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RISMEDIA, February 2, 2011—It is well known that virtual tours have been around a long time, as well as many virtual tour providers who offer everything from very basic tours with still images to full-service virtual tours including photography. Some services even offer 360-degree panoramas and full-featured, customizable “Do-It-Yourself” virtual tour services. So, what is it that really qualifies it as a “virtual tour“?

Some real estate professionals say in order to be called a virtual tour, it must include at least one 360-degree panorama image. Others say any slide-show of still images that presents the house in a virtual format (online), qualifies as a virtual tour. I have heard many arguments on both sides of this discussion and feel we should discuss the “purpose” of a virtual tour before we get too bogged down by dictionary definitions.

As a real estate agent, why do you even need a virtual tour? After all, in this economy, who really wants to spend more money on marketing? Here are a number of reasons an agent might create a virtual tour:

-To increase exposure and sell the property faster
-To attract long distance buyers
-To demonstrate your real estate marketing skills
-To improve your company branding efforts
-To give the potential buyer a better view of the property, surroundings, or floor-plan
-To satisfy the seller
-To impress the seller
-In reality, it is probably some combination of these reasons.

None of these reasons require a 360-degree panorama; however, the buyer may get a better sense of the property and especially the neighborhood or yard with a panoramic image that gives the feeling of looking in a complete 360-degree view. Some homes and larger rooms show better with a panorama while some are probably better displayed with a wide-angle (28mm) lens.

While reading the definition below, keep in mind your own objectives. Real estate marketing is about representing the seller’s best interest and at the same time, positioning you as the online marketing expert. The online Wikipedia definition of Virtual Tour states:

“A virtual tour is a simulation of an existing location, usually composed of a sequence of video images. They also may use other multimedia elements such as sound effects, music, narration, and text. The phrase “virtual tour” is often used to describe a variety of video and photographic-based media…the phrases “panoramic tour” and “virtual tour” have mostly been associated with virtual tours created using still cameras. Such virtual tours are made up of a number of shots taken from a single vantage point.”

So, what all this boils down to is “options.” A virtual tour, whether done professionally or a “Do-It-Yourself” service, should offer options to include still images in a slide-show format with good quality music, pleasing transitions, full and partial panoramas (optional), floor plans (optional), and even YouTube-style videos. More buyers and sellers are searching YouTube for homes for sale, yes homes that are for sale. YouTube is now the second largest search site online, not far behind Google who, owns YouTube.

Other features that have not been discussed include: social media, syndication, branding, website links, downloadable e-flyers, mobile-friendly, and high-definition images. So, look for a virtual tour provider that offers options that promote the listing, promote you, and is automated and easy to use with great support. If it isn’t easy to use and cost-effective, why take the time to do it anyway, right?

Tim Denbo is president/CEO of VirtualTourCafe, LLC. VirtualTourCafe LLC is based in Dublin, California and was co-founded by Timothy Denbo and Hannele Rinta-Tuuri. The business is operated as a limited liability company and has an advisory board made up of professionals in the real estate, technology, and marketing fields.