They say that necessity is the mother of invention. The illustrious ‘they’ were right. When the Covid-19 pandemic arrived in March, and lockdown arrived soon afterwards, many wondered how the property market would cope. After all, who wants to spend their hard earned savings on a home they haven’t seen first hand? However, the property market defied the odds to become one of the few economic success stories of 2020. And virtual viewings were a big reason why.
After decades of tech tentativeness, the pandemic forced agents to embrace new ways of showcasing their properties. Virtual viewings, which were previously seen as a luxury extra for marketing high-end homes, were suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Their transformation from luxuries to lifelines was therefore complete.
When the first virtual viewings emerged in the early noughties, an ultra-wide angle camera lens was hooked up to a computer to stitch together panoramic images. The circular appearance of these images resulted in the nickname ‘fisheye’ lenses. Sadly this warped perspective wasn’t exactly good bait for hooking homebuyers.
Fortunately, however, the technology has improved dramatically in recent years. Producers now knit together a sequence of digital images to create true 360-degree accurate visualisations. These tours are accessible, realistic, and crucially quite affordable. Therefore they’ve become must-have marketing marvels.
From flythrough to finished article
The most basic virtual viewing nowadays is the video ‘flythrough’. This is where a cameraman travels from room to room and records the journey. Although this method provides some sense of the ambiance, and provides more information than photographs alone, it’s a very linear experience. What’s more, the viewer can’t stop to focus on particular features.
The next level up is the 360-degree virtual viewing. This is when images are fused together to produce a panoramic tour of a property. Viewers can navigate their own path through the home, linger in particular rooms, and take as much time as they like. Potential buyers and tenants therefore get a good feel for a property.
The drawback of the virtual tour, however, is that there’s no interaction with an agent. The viewer can’t ask questions or seek extra information. Therefore these viewings work well as a marketing extra but not as a sales tool. This is where guided virtual viewings come in …
Guided virtual tours offer the full shebang. Potential buyers and tenants can share their screens with agents to discuss the property as they go around. This is as close to a real viewing as possible and allows agents to do what they do best: actually ‘selling’ a home. This guided and fully interactive virtual viewing can therefore serve as a fully-fledged sales instrument.
A buyer’s bestie
Virtual viewings help buyers and tenants because they recreate the experience of viewing a home from the comfort of their existing one. This saves an enormous amount of travel time, especially if they’re based overseas.
Another advantage is repetition. They can view a home as many times as they like, whenever they like, on any device. There’s no need to book an appointment or stick to the standard half hour slot.
Virtual viewings also enable buyers to shortlist or rule out properties before viewing them in the flesh. In fact, their immersive and interactive experience can virtually replace first viewings. It’s even possible to browse floor plans as they tour.
A vendor’s advantage
Online tours also give vendors the best possible chance to find a buyer. They create a virtual open-ended ‘open house’ where interested buyers can look around whenever it suits them. This also helps those with limited mobility or health conditions to see a property.
Although some vendors fear that virtual viewings might reduce the number of physical viewings, this isn’t necessarily the case. What’s more, it’s reassuring to know that those who do view in person are much better prepared and know exactly what to expect. This decreases the number of wasted viewings. Who wants to tidy up for someone who’s never going to buy?
An agent’s ally
Virtual viewings are a great way to generate interest in properties and start a dialogue with potential buyers and tenants at an earlier stage. They’re also relatively simple to arrange: they can be done at the same time as regular photography and floor plans.
Online tours can also streamline property searches and reduce the need for multiple physical viewings, thus saving your team time and effort. You can also start to build a relationship with buyers and tenants, and get to know their preferences, before meeting them in person.
Although most people still prefer to see properties first hand before making a commitment, virtual viewings are still more likely to prompt a sale than buying off-plan. What’s more, they’re easily shared on the major property portals, can impress vendors and landlords, and enhance your agency’s reputation.
Virtual viewings platforms to look at
Although many agencies will find a local expert to produce their virtual viewings, a few innovative companies have caught our eye. Giraffe360, for example, make it incredibly easy for agents to produce virtual viewings of their own. Simply subscribe and they’ll send you a Giraffe 360 camera that makes the process remarkably straightforward. Anyone can do it.
The Giraffe 360 box handles photography, floor plans, and virtual viewings simultaneously. You simply position it in each room, press a button when you’re ready, and it swivels around recording all the images you need. The tour is then uploaded automatically to a property’s webpage.
Another company that’s making waves is Gavl. This Antipodean venture specialises in live-streamed viewings and property auctions. Interested parties can arrange a live tour, with a real agent, streamed over the Internet. They can ask their guide questions, explore specific nooks and crannies, focus on specific features, and even ask for room dimensions. It’s the closest you’ll get to a normal physical viewing.
Finally, UK company Holofy encourages agents to undergo a thorough ‘digital transformation’. They offer quality virtual viewings, which can be created in as little as 20 minutes, and claim that their platform can sell properties without a buyer ever setting foot in it.
Holofy’s tech also offers agents and landlord’s deep analytics. For example, you can look up how long each applicant spent looking at a property. This lets you gauge their level of interest. The technology also creates historical records of how long properties lingered on the market.
So are virtual viewings here to stay? Absolutely. They won’t replace actual viewings completely – they can’t, for example, explore the surrounding area – but they’re sure to supplement agents’ sales and marketing efforts beyond the pandemic and into the foreseeable future.
If you’re sceptical of the long-term prospects for virtual marketing then hear this: Strutt Parker have revealed that virtual viewings make a property 20% more likely to sell. And those that sold found a buyer 10% more quickly.
What’s more, virtual technologies are improving all the time thanks to ‘virtual staging’ that allows viewers to visualise properties with their choice of wall colours, flooring, furniture, plus fixtures and fittings. This technology is particularly useful for unfurnished properties that might feel sparse or unwelcoming at first glance.
It’s intriguing to think where technology could take the industry next. Could virtual reality be the next step? It wouldn’t surprise us. There’s virtually nothing that virtual viewings won’t be able to do.