Couple sitting on couch with smart tablet

Everything is going online, and so are your potential buyers. Virtual tours are a convenient way for real estate shoppers to see the houses they’re interested in from the comfort of their living room couches, meaning they can spend less time physically going from house to house and can pre-screen any houses that fit their criteria, so they’re only visiting houses they’re truly interested in.

For a real estate agent, this is good news and bad news. The upside of this is that you’ll likely be showing your homes to clients who are seriously considering them, saving everyone valuable time. The downside, however, is that if your listings don’t have a great online presence, you’ll be missing out on a big chunk of potential buyers, as 51% of buyers now find their home online.

This means your success with selling homes will often be tied to how good a home’s online profile is. So, what exactly goes into an effective virtual property tour, and how can you create an online experience that will wow potential buyers and convince them to schedule a viewing?

Do I Really Need a Virtual Tour?

In its 2017 survey, “Real Estate in a Digital Age,” the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) found that the vast majority of potential home buyers are using the internet to find houses, with 99% of millennials – the largest group of home buyers – using websites to aid their search. NAR also found that of respondents who used the internet in their search, 89% found photos to be very useful and 50% found virtual tours to be very useful.

“Of course, you can still sell your home without a virtual tour, but more and more consumers are not even visiting listings that do not have a virtual tour available,” Brenda Di Bari, a Manhattan-based real estate broker at Halstead Realty, says.

The necessity of good online visual tools isn’t something that should be overlooked if you want to keep up with constantly-evolving technology, something cited by NAR as one of the biggest challenges facing real estate firms. With more and more buyers starting their searches on laptops, tablets and cell phones, sellers who want their listings to stand out need to provide a complete online experience of their homes for a potential buyer to even consider them.

Virtual tours can be even more vital in areas with a lot of out-of-state buyers, like popular vacation spots. Travel is expensive, and people want to have a good idea of what they’re going to be looking at before they purchase a plane ticket.

Roman Debotch, owner of Finally Real Estate, a real estate photography and videography company in Los Angeles, advises that more immersive video tours should be done in areas that are highly competitive, but for some houses, a simpler tour using pictures or video clips will work just fine.

“In my opinion, every house does not need a virtual tour. In some locations, it would be overkill if you already have good photography,” Debotch says.

You Don’t Need to Be Super Tech-Savvy

When you think of a virtual tour, what are you picturing? A couple photos of a house’s interior? A video walkthrough? Or a complete 360-degree experience with interactive floor plans and a 3D walkthrough?

“Virtual tours can be video, photo or an interactive walkthrough that showcases the property and attempts to simulate actually being there. Generally in the industry, though, when people talk about virtual tours they’re talking about the interactive walkthrough,” Ian Dangerfield, a community support admin for Alliance Residential Company, says.

While there are a lot of companies and software out there that can help you create the most technologically-advanced virtual tour on the market, your main objective should be to create an online experience that is easy to navigate and does a good job showing off your home. Whether that means having a full-blown 3D walkthrough or a simple photo tour is up to your discretion (and budget), but there’s no need to employ technology for technology’s sake.

Dangerfield only recommends professional virtual walkthrough tours for luxury properties or if a home’s audience consists of a lot of out-of-state buyers.

There are a lot of vendors out there who will work with you to create virtual tours for your listings. Some will even create interactive floor plans or give your potential buyers a dollhouse-style overview of the home that allows them to click through the rooms at their leisure.

Today’s technologies make creating your own professional-grade virtual tour easier than ever. Zillow recently launched a tool that allows agents and sellers to easily create their own 360-degree virtual tour from an iPhone.

With this tool, all you have to do is capture each room of the house using the Zillow 3D Home app, which utilizes the panoramic camera on your phone. The resulting virtual tour works similar to Google Maps Street View, so users can click and drag their way through a home.

When it comes down to it, people viewing your listings aren’t looking to be amazed by state-of-the-art home-imaging technology. They just want to see what the house looks like so they can determine if they’d like living in it. Whether you use third-party software or your own smartphone, you need to meet that need. To do that, you’ll want to make sure your tour does a few basic things.

The Keys to a Good Virtual Tour

Picture or video quality is going to be your top priority. Grainy or badly lit images will turn off potential buyers and make them less likely to give a house a second look. No matter what means you’re using to create your virtual tour, if you’re shooting the images yourself, make sure you’re aware of photography and videography basics beforehand.

Make sure your staging is good. Don’t show buyers empty rooms. You want the space to look livable, so they can easily picture themselves living there. Add in some décor that gives the space a cozy, welcoming ambiance, but be sure that the area is also neat and doesn’t look cluttered. Try to keep the décor neutral if you can, as people can have a hard time overlooking a design scheme that isn’t their style.

“Before you begin making your virtual tour, take a walk through your property to decide which angles and views are most important. Make sure you have good lighting and that the property is clean and free of clutter. If you have a lot of decorations and furniture, consider moving things out of the way for the photos,” Di Bari says.

Think through the path a person walking through the home would take, and mimic that with your tour. Where would they naturally stop to admire the crown molding? What would they want a closer look at? If you’re doing a more basic photo tour, take wide shots as well as close-ups, and when you post them, order them in a way that makes sense and feels organic.

Give Yourself a Quick Photography Lesson

It can’t be overstated: The quality of your images is paramount. Unless you’re hiring a professional, you should familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of photography and videography.

If you have great lighting, it’s possible to take pretty good pictures and video using your smartphone. However, if you plan on doing most of your own photography for your listings, you might want to consider investing in a higher-quality camera.

Take time to learn some basics. You don’t need to become the next Ansel Adams, but knowing how to properly frame a picture or light a video will go a long way in improving the quality of your images. Here are some basic photography and videography tips to get you started:

  • Let there be light. Turn on all the lights or bring your own if the house doesn’t have a lot. Open curtains and shutters to let in as much natural light as possible. Do your shooting on a sunny day. Unless you’re shooting outdoors in direct sunlight, it’s hard to have too much light, especially when shooting inside a home.
  • Find your angles. When taking pictures of rooms, you typically want to shoot from the doorway looking in. Make sure to include the floor in your shots and as little ceiling as possible. Pay attention to how you frame your shots; anything extraneous or unsightly (piles of clutter, garbage bins, etc.) should be left out. When you’re taking a picture of the house from the front, try to take it at a slight angle, to show the depth of the house.
  • Take more than you need. Take a lot of photos and do multiple takes of your videos. If you have a lot of options, you get to be choosy and only present your best work. Having too few could mean you’re stuck if one of your images turns out to be blurry.
  • Minimize camera tilt. When you tilt your camera up to get a shot of a room, the vertical lines on the wall can end up looking distorted. Try to keep the camera level and move your body, not the camera, to better capture a wide shot.
  • Don’t use flash. If you opt to hire a professional, they may bring their own external flash to light their shots. If you’re taking your own, however, don’t use your camera’s built-in flash, as it can make subjects look unnatural and add glare to your pictures. If you find yourself needing flash, bring in more external light sources. Even a cheap floor lamp can help better light your shots.
  • Keep a steady hand. You might want to invest in a tripod. Tripods can be useful if the house you’re shooting doesn’t get a lot of light, as you can lengthen the exposure without graininess or blur. If you’re recording video, make sure your tripod can be rotated with the camera on it, so you can get smooth, sweeping shots of a room. If you need to get a moving shot, make slow, easy movements. Nobody wants to watch a shaky video.
  • Don’t skip post-production. Your photos will likely need some touching up, as colors can warp in a photo and make the picture look different than the actual thing. There are a lot of low-cost or even free editing programs that will allow you to do basic touch-ups, like toning down overly-bright areas or balancing pictures with orange tints to them. Check your photos to see if they need to be cropped as well. Cropping to only include important elements is an easy way to improve your pictures.

Aim for a Multimedia Presentation

Utilizing multiple formats for your listings will allow you to present a more holistic view of the home than if you were using a single medium, especially if you’re not using a 3D presentation. Give potential buyers as much context as possible.

For example, if you’re filming a video walkthrough of a house, include photos of each room that zoom in on any interesting details. Make the experience complete by providing the house’s floor plan and indicating where on the floor plan each part of the tour takes place, to help orient viewers.

Your virtual tour doesn’t have to be limited to what you can do on your website, either. If you’re active on social media, consider utilizing Facebook’s 360-degree camera feature to quickly show off a beautiful room to your followers. Using multiple mediums and platforms will increase the number of potential buyers you’re reaching.

Don’t Just Include the House

Is there a beautiful scenic trail that runs near the neighborhood, or a nice big pond in the backyard? A short video or high-quality picture of the area’s natural amenities can get buyers excited in a way that fifteen pictures of the same hardwood floor can’t.

Make the most of the more visually attractive aspects of your listings by including them in your virtual tour. Keep in mind factors like lighting and time of day to make sure you’re getting the best possible pictures. If the view from the back porch is to die for, visit the house at sunset and snap a pic. You don’t just want to show what the house looks like, you want to show why buyers should want to live there.

“Remember to include outside shots as well, including front yard or building entrance, backyard if applicable, common space (such as roof decks) and community/building amenities,” Di Bari says.

Do you have experience with virtual tours and have some ideas on what works (and what doesn’t)? Let us know in the comments! For more real estate news you can use, check out more of our real estate agent content at RealEstate.QuickenLoans.com

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