Since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the world has seen unprecedented disruption to almost every sector of the economy with retail, hospitality, and travel being some of the largest affected. Real estate has seen its fair share of loss however, with the government instructing people not to move home or carry out any property viewings in person until after the pandemic crisis has come to an end. With uncertainty around how long the government implemented lockdown and social distancing measures will continue, it is vital that businesses adapt their methods to best survive and thrive in a quickly changing market.
With almost all industry transitioning to online methods and services to keep business afloat, real estate is no different. Virtual tours have seen a steady rise in implementation over the past couple of years. But with an increasing demand for online access to the market in recent months, they have the opportunity to close the gap between potential buyers that may have previously thought to delay a purchase until they are able to view a property and the home of their dreams.
Are virtual tours actually useful?
The first thing you will be thinking is, do I really need this? How advantageous could it really be to offer virtual touring alongside a standard property advertisement?
A house in London recently sold to an overseas buyer for £6m, intended to be their primary family home, without the owner having physically stepped foot in the property, this is becoming more and more common, and with the effects of COVID-19 in place, it is looking to become the norm. In the first 2 weeks of March, Zoopla recorded a 215% increase in visitors who viewed homes virtually. More and more the successful sale of your property depends on the quality of the property online profile and presence, and virtual tours are a crucial element of this.
When you picture a virtual tour you may be picturing a big-budget fully immersive 360 walkthrough with interactive features and related audio content. But don’t feel out of your depth just yet.
The term ‘virtual tour’ can relate to any video, photo, or audio information that attempts to either effectively describe or simulate the property as if your client was actually there. While some larger, or more expansive properties may benefit from a larger budget tour experience, not all properties will, many (and arguably most) benefit massively from a simple, well-executed collection of images. There are even applications and tools (like Zillow’s 3D Home app) available to agents and sellers to make their own 360-degree tours straight from their smartphone, utilizing panoramic photography similar to that of Google Maps. The main goal is to produce an easily navigated online experience that shows off the property and all it has to offer. Whether that property requires a high budget immersive walkthrough or a slide show photographic tour is up to you and your budget.
What makes a good virtual tour?
When it comes to producing an effective and aesthetically pleasing tour, the primary focus should be quality. Whatever medium you choose, be it a photo, picture or video, you need to have a certain level of quality present throughout. Poorly lit, blurry or confusing low-quality images are a huge turn off to a potential buyer, not only does it present the property poorly but it portrays the seller/ agent in a bad light as well. Whether you’re taking the images yourself or hiring a third party, there are a few key tips to ensuring a quality result is achieved.
You want each shot to be as well lit as possible, drawback any blinds or curtains and turn on any lights within each room. It may be you decide you need to bring additional lighting into space if it is lacking. Make sure you are shooting on a sunny day to ensure the room feels open, spacious, and positive. This all being said, avoid using the flash on your camera or smartphone. The unnatural lighting will often lead to distorted or aggressive glare to an image. If you feel you need to use a flash, bring in additional light sources. Even a small lamp can drastically change the feeling in a space.
This is how the property itself is physically displayed. Empty rooms and blank spaces may seem at first like a good idea, but they come across as barren, lifeless, and offer very little in terms of effectively getting an idea of proportion and spacing across to a buyer. Whilst keeping the space as neutral as possible is a good idea (clients often struggle to overlook styles that they aren’t drawn towards) adding small touches of comfort, and interest, allow viewers to more easily picture themselves assimilating to space. You typically want to take your images from a doorway, looking into a room, as this is the most natural way a client would view it in reality.
Try and minimize any tilting of your camera, as this can warp vertical lines and give a jarring feeling to a viewer. If need be invested in a tripod or mount for your camera to ensure a nice, level image.
Mapping and angles-
There is an important balance to be found when deciding the angles and format of your tour, especially if you are taking static photos. An important and often overlooked element of a virtual tour is the ability to accurately and effectively portray the layout or floor plan of a space. Whilst it is important to show off the best a property has to offer (e.g bay windows, great views, or interesting character) you want these additional images to blend seamlessly into the tour, without confusing or disrupting the flow of the movement through the property. Before taking any photos, walk through the space yourself and think about the natural path you take from room to room. Is there a certain element in each room worth admiring? In a standard viewing, would you notify a viewer of an interesting accent or quirk of the room? These are the types of small details you want to portray in your virtual tour. Making sure to take both wide-angle and close up photos, and arranging them in an organic and simple timeline, this will create a more immersive tour and will help a viewer to feel as if they are naturally moving through space.
More than the house-
Including additional elements of information goes a long way in truly immersing a property in its location, making it feel more tangible to a potential buyer.
Does the property offer breathtaking views? Is there a nearby scenic walk or area of natural beauty? Does the garden boast a beautiful pond or garden gate? These small pieces of interest offer a more well rounded and all together more appealing view of the property. Showing it off as more than just a brick and mortar building.
It is very rare that you will naturally take a perfect shot, that fits all the criteria above. This is where post production comes into play. You may want to touch up an element of your photos, perhaps the colours don’t appear true to reality, or the lighting has been captured too harshly. There are many effective and free/cheap photo editing apps and software available online.
At its basics, remember that viewers aren’t really looking to be impressed by your state of the art imaging or technology. More often than not they are just looking for a way to truly see themselves living in and feeling at home in a property.