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Virtual Tours Start to Click with Buyers

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82_1web.jpgBy Joanne Cleaver

RISMEDIA, August 4, 2008-(MCT)-You don’t have to show up at Chuck and Pat Yahnke’s Brookfield, Wis., townhouse for a house tour. All you have to do is click on the virtual tour that’s part of their online listing with Coldwell Banker’s Kay Ripp. You can see each room from points of view marked on a whole-house floor plan.

“It’s like you’re walking through,” says Chuck Yahnke.

Virtual tour technology has evolved from the dizzying 360-degree twirl. That technology, which uses a tripod-mounted camera panning around the room, has been eclipsed by two others: slide shows and floor plans with room views.

Both rely on still photos, which are faster and easier for buyers to click through than the cumbersome 360-degree views, says Joe Horning, president of Shorewest Realtors, based in Brookfield. The fisheye views can distort the scale of rooms, making it hard to reconcile the images with room dimensions.

Still photos are easily downloaded to cell phones, enabling roving buyers to call up interior shots of houses they’re viewing from the street.

Slide shows rely on as many still photos as the seller wants-increasingly, two dozen or more. The photos are then arranged by brokers or slide show production services into a sequence. The sequence can be either a literal walk-through of the house-here’s the foyer, here’s the living room, and so on-or by the appeal of the rooms or images, the better to capture the attention of fast-clicking buyers.

By matching still photos with the point of view from which they’re taken, “You can get an idea of how a house is laid out,” he says.

That’s exactly what appealed to the Yahnkes, who encountered several kinds of virtual tours in their search for a Florida retirement home.

“I felt having the measurements with the rooms, it’s honest. It’s not misleading,” says Pat Yahnke. “I like my house, and I thought it would show really well with it.”

Vis-Home Inc., the Chicago company that produces the floor plan software Ripp prefers, charges about $200 for the professionally photographed and laid-out tour, Ripp says.

“With this technology you get about 50 percent more for the money,” she adds. It takes about three days for Vis-Home to take the photos and create the floor plan tour.

Some other virtual tour providers are also adding floor plan views. Some are even experimenting with a function that lets viewers drag and drop furniture into the floor plan, so they can see how their furniture fits into the rooms.

Virtual tours, even the floor plan type, may not be best for small houses with small rooms, says Ripp: “They feel crowded.”

But serious buyers can’t get enough of the tours, and smart sellers are catering to that through the providers’ offers of unlimited photos.

One of Ripp’s sellers included views of a finished, empty basement.

“It showed the space,” she says, “but it wasn’t very interesting.”

Here are some tips to ensure that your house welcomes virtual visitors:

- Look through a camera viewfinder to assess how your house will look in an online slide show or virtual tour.
- A few accessories can add scale, but if in doubt, put it away.
- Many visitors will only look at the first few photos, so make sure they’re the best ones.
- Put on as many photos and angles as you can-serious house hunters can’t get enough.
- Leaving a room out makes buyers wonder what’s wrong with it. Better to have a single shot of, say, a dated bathroom than to skip it.
- Look at the photos your realty agent has taken for prior clients. If they’re unimpressive-too dark or reflect awkward angles-insist on hiring a professional photographer.

© 2008, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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