more attracted to video.

The central question is are tours/video important? Should real estate photographers provide one or both? 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 high-end video 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.
  • All markets are not the same: I've discussed many times how different the two markets (Seattle, WA and Salem, OR) are that I'm very familiar with. Seattle is very progressive in the area of real estate marketing. Tours started to be popular in the Seattle area in the early 2000's and now many top agents are moving to video and consider tours old fashion. Salem on the other hand is just beginning to embrace professional photography and tours. So Salem, a relatively rural area of about 170,000, is easily 14 years behind Seattle in real estate marketing.
  • Video is the new tour medium in some markets: Over the last several years video has increasingly become the new tour medium of choice. Top end agents have always drawn to the latest technology and well done video is clearly the latest technology for marketing.
  • Connecting tours/videos to For Sale signs: Tours/video 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. I've not redone these studies recently but it's unlikely that the numbers have changed appreciably because it's always going to be the upper-end agents (top 10% to 20%) that use tours and video to market.
  • Why are tours popular in some places and not others? The big tour companies have spent a lot of time and marketing dollars over the last 10 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 or video 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 successful 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 or essential to be able to supply a high quality tour that has some or all of the features the big guys have. Many independent real estate photographers have reported that the could not have been successful in their market if they didn't offer tours.

How do independent real estate photographers supply tours without having to build them themselves? There are three 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 and and and recommend 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 include RealTourVision because I know many reader use and like RTV. I've not used them but just recently a reader told me he likes because of the Google Earth fly-in feature they have.

I believe it makes great business sense to be able to supply one of these tours and or video with your shoot if your client desires. Tours will likely give you a marketing edge with many of your upper-end agent 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 relationship with any of these tour companies. In years past I've done paid advertisements for and in 2010 I partnered with the guys that built 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.

14 comments on “What Independent Real Estate Photographers Need To Know About Tours/Video”

  1. Larry, It is funny that you posted this article because a potential client called asking about a tour? He specifically wanted a 'virtual tour'. I have done two tours using tourbuzz. But I am curious to know, what is the difference between a tour and a virtual tour?
    Take care, David Barger.

  2. @David - the term "Virtual Tour" dates back to the early 2000's when virtual tour meant 360s. They called it virtual because 360s made you feel you were virtually there. Over the years agents kept using the name but many more media's like auto slideshows, video, tactical video, floor plans etc were added. Nowadays it makes more sense to just say tour although some people include video in tours... like Tourbuzz does.

  3. I have tried many tour template providers in the past and I can honestly say that Tourbuzz is by far the best out there. The owners are dedicated to constantly improving their system and they ad new features constantly. You can also upload video in the tour player as well. Their customer service is great too. If I ever have a problem, it is usually answered and fixed within minutes.

  4. Your timing is ridiculously perfect! Just this week, I've been researching tours to add to my business. Just added my first tour on Pfretour. After the fact really. I did the pictures for a seller/friend who is a Managing Broker and was selling her home. She was so displeased with her agents photos that she called in a favor to me and I rushed over within the hour to reshoot the pictures. Unfortunately, was traveling and doing a one nighter at my home, I didn't have my equipment so I had to borrow my daughters DSLR. Her wide angle lens was stolen and I had to use what she had. House sold in 4 days for asking as a result! Yay me! Since it still hasn't closed, I was able to get the MLS and make a video to use as an "example". Didn't have embedded badges for the company, so I just did a plug and paste, (which of course I won't do again). Again, since this was an example, I did it quickly just to give the broker and the agent an idea of the look.

    Created another video, for tour example of a previous home I did, but it's not for sale. Does that mean, if I don't have agent info for the home, it won't publish? I can't seem to get past the message "to not forget agent info". Is there a way to create a sample tour, to have for marketing to clients?

    Also, I tried to get a domain through them, and paid for it, but as of yet, it is still non-existent. Not sure why? Hoping someone has an answer for me, otherwise, I guess I'll go through support.

    Just got my TourBuzz account info to get started. Might be on the site, haven't attempted yet... hoping I can create sample tours on that.

    Any advice or suggestions will be graciously accepted. Getting this going is my "homework project" this weekend!!

  5. Also... sick of Photoshelter. I use it for my real estate, but recently branched out to use a different website for my other photography work. Now that I have the other site up and running, I'm back to the real estate site to finish it up. I had to make changes and I'm still near finished because I keep hitting wall. I tried to convert to BEAM but I found it limiting to what I wanted, so I went back to Classic, which doesn't support video. Reason why I applied for a separate web domain just for tours.

    So I ask... WHAT HOSTING SITE DO MOST OF YOU USE? and which would you HIGHLY RECOMMEND? I want ease of setting up, adding pictures text, pages, etc. It needs to have a smooth operating client portal for agents, but I don't want it to look generic. It's still a photography website!! and lastly, one that will accomodate my tours, and video.

    Last question is, do you think a separate domain is a good thing to have or is having a tour gallery on my regular site enough.

    Thank you for taking time to read and answer my questions as best as you can. Between my two sites and revamping, I'm ready to pull my hair out! Just want to be done so I can spend more time taking pictures!!


  6. I don't see much in the way of tours that include floor plans discussed on this site very often if at all. What are the cons in utilizing a floor plan tour? I would think realtors and buyers would like them since they offer more in the way of information.

    What do most photographers and realtors like and dislike about them?

  7. @HEV - We've talked about floorplans in the past see: But yes, you are right, not recently. Both and will accomodate floor plans. There doesn't seem to be a lot if interest in talking about them... probably because photographers are typically not very interested in doing the measuring that needs to be done. The agents I know that do floorplans have an assistant do the room measuring/layout.

    For the listings my I have done we only do floorplans if the homeowner has a set of blueprints. If there are blueprints you should always do floorplans, If you don't have blueprints I suspect that the cost of doing floor plans may be a push.

    How many are creating floor plans?

  8. I have been working on building my own tours, I call them property websites, that can have anything added to them that the agent wants (photos, videos, 360 degree panoramas, information, contact info, contact forms, etc.). Are there any other benefits, besides the obvious features, that the three tour companies above offer?

    If you are familiar with word press, or other simple website builders, making these yourself is not difficult at all and can save you money, while being able to offer more custom options. Making it yourself will also help you stand out from the crowd, and look a little different.

    Here is an example of a property website I have made:

    Critique and comments are welcome.

    Josh Mais

    Kansas City Spaces

  9. @Larry - You only do floor plans if the homeowner has blueprints? Did you redraw them or scan them as a jpg and then add them to a slideshow for the tour? I have been seeing Interactive Virtual Tours as a term. Here is an example....

    @Josh - I like your example tour. I'm trying to understand how much photographers can really stand out if all photographers are basically offering the same thing which is a slideshow. Am I missing something?

  10. @HEV - Yes, I take large blueprints to Kinkos and have them reduce the large floorplan down to 8.5x11 then scan it and tinker with it in Photoshop to get what I want... then use in a tour and/or flyer.

    Competing with the big tour companies I think is more important than standing apart from other independent photographers. Big tour companies do a lot of effective advertising and you want to be able to say I supply a tour thats just as good as Obeo or TourFactory or what ever the agent has been sold.

  11. @Hev - I was simply saying you can stand out by offering more custom options along with tours that look different than others currently being provided by bigger companies. When I say "look different" I am referring to the design. Essentially, other photographers would be offering something close to the same thing, but I have more control over the features and design of the tour.

    Josh Mais

    Kansas City Spaces

  12. @Larry

    I just finished watching an Obeo marketing video. They mentioned that floor plans are a huge part of real estate listings in the North East. If I understand it correctly, Obeo creates floor plan tours but you have to provide the floor plan. What if you don't have a floor plan? Do you know how to draw them?

    Where are you located Larry?

  13. This is an awesome resource...thank you! At I teach Realtors® how to build their own single property websites and I always try to encourage them to add professional photos as well as a good quality virtual tour. I already refer agents to your site to learn about photography and I will certainly have to refer them here to this post so they can learn more. Love this site. I learn so much here.

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