How to Create a Virtual Apartment Tour

Recently, we took a look at the many ways that COVID-19 is changing the real estate business, including the rise of virtual tours from a luxury marketing tool to a near-necessity.

The increased demand for virtual walk-throughs means that many real estate agents are scrambling to offer digital tours for the first time. So we thought this was a good time to tackle Virtual Tours 101: why they'll be valuable regardless of the virus, how to approach them, and how to make yours shine.

We'll focus on apartment tours specifically, but most of this information can be applied to virtual or video tours in any type of real estate.

Virtual Apartment Tours: Not Just for COVID

Many states have lifted restrictions on in-person real estate showings. But until we have a vaccine or effective treatment, prospects will continue to be reluctant to tour properties in person. They'll reserve a real tour for just before lease signing. The most cautious may prefer to avoid in-person viewings entirely.

This is actually good for landlords and property management companies! If less serious prospects can be served with virtual apartment tours, then leasing staff can focus their time on other tasks.

It's a way of doing business you should embrace, even after the pandemic is history.

Your future tenants certainly will – virtual tours solve their problems, too. Some people aren't available during your normal business hours. Others are doing most of their apartment hunting from across the country. And most future tenants would just rather do their initial research online to save time.

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How Do You Film a Virtual Tour of an Apartment?

There are a few ways to approach the virtual tour. Consider your audience, budget, and motivation when choosing between the options below.

Matterport Virtual Tours

Matterport technology is the current gold standard of 3D apartment tours. You can create high-quality immersive and interactive touring experiences, including information tags and hotspots in the imagery. The most recent Matterport tech even integrates with VR devices for a true 3D experience.

Results are spatially accurate (within 1%). Prospective tenants can measure dimensions and see an accurate floor plan without additional work on your part.

The downside is cost. Matterport camera systems cost upwards of $3,000, so the value of owning one is a question of scale. You can hire a company to create Matterport tours on a per-project basis, instead. Pricing varies, but since most apartment units are less than 2,000 square feet, each floor plan can be accomplished for $200 or less.

However, whether you own the camera or not, Matterport charges proprietary hosting costs for the end product, meaning you incur an ongoing monthly fee. It's not possible to download your projects or host them elsewhere.

3D Virtual Tour Alternatives

Luckily, despite its name recognition, Matterport isn't the only game in town. There are a pretty wide range of alternatives out there, in terms of hardware and software.

Some options require a 360 camera like a Matterport, but you can opt for more affordable hardware. Others let you make use of panoramic DSLR shots. There are also alternatives that rely entirely on your smartphone for images.

Features and pricing structures vary by software, but many of the familiar editing and augmenting options are available.

Video Tours

A recorded video tour of your property is a more low-tech option. It won't be interactive like a virtual tour, but it will allow prospective tenants to get a look at the property on their own terms.

It also gives you opportunities that aren't possible in a 3D virtual tour.  For example, you can narrate for a personal touch or focus special attention on attractive features. You can open cabinets and drawers or turn on faucets to demonstrate water pressure.

If you do choose to narrate your videos, you'll want to add closed captioning. This makes your tour accessible for the hard of hearing, but it's also useful for everyone. The overwhelming majority of internet users watch videos with the sound off.

Live Video Chat Walk-throughs

Scheduling an appointment for a live one-on-one video tour obviously negates those time-saving benefits on your end, but it's a worthwhile option for any circumstances that prohibit an in-person walk-through.

The difference between a live chat and a recorded video is personalization and interaction, so you'll want to adjust your approach accordingly.

In other words, show the entire property but encourage questions and requests. Let them give you instructions for things they'd do in person, like checking out the under-sink storage. Be prepared to give them measurements and dimensions if they ask. Offer to take pictures on their behalf and/or send high-quality photos that are more thorough than the ones available on the listing.

You want them to get the in-person tour experience. That means you'll have to be their eyes, ears, and hands.

Best Practices for Creating a Virtual or Video Apartment Tour

Regardless of the technology and approach that you choose, there are a few best practices to keep in mind. These tips will provide your future tenants with the most value and help you make a good first impression.

  • Clean and stage the apartment beforehand, just as you would for an in-person tour. Close cabinets, lower toilet seats, open blinds, and put away paint cans or tools.
  • Unless the prospective tenant requests otherwise, capture the property during the day to demonstrate the available natural light.
  • Go slow and steady if you're using video – you don't want to make them motion sick. Practice beforehand and watch the result to evaluate the speed and shake of the video. Remember to check test recordings on both a phone screen and a computer screen to make sure it looks good for everyone. Repeat until you've found a successful pace and technique.
  • If you intend to do live tours, you should also practice switching between front and back cameras during a call.
  • For video tours, try to complete the tour in one take. Avoid editing if at all possible. This will build trust that you aren't trying to hide something that prospective tenants might not like.
  • Consider which parts of the big picture and the details may be relevant to your audience, then make sure to include those. Consider capturing aspects like window views, bathroom/kitchen fixtures, built-in lighting, ceiling fans, the interior of appliances, storage areas, laundry facilities, and common areas.
  • Provide the same level of coverage for all the major floor plans that you offer. If you have 4 one-bedroom floor plans but only offer a tour of your nicest one, prospects could feel you're pulling a bait-and-switch. Especially if you advertise that tour paired with the rent of your cheapest option.

Bottom Line

If you accurately and thoroughly show an available apartment online, you'll get more leads with a strong intent to lease and fewer lookie-loos. Online solutions are a win-win for everyone.

Another online win-win? Online continuing education. As a trusted online training provider with over 20 years of experience, we can help you meet post-license and CE obligations in most states. You'll work through the material at your own pace, wherever and whenever it's convenient. Check our catalog of real estate courses to learn what's available and approved in your state!

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