Many 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 Tourbuzz.com and pfretour.com and and recommend Tourbuzz.com. 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 RealTourVision.com 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 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.