Key Benefits of Virtual Tours

Convenience and efficiency continue to be valued post-pandemic. Izzy Carunungan of LCP Media explains why.

Virtual tours really took off during the COVID-19 pandemic. Safety measures during the health crisis meant social distancing, which prompted the acceleration of virtual tour adoption because in-person visits were if not impossible, at least difficult. While the pandemic is behind us, the real estate marketing trends it started, such as virtual tours, are still going strong.

Israel “Izzy” Carunungan, chief marketing officer at LCP Media, talked to Multi-Housing News about visual marketing, what it takes to create solid visual marketing materials and what to expect in the future.

What is the difference between video and virtual tours?

Carunungan: The main difference between video and virtual tours lies in the level of interactivity and the way the viewer experiences the content.

A video tour is a linear, pre-recorded sequence of footage, usually edited and narrated to guide the viewer through a space. It has limited interactivity or none. Viewers watch the video passively, without the ability to control the viewing angle or navigate the space independently. It provides a curated cinematic experience with a fixed perspective, often highlighting critical features in a specific order. From a production standpoint, video tours require filming equipment, editing software and often a professional to narrate or add music and other effects,

Video tours, on the other hand, offer a highly interactive experience that allows users to navigate through a digital representation of a space, often using 360-degree images or 3D models. Viewers can control their movement, look around in all directions, zoom in on details, and sometimes interact with specific elements within the space. To create a virtual tour, the production team needs 360-degree cameras, panoramic stitching software and often specialized platforms to host and enable interaction within the tour.

What types of virtual tours are currently out there and how do they differ from one another?

Carunungan: There are five types of virtual tours presently.

360-degree Photo Tours utilize 360-degree panoramic photos to provide a comprehensive view of each room. Users can click and drag to look around within each panorama and navigate between different rooms or areas by clicking on hotspots. A 360-degree or DSLR camera and software to stitch photos together are needed to produce this type of tour.

Interactive 3D Tours use 3D scanning technology to create a fully navigable apartment model and software platforms for creation and hosting. Users can move freely from room to room, zoom in on details and view the space from various angles.

Virtual Reality (VR) Tours, similar to interactive 3D tours, are designed for VR headsets (like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive) and a compatible VR platform is required. The interactivity is very high, as users can explore the space in a fully immersive VR environment, often using hand controllers for navigation.  

Guided Virtual Tours are those in which a leasing or property manager guides users through a virtual tour via a video call or a pre-recorded session. If the tour is live, users can ask questions and request to see specific areas; it is less interactive if pre-recorded. For this type of tour, the required technology consists of video conferencing tools or video recording equipment.

Augmented Reality (AR) Tours integrate virtual elements with the real-world view, often using a smartphone or tablet and AR-capable apps. Users can see virtual furniture or renovations overlaid on the physical space.

Which of these are most popular with prospective residents? Why is that?

 Israel Carunungan, Chief Marketing Officer at LCP Media.
Israel Carunungan, Chief Marketing Officer at LCP Media, brings more than 20 years of multifamily experience. Image courtesy of LCP Media

Carunungan: The 360-degree Photo Tours and the Interactive 3D Tours are the most used types of virtual tours in multifamily for reasons such as high level of interactivity, realistic and immersive experience, detailed visualization and integration with other technologies.

Specifically, both tours allow users to navigate through the apartment freely, choosing where to go and what to look at. Prospective residents who want to explore the space at their own pace highly value this level of control.

These tours provide a realistic sense of space, dimensions and layout. The ability to look around in all directions and move from room to room offers a close approximation of an in-person visit. More so, users can zoom in on specific details, such as the condition of appliances, fixtures and finishes. This helps in making a more informed decision about the apartment.

Finally, both tours often integrate well with other digital tools and platforms, such as Property Management Systems, Internet Listing Services, and lead nurturing tools like chatbots and virtual staging, further enriching the user experience.

How do you measure the effectiveness of the virtual tours produced by LCP Media in engaging potential renters?

Carunungan: A key benefit of having LCP Media’s virtual tours is access to TourBuilder Insights, our proprietary reporting and analytics dashboard. It provides various insights, including total views and visits, which count the times the virtual tour has been viewed and visited. Also, it categorizes visits by sources and device, which reveals what marketing channels the virtual tours are being viewed on (property website, specific ILSs, email, etc.) and the devices (desktop, mobile, tablet). More so, it measures the average duration users spend on the virtual tour. Longer viewing times suggest higher engagement.

The dashboard also tracks the number of interactions within the tour, such as clicks on hotspots, navigations between rooms and use of additional features like floor plan views. Furthermore, it tracks the number of inquiries (lead capture), applications, on-site tours scheduled and the number of times the virtual tour has been shared.

The analytics tool provides a property heat map, which indicates the states and cities in which virtual tours are viewed. This helps target marketing campaigns for virtual tours frequently considered out-of-state. Another metric shows the number of guided virtual tours shared with prospects, either by leasing agents or other prospects to roommates, family members and other decision-makers.

CRM metrics include lead generation, which tracks the number of leads generated from the virtual tour, such as contact form submissions or inquiries; appointment scheduling, which measures the number of virtual or in-person viewing appointments scheduled after users view the tour; tour-to-lead conversion rate, which calculates the percentage of viewers who become leads; and lead-to-lease conversion rate, which calculates the percentage of leads who convert into signed leases or sales.

What is the turnaround time for creating a virtual tour from start to finish?

Carunungan: For TourBuilder Pro Property virtual tours, the timing, on average (depending on seasonality), is two weeks from start to finish. For TourBuilder Go Unit-Level virtual tours, timing, on average, is 48 hours or less after the footage is uploaded through the TourBuilder mobile app.

How has demand for virtual tours changed in the multifamily market over the past few years, and what trends are you seeing in this area?

Virtual tour
TourBuilder Pro professional community virtual tours are valuable tools for enhancing virtual marketing strategies, with a 90 percent satisfaction rate and insightful analytics. Image courtesy of LCP Media

Carunungan: COVID accelerated the adoption of virtual tours due to social distancing measures and lockdowns, and these became the safe and convenient alternative. The shift in consumer behavior has stayed the same since, especially among Millennials and Gen Z.

Technology was pushed forward. Improvements in 3D modeling, 360-degree photography and virtual reality have made virtual tours more immersive and realistic, enhancing their appeal to property managers and renters.

Current trends indicate that virtual tours are increasingly being integrated into online leasing platforms like PMSs, CRMs and CMSs, making it easier for prospective renters to access virtual tours directly from property listings. There is a growing trend towards interactive tours, which allows users to click on hotspots for more information, view floor plans and even see virtual staging options. Customizable features enhance the user experience and provide more detailed information.

Property managers and marketing teams use advanced analytics to track user engagement with virtual tours. Metrics such as viewing time, interaction rates and navigation patterns help managers understand prospective residents’ interests and improve the tour experience. Consequently, as more users access virtual tours via smartphones and tablets, there is a strong focus on optimizing these tours for mobile devices to ensure a seamless and high-quality user experience.

Future trends include increased use of AI and personalization. Artificial intelligence will likely play a more significant role in personalizing the virtual tour experience, offering tailored recommendations and highlighting features based on user preferences.

We expect a greater adoption of unit-level tours because these allow prospects to see the exact layout, features, views and finishes of a specific apartment unit rather than just a model or floor plan type. This detailed experience makes them more qualified prospects and increases lead-to-lease conversion.

Advanced virtual staging will also progress, which is why LCP Media is partnering with furniture rental leader CORT to offer renters the option of renting furniture from a virtually staged unit showcased on a virtual tour.

Who are the primary target audiences for virtual tours and how do you tailor your marketing strategies to reach them?

Carunungan: We have two primary target audiences: property management companies and owners from a sales perspective, and prospective renters from a virtual tour usage perspective.

The PMCs and property owners make the purchasing decisions about using LCP Media for their virtual tours. We usually work with marketing and operations team members, asset managers and developers.

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Prospective apartment renters are the eventual audience for our virtual tours. We are helping the PMCs in their marketing efforts to lease vacant units with interactive, immersive virtual tours that allow prospects to experience the property and the apartment units before an on-site visit.

Marketing strategies for PMCs and owners include B2B content marketing, which means we develop whitepapers, case studies and blog posts that showcase the effectiveness of virtual tours in reducing vacancies and increasing engagement. We also host online events to educate property managers on the benefits and best practices of virtual tours.

We attend and present at real estate conferences and trade shows, demonstrating the technology and its benefits. Via email marketing and LinkedIn campaigns, we contact property managers and owners, offering personalized demos and consultations.

Marketing strategies for prospective renters use social media, SEO and content marketing, email campaigns and influencer partnerships.

What are your predictions for the future of virtual tours in the real estate market, particularly for multifamily communities, over the next few years?

Carunungan: The future of virtual tours in the real estate market, especially for multifamily communities, is poised for significant growth and evolution. Unit-level virtual tours will seamlessly integrate into online leasing platforms and property management systems, offering a cohesive experience from tour viewing to lease signing. Currently, Yardi is the only PMS that can receive unit-level virtual tours via an API integration. The hope is that all PMSs will be able to do the same.

Artificial intelligence will play a more significant role in tailoring virtual tours to individual preferences. AI algorithms can analyze user behavior and preferences to create personalized tour experiences.

Virtual tours will continue to evolve with more interactive elements such as clickable hotspots for additional information, embedded videos showcasing amenities and guided tours led by virtual assistants or chatbots.

Virtual tours may increasingly feature demonstrations of smart home features like connected appliances, automated lighting and security systems. This lets prospective residents see the benefits of living in a smart-enabled apartment. More so, users might be able to interact with virtual controls within the tour, adjusting settings like lighting intensity and thermostat settings and even viewing real-time energy consumption data.

Some multifamily communities may create virtual leasing offices where prospects can interact with leasing agents in real-time, ask questions and complete leasing processes remotely.

Property managers will leverage advanced analytics from virtual tour platforms to gain insights into user behavior, preferences and conversion rates. This data will inform marketing strategies and property improvements.

Using data from virtual tours, predictive modeling techniques may be employed to forecast resident preferences and market trends, helping property managers make informed decisions.

While the COVID-19 pandemic drove the initial surge in virtual tours, their convenience and efficiency will continue to be valued post-pandemic. Virtual tours offer flexibility and accessibility that appeal to busy urban dwellers and remote workers.

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