How Virtual Tours evolved to help real estate communicate with consumers

Technology in the real estate sector has seen major advances in 2020 as the industry globally grapples with the effect of Covid 19 and rolling lock-downs. In particular, virtual tours are becoming a must-have in the buying, selling and development of real estate.  As the industry develops, cloud-based Virtual Tours are receiving increased attention. Also, as processor and internet speeds continue to improve, streaming provides an easier way to upload, visualize and share a tour without compromising image quality. Here’s a guide to understanding the best opportunity for your property, whether it is a built or an unbuilt project design. 

So what is a Virtual Tour?

“Virtual Tour” is defined as “a simulation […] composed of a sequence of videos or still images”. 

Virtual Tour is a broad term that includes various types of technologies but also uses within Real Estate.  Virtual Tours can be used to show built property, but also to show to-be-built developments at the pre-completion stage. 

Different characteristics of virtual tours:

  • Virtual tours for Built v. Unbuilt Properties
  • Virtual Tours using 360 v 3D technology
  • Virtual Tours: Offline v  WebGL v Web-streaming
  1. Virtual Tours For Built v. Unbuilt Properties

Built: “Photographic Virtual Tours” are used to show properties that physically exist (here is an example). These tours are created using a special type of photography – using much of the same technology that we use to take a photo on our phone. The creation process for Photographic Virtual Tours will require property visits and usually a photographer who will scan the property.

Unbuilt: “3D Render Virtual Tours” are used to show properties that do not exist, they are still at the project or pre-completion stage, usually new developments yet to be built. The imagery is created using what is called Computer Generated Images (CGI), which is basically creating drawings using a computer. These types of Virtual Tours complement and perhaps will eventually replace rendered images of future constructions.

  1. Virtual Tours using 360 v. 3D technology

Virtual Tours of Built or Unbuilt Property can be presented via 360 or 3D technology. 

3D Virtual Tours: allows the user to get a far superior sense of size and perspective.  Like traditional architects’ models, the user can look at the outside of the property, an overview of the property, and inside the property to understand the scale and dimensions. The user can move around the property and can make movements within the viewable space. 3D informs users where space lies, height, as well as the positioning of rooms and floors. 

For 3D Render tours should provide both proper dimensions and visual impact. Floor plans, CAD, or BIM models are migrated to 3D rendering software (such as 3D Max from AutoCAD) to create an environment that can give the user a more realistic experience.

360 Virtual Tours:  They use static 360 images that have a very wide-angle view of the scene in question. This is a panorama image that takes in the field of vision that you were to spin around making a spherical image. Here is an example of a 360 photo. As you can see, you can only zoom in and out, but you cannot change your location in the scene, making it difficult for the user to get a sense of size and perspective.

  1. Virtual Tours: Offline v  WebGL v Web-streaming

An online Virtual Tour is where the tour file is viewable in any location with an internet connection. An offline Virtual Tour requires a specialised computer, connected to a VR headset or a touch screen. The following is an example of a number of these technologies:

Offline 3D Render Virtual Tour:  The tour is considered “Offline” as it is not viewed through a web browser. The high quality of the images means the electronic file of the tour is usually very large, often more than 3 gigabytes (3000MB) – offline file is usually big and the graphics very complex to process. A computer with a very high processor is required, and viewing on a mobile device is not an option. The advantage of these tours is that the production team can get closer to “photorealism”. The computer can be connected to a VR headset or a touchscreen: both are advisable, as there are many people who still get motion sickness when wearing a VR headset.

Online 3D Render Virtual Tour Via WebGL: Whereas the Offline tour file maybe 3000MB, the current size of online tours is approximately 30mb, about 100 times smaller.The reason why so few companies offer this technology is that it is still very difficult to get this right. There is a careful balancing process between internet connection that is too slow to fetch the data or the device processor doesn’t have enough power, the tour can crash, something which should always be avoided. 

Online 3D Render Virtual Tour Via Streaming: This method is totally cloud-based. Instead of being downloaded to the browser, as it is in WebGL, and then shown to the user, the file is uploaded by a server to a system based on cloud computing. Servers handle the uploads and users can access 3D Virtual Tours on their own personal devices. They don’t need powerful equipment or processors. This technology is very new. Big corporations like Facebook only launched their cloud-based games available via streaming last month. Until 6 months ago, there was no assurance the servers could handle the amount of data without crashing. And we are talking about the gaming industry — which is a leading industry when it comes to interactive experiences.

Developing a Virtual Tour strategy

Customer behaviour has changed and, these days, an online presence is not limited solely to contact forms on a website page. Considering 90% of home buyers search online during their home buying process, it is reasonable to imagine it takes a few Google searches before someone decides to actually visit a property. Virtual Tours add value to this process by offering visualization as a three-dimensional space while providing 2D information such as height and width. 

But the real estate industry has different needs, and we are now getting beyond the gimmicky, “Oh wow, that’s cool” fad of VR in Proptech. It’s time to look at Virtual Tours in relation to what problem needs to be solved. 

  1. For my building 

When it comes to buildings already in the market, developing Photographic Virtual Tours requires a photographer to visit the property to scan it and generate the images to compose the 3D frames. You will find companies that provide solutions targeting professional photographers (and demanding specific equipment to access the services, for example) as well as enterprises delivering systems you only need a smartphone and a tripod to operate. 

Also, there is the option the client coordinates data capture of a property using a service provider furnished by the company. In Matterport, the Matterport Service Provider (MSP) performs the data capture adding the customer as a collaborator on the platform. The individual can then modify, approve, make suggestions on the final result. 

The solutions available are many. Here is a good in-depth comparative analysis of some of them. Regardless of the options you have, the mechanism is similar: a camera captures a scan of the area rotating to different positions. While it collects panoramic images, it also compiles 3D scan data, which will be used to layout the tour according to reality. At an office building, for example, the operator will need to scan each one of the spaces required to be an element of the tour. This sounds tricky, but actually, in most of the cases, it is pretty fast. To perform a scan it takes less than a minute, and then upload to a cloud space can be done after the whole construction was contemplated.

Features can differ for each solution. Hotspots, use of keyboard keys to forward and backward, floor plan views, galleries and also the mobile experience should be taken into consideration. Some companies also deliver analysis based on data reports such as the number of visitors, downloads, visit duration, among other information that could be valuable to business strategy. 

  1. For my unbuilt project designs 

Global AEC market moves trillions of dollars every year. Virtual Tours work as a strategy allowing companies to anticipate funding to continue with their projects. When a potential buyer is able to see his future house or office, this improves developers’ chances to close deals quicker. This has a major impact also because the AEC market usually drives economic growth.

Streamed, 3D Virtual Tours can reduce marketing spend and become a powerful tool when combined with data analysis. By monitoring users activities in a tour, sales teams can envisage scenarios, keep track of purchasing decisions and access information for future projects. But this is only possible when online. Streamed, 3D Virtual Tours allow everyone to have a better experience, and we consider Captate to be at the cutting edge of this new technology, working with cloud-based data. 

For a team working on presales of new development, the idea is that the tour can reach as wide an audience as possible. For this, the user experience must be as “frictionless” as possible. An online tour can be shared via a simple link on Email, Whatsapp, social media, even an old-fashioned SMS.

The obvious advantage of this is that you can engage with a much larger audience for example foreign buyers and people who have less time to travel. But for those that understand digital marketing, CRM integrations for salesforce, Business Intelligence and user data analysis systems, having an offline solution should not even be considered. 

Decide for yourself – have a frictionless experience with our on online 3D Render virtual tours by merely clicking on this link

If you have any questions, further points to add or corrections please feel free to leave your contact details.

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