The pandemic compressed 10 years of technological adaptation into just months. After a year and a half of COVID-19, virtual tours have gone from fringe product to a mainstay of property marketing.
Juwai IQI hosts more than 5,000 virtual tours on its portals, Juwai.com and Juwai.asia. Here, I’ll try to summarize some of the lessons we’ve learned about the best virtual tour operators for readers of REM.
There are at least two dozen virtual tour providers, so I will give you just the shortlist of those I believe have superior features, pricing, sustainability or market share. If you think I’ve left out someone who deserves to be on the list, please tell me in the comment section. Note that I have no financial interest in the success of any of these companies.
Do virtual tours really help sell homes? Most of the statistics offered to justify virtual tours are over-hyped and under-scientific, but I believe the tours do have real value. Whether or not they help you sell a listing, virtual tours can undoubtedly help you win one. Offering virtual tours demonstrates to the seller that you will go all out to market their property.
Virtual tours give buyers the chance to fall in love with a home after you have already captured their interest with the traditional listing description and photos. Most users only click on the virtual tour after first looking at traditional photos and text descriptions. That makes them an essential tool for converting a prospect from a browser to an inquiry.
Probably the leading virtual tour software on the market is Matterport. It is the industry standard. Matterport developed the dollhouse view that lets you see the entire property from any perspective. The company also has a helpful floorplan view so you can see a listing in two dimensions as it would appear from above.
Users find navigating Matterport tours intuitive and easy. And, because Matterport is a successful company with tens of thousands of customers and several hundred million dollars in the bank, it is here to stay. The company will continue to improve its software and is unlikely to disappear one day, taking all of your tours with them.
I believe Matterport is a safe bet. The professional plan that gives you 50 active listings is $160 per month (US$129).
Zillow 3D Home
The Zillow 3D Home tool lets you create virtual tours with either your phone or a special Ricoh Theta 3D camera.
The features and in-tour navigation are relatively basic, but the tool is free and easy to use. Tours post automatically to Zillow and Trulia, and you get links for posting on other sites. Zillow is another company that is unlikely to disappear.
To be clear, you can post your Zillow 3D Home tour on your own website and other portals. You can also post listings from other virtual tour creators on Zillow. If you are looking for a simple, no-cost option and already advertise on Zillow, this may be a good choice. It might suit properties in lower price ranges or whose owners don’t want to pay for an expensive marketing campaign.
CloudPano is fully featured and aims to compete with Matterport. It costs more than Zillow’s free option, but at just $41 (US$33) per month for unlimited tours, you would be spending less than with Matterport. CloudPano uses a lower price point to help it take market share from its better-known rival.
It’s easy to get started with CloudPano because you can clone demo tours that include a complete feature set. That way you won’t have to go to the trouble of setting up those features from scratch.
Some downsides to CloudPano are that it lacks a dollhouse view and requires more work to stitch together your photos into a tour than in Matterport.
CloudPano’s pricing plans seem to be pitched to the photographers who take property photos. You can host unlimited virtual tours for one price, which would suit a photographer with multiple agent clients.
If you are considering a paid, full-featured option with infinite listings, then give CloudPano a look.
Kuula has successfully been operating since 2016. The business plan is $45 (US$36) per month and this is likely to appeal to most real estate agents. The most important extra features you get are detailed analytics, the ability to add multiple logos and password protection for your tours.
Kuula is a full-featured, well-priced option that is popular overseas, although it is less common in the U.S. and Canada than some of its competitors.
3DVista offers traditional virtual tours like its competitors, but it is more expensive and offers an advanced feature the others do not have.
That unique feature is live-guided tours. You might call them a combination of Zoom video calls and virtual tours. Just like in a video call, your buyers can dial into a virtual tour with you and you’ll see their live images in boxes on the side of the screen. Then, you can walk them through the virtual tour while discussing highlights with them.
You can also let the buyers navigate, so they can explore the virtual space with you there to answer any questions or point out features they may have missed.
This guided, live presentation of a virtual tour can be a powerful tool, especially with buyers who cannot visit the space in person. Best of all, it doesn’t cost anything extra.
Unlike the other services, 3DVista is downloadable software. 3DVista’s Virtual Tour Pro software comes in Mac and PC versions for a one-time $618 (US$499) purchase. But the costs don’t stop there. If you (like most) want to use the accompanying cloud service, about $149 (US$120) per year will give you a 1GB plan, which the company says is enough to host about 20 typical tours at a time.
If you frequently deal with remote buyers, this may be an important addition to your toolset.
If you are trying to sell an empty, gutted or unfinished space, a virtual tour probably won’t be enough. You may need virtual staging.
roOomy is a separate company but, through a partnership with Matterport, is the only one able to virtually stage a Matterport tour. That means your 3D images of your empty or gutted listing can be turned into a fully finished and furnished space. Just choose a design style (the choices are traditional, transitional, modern, mid-century modern, rustic and Scandinavian) and they do the rest.
BoxBrownie is another handy and very inexpensive service. It will turn your 360-degree photos into virtual tours and offer so many other digital services related to images and virtual tours that I can’t list them all here.
Among BoxBrownie’s offerings is a virtual staging service similar to roOomy’s. It will insert furniture and décor into 360-degree photos of an empty room, giving buyers a chance to fall in love with the lifestyle your listing offers.
If you are selling unbuilt homes for a builder, they can create virtual tours of what the finished space will look like. Perhaps your buyer wants to see the kitchen in both the premium and basic options? BoxBrownie will edit the virtual tour so buyers can easily switch between one option and the other.
Yousaf Iqbal is director IQI Canada, the Canadian arm of real estate technology group Juwai IQI.