Will Your Online Image Hurt Or Help You In 2014?

Perception is reality. If your virtual tour lacks professionalism, you lack professionalism.

There, I said it. It’s out there in the open now. Everyone can read those two sentences again and mull them over and judge me as mean. So be it. You can argue with me all day long, but you won’t change my mind from believing those two statements are true.

And before you rip into me, think about the last piece of poorly produced junk mail you got. What did you think of the person or business that sent it to you? That’s what I thought. So stay with me for a minute longer – it might make a difference in your income this year.

Nearly all buyers these days go online before they ever even think of calling a REALTOR. They can view mountains of listings, info on neighborhoods, home values and plenty of other facts and figures. But I’ve come to realize this alarming detail: Less than 4 percent of all homes listed on the Internet have virtual tours — and many of the ones that do are shot by amateurs. That leads to another disturbing observation: The experience home buyers get when searching for homes embarrasses me, and it should embarrass you too.

If you Google the words “virtual tours,” you won’t have to scroll far before you actually find people making fun of the virtual tours REALTORs have posted.

Here’s another fact to chew on: Most folks eliminate homes they consider buying based on their visual experience.

What’s this mean? Well, for starters, it means either learn how to shoot a professional virtual tour or retire your digital camera. I don’t mean to offend the few of you who are competent videographers, but when I log into my local MLS and my buyers ask to see virtual tours, a part of me shutters with fear.

Visit the Nike, BMW, or Apple Web sites and take notes on the pizazz, the interactivity and the customization users enjoy. They can design their own car, shoes or iPad. These companies know how to meet (and far exceed) customer expectations.

My suggestion: put your $199 digital camera away and let the professionals handle the work. One of my favorite options is Obeo. It has the tools agents need to create a business-winning virtual tour along with still photos, panoramas, YouTube videos, neighborhood data and demographics and social networking integration that automatically posts to your Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. Users can even change the color of the paint on the walls, or change the counter tops, floor coverings and cabinets.

This is the kind of experience they get from other industries. So why not real estate?

In this competitive world, adequate no longer cuts it. We have to be exceptional. It’s time to take our online marketing up a notch and start giving buyers what they really want.

For you do-it-yourselfers, pledge to keep getting better; you and your customers deserve it. Here are some tips to prep a listing for a virtual tour:

1. Get super clean. The camera magnifies dirt. A spot on the carpet might get missed in an in-home showing, but online it can become an ugly focal point.

2. Lose the clutter. Removing excess furniture from rooms makes them appear larger.

3. Snap and examine photos closely to get a better idea of how the home will look on camera. Then consider changes — more natural light, less clutter, etc.

4. Think color. Add healthy plants in rooms and spice up bland decor.

Let me hear from you. Do you use virtual tours? If not, why not? What are your specific objections to virtual tours? What have you heard about them – good or bad – that resonate with you?

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