How to make the most of the switch to virtual tours

by special contributor

by Liz Peterson 

Despite the current economic downturn, people are still buying and selling homes, and agents are adopting technology to inform and empower their buyers in the same way they had before. Though the number of closings and new listings have dropped overall since 2019, recent weekly data from Midwest Real Estate Data shows a gradual increase of both indicators through April into early May.

As such, many agents who had not previously adopted virtual tours or 360-degree photography may now be looking to implement this strategy to provide buyers with a full picture of the listing, in addition to increasing their online presence in a time of social distancing.

According to the National Association of Realtors, one out of four Realtors has put a home under contract without the buyer having seen it in person. Firms such as Redfin have begun to offer live tours via video chat, inviting prospects to remotely view a property with a licensed agent. As it’s unclear when social distancing measures may be fully relaxed, investing in virtual tours may be an agent’s key to success during the uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented. Here’s what to keep in mind as you expand your offerings.

Contracting 360-degree photography services

While most brokers understand the value of professional photography and staging in converting prospects into buyers, fewer see 360-degree photography’s potential as the gold standard for high-quality virtual tours. But hiring qualified photographers who use specialty cameras to capture a complete view of a building, room, or space can make all the difference in providing the viewer with a feeling of being in the space.

If you are already working with a trusted photographer, discuss what it would take for them to begin creating 360-degree photos for your listings. Initial camera packages start at $1,000 for photographers who are looking to get started in this niche. However, it is important to understand that 360-degree photography involves more than simply capturing the photos: Care must be taken with how they are hosted online. Often, interactive tours that enable clicking from scene to scene or room to room are hosted on specialty software. Rather than enduring the headache of purchasing new gear and learning new programs, it may be worth finding a vendor who can offer a full virtual tour package. These packages can range from $1,500 to $7,000 per property.

When comparing 360-degree photography services, be sure to ask about familiarity with Google My Business and whether or not the provider is a “Street View trusted pro,” meaning they have demonstrated experience publishing high-quality photos to Google Maps. According to LCP360, a Chicago-based virtual tour photographer, properties with such tours see a 22% increase in total Google searches and a 23% increase in listing views on Google Search and Google Maps. Much of this increase can be attributed to Google’s algorithm, which favors interactive content that keeps viewers engaged, rather than clicking away. This increase in views is particularly valuable for multifamily properties to show off their unique amenity spaces and model units.

How to DIY

If the cost of professional 360-degree photography is too great, it is possible to film high-quality videos on a smartphone, GoPro camera, or digital single-lens reflex camera. A gimbal, or a pivoted support that self-balances and acts as a walking tripod, will stabilize your motion as you walk through a space. A baseline gimbal is $200 to $300, worth the expense if video also is a key element of your social media strategy.

In terms of audio, you can film the space without anyone in front of the camera, adding voiceover or captions later. Be sure to record voiceovers with a high-quality USB microphone; the device starts at around $75 and is popular with podcasters and hobbyists. Easy-to-use video editing software like iMovie or Movavi should make the tour easy to piece together.

Get comfortable on camera

Ultimately, you are the expert on your listing, and prospective renters and buyers want to hear from you directly. Filming a walk-through where your face appears on camera engages your audience more quickly and establishes trust. Keep a conversational tone, as though you actually are talking to someone in person.

If you’re filming alone, place a full-length mirror behind the camera and check your body language frequently. One way to maintain consistency is to establish scripted intros and outros that explain who you are and what makes the listing unique. Devising a tagline, like “Lincoln Park’s busiest broker” or “showing you the finest Chicago apartments” helps with brand identity and recognition and sets you apart from the competition.

Turning virtual tours into social media content

Just as 360-degree tours help boost your web traffic and Google ranking, filming more video content elevates social media engagement and drives more qualified leads to your website.

As revealed in Chicago Agent magazine’s 2020 Truth About Agents survey, 65% of readers sought to leverage social media as a part of their marketing strategy this year, and video content is a great way to accomplish this goal because it drives more clicks than photos on average. Consider recording a teaser video with your listing as a backdrop and promoting it on Facebook or Instagram. The post can link users to a webpage that hosts a full virtual or video tour with a bold call to action for prospects to submit their contact information.

Real estate brokers can take a page from our company, which won the Chicagoland Apartment Association’s CAMME Award for best corporate social media program, in using social media to amplify listings. Within a week of posting videos of leasing agents walking through apartments on Instagram Highlights FLATS saw a 61% increase in impressions, and more than 27,000 views. Pinning a tour like this one to the top of your page as a highlight reel guarantees the video is accessible long after it’s posted on social media. You can even create an attractive highlight cover using a free graphic design tool like Canva to ensure your message stays on brand.

Ultimately, it is up to agents to determine their specific marketing goals and budget and how virtual tours fit within their strategy. Any combination of the interactive, engagement-driven content mentioned here will boost traffic to your website and improve your Google ranking, brand awareness and social media engagement.

Liz Peterson is the marketing and communications coordinator for FLATS, a subsidiary of CEDARst Companies. CEDARst is an integrated real estate development firm that specializes in adaptive reuse and multifamily projects. Peterson is also a commissioner for the Uptown Special Service Area, a business improvement district and is a member of the Skyline Council for Landmarks Illinois, a state-wide advocacy organization for the preservation of historic places.

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