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Zooming in on the Virtual Tour Business – A Whole New Look at Online Listings

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By Maria Patterson

RISMEDIA, Dec. 6, 2008-Have you bought a pair of shoes online lately? How about an appliance from Sears or a sweater from JCPenney? If you have, then you’re quite familiar with the advantages of VuVista’s iVuZoom technology. Touted as “immersive and interactive,” the technology’s implications for real estate are enormous. Imagine viewing a virtual tour of a home’s kitchen and zooming in on the refrigerator’s Viking logo or the custom hardware on the cabinetry-just like you zoomed in on the stitching on those shoes you just bought. RealBiz360′s iVuZoom technology brings new detail-and new potential-to virtual tours. Here, the Avondale, Arizona-based company’s president and COO, Steve Marques, discusses why iVuZoom is such a breakthrough for agents and their clients, and why it just might revolutionize the virtual tour business forever.

Maria Patterson: How did VuVista and the iVuZoom technology evolve?
Steve Marques: Our history is rich. We acquired the technology of Live Picture, who developed the world-famous Photovista stitching software and zoom image server. With years of research and development behind us, we have now integrated the stitching technology and the image server featuring iVuZoom to deliver a completely online virtual tour application for the real estate industry. VuVista enables agents to easily create and deliver truly immersive virtual tours of their properties. For the first time, you can have a 360- or 180-degree panorama, stop the picture, zoom in and see precise details.

MP: You describe this technology as “immersive.” What exactly does that mean?
SM: We deliver virtual tours that are both immersive and interactive. Instead of just viewing a static image, the user can interact with the image by panning and zooming in to explore any high resolution detail they choose. This makes the experience immersive.

MP: Why is this immersive quality so powerful?
SM: The reality of a static still shot and video is that they are both non-interactive. They are passive entertainment tools. This is the first technology that allows you to get involved with the image-to interact with the image. There’s a reason that JCPenney, Kenneth Cole and Nine West are using this technology. They used to have up to 50% returns on items ordered online-what consumers received often wasn’t what they thought they had ordered. With iVuZoom, these companies are experiencing a much lower percentage of returns.

MP: How does this concept translate to home buying?
SM: VuVista’s interactive virtual tours hold viewer interest up to five times longer than a typical virtual tour, thus generating more qualified leads for real estate agents. We have clocked it and the average consumer is spending 25-35 minutes using the zoom gallery on our virtual tours. They are zooming in on the stainless steel appliances, on the furniture, on the wood floor. This is about the consumer exploring the home. What we wanted to do, and what we achieved with our software, was to deliver a unique, informative viewing experience.

MP: How can agents and sellers use this technology to their benefit?
SM: Our reports can tell you what room people are zooming in on the most and how long they’re in that room. When you do an open house, you can’t gauge the reaction of the person walking through the home. With our reporting technology, you have the capability of knowing that the customer spent 15 minutes in the den and zoomed in on certain locations. This product gives you feedback that you can’t get anywhere else. Ultimately, it delivers agents and sellers better informed and qualified potential buyers, saving both time and money.

MP: Is this type of technology more important in today’s market?
SM: When homes were selling in two days, no one cared. Now, consumers need this type of experience to be able to distinguish the differences between homes. Virtual tours have been around for 10 years; we’re taking the logical next step. The more you can get a sense and feel of a home, the better buying decision you’ll be able to make. With immersive, interactive technology, you can take the images and actually examine them.

MP: How are you able to deliver such a clear, quality picture, even when a consumer zooms in on the details of a home?
SM: Our exclusive technology allows us to stream high resolution images to the Web over any bandwidth. That means you can upload and use the highest megapixel images available from today’s digital cameras. Many tour providers stop you at uploading more than a five-megapixel image, otherwise you’d get those milky, grainy pictures. We offer the highest resolution images in the industry, which then enables users to zoom in without the loss of detail. When we say we offer high resolution, we mean it- it’s part of our
architecture.

MP: How will you evolve the application?
SM: We will also be releasing this to mobile phones. You’ll be able to use this technology on your cell phone with the same depth and quality. And it won’t be just for tours, but anything you might send…even 100-page closing documents. We want to bring the same experience consumers can have on the Web to wireless.

MP: How easy is it for agents to utilize the technology?
SM: Though the technology may sound complicated, VuVista was designed with ease of use-first and foremost. All the tools are Web-based, which means you can stitch panoramas, upload images and create a customized virtual tour online with any Internet connection and using any digital camera. We don’t limit the number of photos you can use, either. You can use 200 photos if you want to. We offer unlimited panoramas and photos for $24.95 a month. You can also use VuVista to create your own personal interactive tours for real estate and community events, the local chili cook-off or a baby shower. We want our users to use interactive tours for every-day experiences, too.

MP: How do you hope the VuVista experience increases the overall adoption of virtual tours?
SM: We believe that as potential buyers view interactive virtual tours, they will readily recognize how much more informative and engaging the experience is. Today, it is more important to have a virtual tour than ever before, no matter whose product it is, yet the number of virtual tours offered overall is low. The reason we went to work building VuVista was to reach out to encourage more agents to use virtual tours. I would like to see all virtual tour companies get together and sponsor more home tours for consumers. Consumers are suffering from negative equity in their homes. We want to support Realtors and we have to band together and do what we can to get more listings with virtual tours on the Internet. RE

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