A picture is worth a thousand words.

By Colleen May

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth far more. The age of technology has opened the doors to innovative ways for estate agents to market and sell property and one of these ways is through virtual tours. With iPads, tablets and the Internet changing the normal channels of marketing, it is now essential to draw buyers into a visual and interactive setting rather than relying only on static images.

Meeting each prospective buyer and taking them to the property for a physical walk-through tour may soon be a thing of the past. Imagine if prospective buyers were filtered beforehand, and you only needed to take a handful of pre-qualified buyers to the property to land a sale? Technology is helping us get to that point. Using virtual tours, videos and walk-throughs, potential buyers are now able to virtually visit properties for sale from anywhere in the world, at any time convenient to them. Sitting at home, laptop or tablet in hand, buyers can browse through property databases, view the properties, and take the virtual tour of each room.

What is a virtual tour?

Essentially, a virtual tour is a sequence of photographs stitched together to form a seamless, 360 degree, horizontal field of view. Imagine taking 20 pictures of a room, from the ceiling to the floor and then joining all of those images to create one big picture, which a potential property buyer can look at and tour.

A virtual tour allows the potential buyer to look through the whole house, without stepping inside the front door. Virtual tours, such as those available on Property24.com create a moving 360 degree view from a central point in a room or the garden, giving valuable insight into the property and allowing the potential buyer to picture themselves in the home. JP Farinha, CEO of Property24 says, “The web has become the main source of information for people beginning to research the property market, or for those looking for a home. This is a clear indication that online strategies for estate agents are vital to generating quality leads.”

Do it yourself or leave it to a professional?

Everyone can create a panoramic image now, with apps available for various platforms. For the iPhone there is an excellent app focused on exploring the world around us in panoramic views, which also includes a tool for creating panoramas yourself, using your iPhone or iPad. The most popular apps are Panofolio 360° Photos, Panorama, Video Pano 360, and for stitched images, Stitched and Autostitch Panorama.

The android market has many apps both free and paid, which you can use to take images and stitch them together into a short video, although the quality is not the same as when this is done with a proper SLR digital camera. The most popular android apps are PhotoStitch and Magisto.

Real estate companies can look into purchasing DIY kits, which make it quick and easy to shoot 360 degree virtual tours of the properties in their database, companies such as Visual Tours sell these kits on the Internet. This is ideal for agents who are already able to shoot their own still images, and who can now shoot 360 degree virtual tours by spending just a few more minutes at each property with the correct equipment. However, using a professional virtual tour company is particularly advantageous for top end properties selling for millions. Estate agents have been known to successfully use the hook of a professional virtual tour to seal a sole mandate or higher commissions. The cost of a professional virtual tour is often too high for run-of-the mill properties, but for high end properties, the cost is a small percentage of the profits to be realised, and so often makes business sense for the agent.

Property24 offers a host of virtual tours suited to your needs, whether you want to simply use their software or have them do the entire process from picture to uploaded virtual tour. And, with the technology becoming more accessible, the cost of creating and uploading a virtual tour has decreased.

Most virtual tours are published in HTML5 or Flash for seamless compatibility on most computers and mobile devices. But, as the years have passed, and image quality has increased, file sizes have grown faster than the bandwidth speeds needed to load the images at a reasonable speed in South Africa. Over the last few months, Internet speed in South Africa has been upgraded. The slowest typical home ADSL line is now 1mbps, which is fast enough to load a single 360 degree image in seconds. Although 360 degree images still need to be downscaled and downsized to achieve a balance between fast load times and good image quality, the viewer is now able to have a much better experience than was previously possible.

Soon buyers are going to expect all properties to have 360 degree virtual tours as a standard. This is already the case for a number of countries with fast Internet, such as the United Kingdom and USA, where just about every single property on the market offers an online virtual tour. Property shopping is done in the comfort of your home, and buyers only visit (in person) the top few properties of their choosing.

Advantages of virtual tours

  • Your listings will come to life.
  • The more information the potential buyer has about your property, the more qualified the lead.
  • You can use the virtual tour on your own website.
  • Virtual tours will increase the quality score of your listings, improving the ranking of the property on the search results page.
  • Your property can be shown all day, every day to an unlimited number of prospective buyers.

The use of virtual tours extends far beyond just showing property. Hospitality is one industry that has embraced the art of virtual tours and the benefits it offers. More than 75% of all tours are researched online today before being booked, and when people are looking for accommodation or attractions, a picture is good but a virtual tour will give you the experience of being there, ensuring that there are no nasty surprises to your holiday.

In much the same way that travel agents are increasingly being passed up for online bookings, will the property industry in South Africa see online marketing replace estate agents or become a tool to better their business? In today’s real estate industry, technology is playing a more vital role than ever. Utilising the power of the Internet, virtual tours can give you the edge you need to stay ahead in this fast-paced industry.