8 REASONS WHY VIRTUAL TOURS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER
Q. What do the 360° Virtual Tour for real estate and the jeep have in common?
A. Both were brought into widespread use to address a global crisis, but the value of each far outlived the crisis they were deployed to address.
With the Jeep (then known as ‘the quad') the crisis was World War II. The advantage it brought was its 4x4 capabilities, “the jeep was fast, nimble and tough. It could handle nearly any terrain, and when it did get stuck, it was light enough for soldiers to lift free. It towed anti-tank weapons that could be deployed quickly, and it could mount a machine gun for fighting infantry.” (autoweek.com). Now, with World War II a distant aspect of the past, the Jeep remains one of the most popular vehicles on the road.
With the 360° Virtual Tour, the crisis was the coronavirus pandemic. When lockdowns prevented real estate agents from showing property, the 360° Virtual Tour almost single-handedly allowed business to continue.
During the height of the lockdowns, the 360° Virtual Tour was treated pretty much as a substitute for the in-person viewing. It certainly did function as a worthy substitute - as we all know, real estate boomed during the pandemic. But it’s becoming abundantly clear that the Virtual Tour is so much more than a substitute for an in-person viewing.
Just like the Jeep, the Virtual Tour caught on in ways that no one anticipated.
Virtual Tours are: “here to stay” (NY Times), “not going away” (Forbes), “the new normal in real estate listings” (Elite Agent) - this is just a small sample of the consensus amongst real estate pundits and professionals.
Why, though? Why has the 360° Virtual Tour become so essential to real estate marketing, beyond its obvious function as a substitute for in-person viewings?
It’s really no mystery. These eight factors demonstrate just how versatile and engaging the 360° Virtual Tour has become as a virtual property marketing tool.
1) Virtual Tours Significantly Increase Clickthrough
Listings featuring Virtual Tours are clicked on 40% more often than listings without Virtual Tours. This statistic comes from a Planet Home study, which also pointed out that: "75% of all prospects surveyed said that they preferred Virtual Tours to assist in the decision-making process.”
The information is reinforced by Realtor.com, which reports that "that listings with Virtual Tours receive 87% more views than home listings without tours and that 54% of buyers skip over listings of properties that don’t include Virtual Tours."
|This screenshot from the first page of Redfin results for “San Francisco” is an example of the preference MLS sites give to listings that include Virtual Tours. Redfin is not the only multiple listings service with an algorithm that promotes listings with Virtual Tours. Zillow and Realtor.com also favor Virtual Tours highly in their ranking criteria.|
Perhaps this is why major sites like Redfin and Zillow include a Virtual Tour icon on their listings’ thumbnails, allowing prospective buyers to skip over listings that don't feature one.
It’s also likely why first page results on Zillow, Redfin, and Realtor.com all tend to contain Virtual Tours. When more people click on listings with Virtual Tours, these listings move up in the algorithm, making it difficult to crack the front page on these sites if your listing does not include a Virtual Tour.
2) Virtual Tours Keep Prospective Buyers Looking At Your Listing Longer
Though a stunning Hero Image might be the first thing to catch a buyer’s eye on an MLS site, if there’s no 360° Virtual Tour to follow it up, you might be letting a prospective buyer get away.
According to several studies, prospective buyers remain on a listing five to 10 times longer if it has a Virtual Tour. In many ways, a breathtaking Hero Image combined with a 360° Virtual Tour is the perfect real estate marketing tandem.
|The breathtaking Hero Shot with a touch of our Day to Dusk magic might be the best way to stop a property shopper mid-scroll. But if you don’t follow it up with a Virtual Tour, you might be missing an opportunity to achieve that deeper level of involvement necessary to ignite their dreams.|
If the former catches the eye and elicits engagement, the immersive and self-guided qualities of the Virtual Tour achieve the involvement necessary to get prospective buyers truly starting to imagine themselves inside a property.
This is an enormous advantage if you are a real estate agent. In fact, it's an essential step in the overall sales process.
But not only is the length of time someone looks at your listing an indicator of their interest in your property, it also means that if they are looking at your listing they are not looking at one of your competitor’s listings.
3) Houses with Virtual Tours Sell For Higher Prices
A recent study from the University of Iowa has found that houses with Virtual Tours fetch higher closing prices.
The study looked at 19,000 homes ranging in price from $250,000 to $2,000,000 and determined that including a 360° Virtual Tour in the marketing increased closing price by at least 3%.
If 3% doesn't seem like a great increase, bear in mind that 3% of $250,000 is $7,500, while 3% of $1 million is $30,000; of $2 million, it is $60,000.
This means that for a $2 million home, the ROI for one of our Virtual Tours would be approximately 1800x the initial investment for a Virtual Tour, which would run you $24 USD for a four or five-bedroom home.
The study also suggested that: "using online Virtual Tours is one of the factors that make agents appear more professional, so the sellers of desirable homes that are more likely to fetch a higher price are more likely to choose an agent who uses Virtual Tours as part of their marketing package."
4) Sight-Unseen Offers Have Gone Through The Roof Since The Onset Of Virtual Tours
According to a Redfin survey of more than 1,900 home buyers across 32 major real estate markets, 63% made an offer on a property that they hadn’t seen in person. That number is twice the number from the previous year.
|It is no coincidence that since realtors began relying on Virtual Tours to market their listings, sight-unseen purchases have gone through the roof.|
Low inventory and fierce competition for available inventory was no doubt one factor behind the rise in sight-unseen offers. But ask any real estate agent who has benefited from this long-distance trend and they will tell you that the high-quality 360° Virtual Tour is the single greatest factor behind these purchases.
Michael Bryden is a virtual property marketing specialist from Australia's Gold Coast. Here's what he has to say about the relationship between Virtual Tours and sight-unseen real estate sales:
“I know another agent with LJ Hooker here on the Gold Coast. He had me take some pictures for him. I wanted him to include a Virtual Tour with his listing and he didn’t want to.
“So I said to him ‘Let me give you a free Virtual Tour. Just so you can see how powerful they are.’ Within two days, he had sold the property to an out-of-state buyer who had taken the Virtual Tour.
“I have another client and she’s now dealing with Chinese buyers from Canada because of a Virtual Tour.”
5) Virtual Tours Dramatically Reduce “Wasted Viewing”
Of course, the smart agent understands that no viewing can ever truly be considered a wasted viewing. Whether or not a person is serious about buying a property, every viewing an agent conducts is, at the very least, exposure to a potential future client.
On another hand, it’s no secret that many people who have no intention or means of making an offer arrange for viewings simply to satisfy one curiosity or another.
This was one of the unexpected discoveries during the coronavirus pandemic. Agents who were suddenly in the unenviable position of depending upon Virtual Tours soon came to realize that Virtual Tours carried the side benefit of weeding out inquiries from individuals who had no intention or means of purchasing a property.
Such individuals are known as "tire kickers" in the industry. They are a massive drain on time and energy, and the web is full of advice on how to spot them to prevent them from wasting your time. Burnout is a genuine threat in the real estate profession, and tire kickers, who can waste hundreds of hours over one agent's year, can be a major contributor to this career-killer.
There is perhaps no better screening device than the Virtual Tour, as people who contact you for a viewing after taking a Virtual Tour online tend to be much more serious about buying than those merely curious neighbors whose chief motivation is to poke around a house that's in their neighborhood.
6) Virtual Tours Address “The Underwear Effect”
|Virtual Tours are becoming more and more effective because more and more Millennials are starting to hunt for property. As is well documented, Millennials are more likely to bypass your business if they can’t complete most of the transactional steps via their smartphone. Jerry Seinfeld calls this “The Underwear Effect”|
It's an astute (if hilarious) way to describe the changing habits and expectations of consumers in the digital age. Consumers expect “click of a button” options, whether they’re ordering food, booking an Uber, or scheduling a flight - or, as Jerry Seinfeld would put it, people want to be able to do everything they used to have to leave the house to do from home in their underwear.
Including touring homes. During the pandemic, Forbes announced that for the first time in history, people would rather tour a home virtually before going out to look at it in person. With Millennials now constituting the largest property-buying group in the United States, this has become more than an expressed preference.
This has become an expectation of property shoppers, just as it has become an expectation of restaurant customers.
If you’re a restaurant that doesn’t offer some form of online ordering/delivery in this post-pandemic age of the smartphone, you are going to miss out on business.
Ditto for the real estate agent who doesn’t offer a Virtual Tour.
7) The After Effect: The Virtual Tour's Least-Known Advantage
There is so much talk about how Virtual Tours are what convince a buyer to visit your listing that it can be easy to forget that Virtual Tours are equally if not more vital to the sales process AFTER an interested party has toured your listing.
Yes, they work wonders in attracting serious buyers to contact an agent about viewing a listing. But it's only after viewing a listing that the really serious buyers return again and again to the Virtual Tour while making that final decision on whether to make an offer.
What is often overlooked is the considerable influence Virtual Tours exert AFTER a property has been viewed in person by a serious potential buyer.
8) Virtual Tours Provide A New Key To The Commercial Sector
This, as well as point #6 (above), can be directly linked to the fact that the Millennials have grown up. Predictions are that Millennials will make up to 75% of the global workforce by 2025, and the habits Millennials developed while they were growing up, have already begun to impact the way property is marketed, bought, and sold.
Not only do Millennials demand business options that allow them to do as much as possible on their smartphones, but they are also becoming more and more relevant to the commercial sector. They are no longer just entry-level employees, Millennials have become employers, business owners, and commercial property owners and tenants.
Yet the commercial sector lags behind the residential sector in its virtual property marketing.
Combine Millennials' love of technology, native digital content, and innovation with the pandemic restrictions, the new style of work, and proptech advancements, and you'll see why commercial real estate has to step up its digital game.
If you are an agent who deals with commercial property, this presents a tremendous opportunity to connect with a demographic that your colleagues might be missing out on. The sooner you establish yourself as a commercial agent who caters to the Millennial way of doing things, the better you will be positioned - both now and in the future.
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