Last week Leandro Suarez a real estate broker in Mendoza, Argentina that I've been helping get started photographing his own listings ask me if there was some where that did free virtual tours. I believe Leandro's question grew out of the post I did a while back on free websites. At first I was a bit put off by Leandro's question. I was within nanoseconds of responding to Leandro's question with something like, "why would anyone offer free tours?" or "If you get them for free, they are going to be junk."
A little voice in my head said, "why don't you just check for free tours first". So I Googled "free virtual tour". I was stunned. There are pages of sites that offer virtual tours in some form or another. Before recommending a free tour provider to Leandro I decided to try out Flyinside.com which Google gave the top ranking. I threw together a quick tour just to see what Flyinside tours looked like. They are simple but not that bad. Just a few years ago you had to pay for this kind of tour. There are people out there right now paying for tours that are very similar to these.
After thinking about this subject overnight I realized I should have known better. There are beginning to be free services of every kind all over the net. Google and Craigslist got this business model going many years ago. Just a few months ago I read (actually listened to the audio book) Chris Anderson's (Editor of Wired) new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price. Not surprisingly, I got it for free at audible.com. For those that don't want to read the whole book, the video on this post and this Wired article that it came from give some insight into the trend I'm talking about. The short summary is as follows:
The rise of "freeconomics" is being driven by the underlying technologies that power the Web. Just as Moore's law dictates that a unit of processing power halves in price every 18 months, the price of bandwidth and storage is dropping even faster. Which is to say, the trend lines that determine the cost of doing business online all point the same way: to zero.
Hold on. I'm not suggesting that you start shooting real estate for free. What I am suggesting is that you constantly reevaluate the online services that you are using for your real estate photography business to make sure that there isn't some free service that isn't just as good as the service you started using a year or two ago. Don't get all wrapped around whether or not you like the particular example I gave above, it's just an example of at least four google search result pages of free virtual tours. I haven't had time to checkout all these free tours, but there are a few on the list that look pretty good. I think we all have the natural bias against free like I described at the beginning of this post. Even though I'd already read Chris Anderson's book, I had no idea sites were giving away tours.
The fact that there are free or nearly free tours available reinforces my long time belief that every real estate photographer should include a bundled tour with their shoot. Not just because they are so inexpensive but because they show off your work and make you look good.