It’s a question of engagement…

When 2D Photos are as good as a 3D Virtual Tour

This article has been written with a focus on real estate sales, but the same principles apply to letting rental properties.

With the recent explosion in the popularity of 3D virtual tours/walkthroughs, more and more properties for sale now include a ‘3D Tour’ as part of their marketing.  But is it worth it?  Should a seller spend money on professional marketing photos too?  Drone? Video?  What makes a 3D Tour any better than these traditional alternatives?  And are all 3D Tours equal?

Hmmm, lots to unpack there.  And let’s avoid the stigma that HomePlan NZ specialises in 3D virtual walkthroughs and you’d expect my immediate answer to favour what we do.  So let’s start with the assertion that….

You might as well just get 2D photos to sell your property.

Why?  2D photos are supported on every platform, easy for users to browse, easy to retouch, and easy to manage ongoing.  Drone photos are a treasured extra.  Google Maps is good, Google Earth is better but a high-resolution aerial photo makes buyers feel as free as a bird to review the entire house and section from above.

If the budget allows it, video is a must to sell a property.  That smooth, glossy, guided recording going through the property with accompanying music and introducing the agent will pull in potential buyers.

In a recent chat with an owner of a prominent real estate company, he laid it out plain and simple for me: The job of the photos and video is to attract a potential buyer’s interest so they make contact with the agent, and engage in the face-to-face sales process.  The better the photos and video, the more likely a potential buyer is to make contact.  Then get them to the property to smell the freshly cut grass and fall in love with the place, so the agent can close the deal.

So it’s a big NO for a 3D Virtual Tour?

Yes, it’s a NO.  Well, let’s qualify that.  A 3D Tour is a collection of linked 360° photos taken at strategic locations through a property.  In some cases, the quality of the photography will be lower than the professional 2D photos.  And the 3D Tour angles won’t be as good – where you stand to virtually look around is not where you squat to get the best vantage point to ‘sell’ a room.

The big advantage of a 3D Virtual Tour is it functioning as a 24/7 virtual open home.  Potential buyers can freely navigate through without making contact or stepping foot onsite.  But this doesn’t always lead to the outcome you want – in fact, doing this might turn buyers away long before they form that critical emotional bond with the property, and before the agent can work their magic.

So, if your goal is to peak a buyer’s interest to make contact – basic, run-of-the-mill 3D Virtual Tour won’t add much value over high quality 2D photos, in fact it might be detrimental.

Gulp.  I feel this article might be approaching a virtual cliff.

But hang on...let’s think about buyer ENGAGEMENT.

Try this out – pull up a property listing that has 2D photos, a video and a 3D Tour.

Time yourself looking at the first 2D photo.  How long do you study it?  5 seconds?  Less?  One photo does not build engagement – that’s why properties tend to have more than one photo.  Duh.

Now time yourself looking at ALL the 2D photos for that property.  How long did you spend?  Did you chat to your partner while flicking through them a second time?  Slideshows start to build engagement as the buyers begin to explore.  You might be up to a full minute now, maybe two.  You’re on the right track.

Video – same test.  Some watch the whole thing, others skip through.  Possibly two minutes, but from that two minutes you’ve got a lot more engagement from the buyer as they now have an idea of the property’s flow, features and quality.  And you’ve now got a human connection to the agent so you likely more at ease to contact them.  Brilliant.

3D Virtual Tour time.  How long did you spend?  If your answer was two minutes or less, the 3D Tour has achieved the same or less engagement than the 2D photos and/or video.  You logged in, had a quick wander around, then logged out.  Are you feeling better informed?  More excited?  More likely to contact the agent?

If not – that’s because a 3D Virtual Tour does not in itself create deeper buyer engagement.

It creates a platform for deeper buyer engagement.

So is HomePlan closing up shop given 3D Virtual Tours are rubbish for engagement?

Hardly.  Because at HomePlan NZ we’ve learnt that using a basic 3D Virtual Tour devoid of engagement-building enhancements is like trying to sell a dirty car, or an unpolished diamond.  A little bit of extra time, care, cleaning and polishing is needed to reap the best rewards.  Our goal, and the goal of each and every HomePlan 3D Virtual Walkthrough we produce is to create this deeper engagement.

Let’s break it down.

  • A basic 3D Virtual Tour with ‘just enough’ 360° imagery will build limited engagement.
  • Poor placement/positioning/layout of the 360° shots will make it worse.
  • Coverage issues, “black spots” and sunlight issues will turn buyers off.
  • Low-end 360° cameras with low resolution and 3D capabilities will devalue the property in the buyer’s eyes.
  • Taking the time to produce high-quality coverage, with considered 3D camera placement, using professional-grade 3D equipment gets us back on the right track.
  • Add a guided tour and highlight reel within the 3D Tour = buyer engagement increases.
  • Add “tags” of items of interest, a 2D floor plan, jump points, integrated 2D photos and even the promotional video = buyer engagement (easily) doubles.
  • Provide the ability to measure paired with a comprehensive capture process so these measurements are accurate = buyers begin to explore, measure and engagement skyrockets.
  • Finish by adding accessible agent contact details = now we’re directly linking the buyer to the agent.

The philosophy is no different to an open home.  Do you send potential buyers into a vacant property alone, with no guidance or support?  No – you greet them, make them feel welcome, give them a flyer, point out the key features and invite them to chat to you further.

The goal is to get a potential buyer to spend 5-10 minutes or more using the 3D Virtual Tour – and then returning for a second and third look later on.  A well designed and prepared 3D virtual walkthrough/tour engages a buyer like no other digital media.

So now I’m confused. Are 3D Virtual Tours better than 2D photos, or not?

Basic or poorly executed 3D Virtual Tours – and unfortunately, that’s a high percentage of those in the market right now – are not.  You might as well just use high quality 2D photos.

Comprehensive 3D Virtual Tours, designed with deeper buyer engagement in mind – are worth it.

Ahh, I see. And now you’re going to try and sell me on the HomePlan difference?

Of course, my kids are hungry. 

There’s a reason we push our Comprehensive HomePlan 3D Marketing Walkthrough over the more basic options we offer, and others offer in the market.  Because it’s designed, and more time is invested to build deeper buyer engagement for every property we capture.  More places to stand, where buyers want to stand.  Integrated guided tour/highlight reel.  Tagged items of interest.  Integrated floor plans.  Agent’s contact details.  Basically, everything the Matterport platform can offer.

What’s more, get it as a part of our Discounted Marketing Package with high resolution, retouched 2D photos and floor plans and not only have you saved money on traditional photography – you’ve now got an aligned set of marketing artifacts that relate well and are consistent with each other.

A final observation

Before deciding whether to get a 3D Virtual Tour as part of marketing your property, I implore you:  Do your research on how comprehensive the service actually is, including seeing current examples of the quality you are going to receive.

All 3D Virtual Tours are definitely not created equal.  Some are designed for deeper engagement.  All the rest, well, aren’t comprehensive HomePlan 3D Walkthroughs 😊.