Use virtual tours as sales tool

This article originally appeared in NARI’s Tuffin’ It Out series.

Remodelers know that image draws in new clients. In the end, honesty, quality and dependability are just some of the traits by which a homeowners will eventually evaluate the company they choose, but initially, what catches their eye will be project pictures.

You may only have a moment to capture a new client with a photograph of your work on your Web site or in a magazine. Here lies the importance of having a good quality photo representing your company. If they like what they see, they will call you to get it.

Danielle Warth, chief financial officer for Warth Construction, in Highlands, N.C., knows about this all too well. She places a lot of emphasis on the visual appeal of her company Web site and uses these high-quality photos as a visual aid for the design/build process. Namely, she is able to do this with the help of a virtual tour.

“We re-designed our Web site three years ago, at which time we wanted to take our visuals to the next level,” Warth says. She came up with the idea of using the virtual tours to showcase their work, similar to how real estate listings use virtual tours to show properties.

The tours themselves make visitors feel as if they are inside the home. They span 360 degrees, from each side and from ceiling to floor. The tour allows viewers to pause the lens rotation around the room, to zoom in and out, or move up or down.

“Our biggest concern with regular photos is that customers weren’t able to see all the details of the home, and a photo is really only a partial look at the room,” Warth says. She adds that oftentimes, the photographer becomes fixated on one aspect of the room, say a fireplace, while other features get left out. With a virtual tour, anything in the room can become the center of attention.

The tours also lend extra credibility to the Warth name. “Many builders use stock images as their work photos—we don’t believe in that,” Warth says. “Homeowners don’t know they’re being deceived, and these virtual tours cannot be doctored—clients can be sure it’s coming from us.”

Warth hires a professional photographer to create the tours because they are slightly more complex than a regular photograph. The tours are created from a single-lens reflect (SLR) camera with a fish-eye lens. Six total photos are needed—four on each side, and one up, one down. Then images are stitched together carefully to look like one fluid picture. The stitching of the photographs requires a special software program.

Sometimes, more photos are needed, such as when the photo has a window or outdoor exposure in the background, “In that case, you must take two photos of the background to fill in the outside otherwise, it will be overexposed,” Warth says.

The time, effort and cost of creating these tours forces Warth Construction to be selective about which projects they choose. The process itself requires a whole day worth of photographing the home.

“Our tours are only one room at a time, and they take all day to set up lighting and the angles perfectly,” Warth says.

That also goes for the clients involved. Warth is cautious about who she asks to turn their homes into a virtual tour. “Some clients are more comfortable with it than others,” she says. “It may be an issue of privacy, it may be an inconvenience to have a photo shoot in their homes for an entire day—we take their personalities into account before we start asking people to do this.”

Warth says that decorating is also a factor. She knows which homes are clean and which have the most appealing interior decorations.

The tours have proved to be a functional sales tool within the office. Warth uses a flat-screen TV in the office to assist her in the design process for remodeling projects.

“They have had a huge impact on our business. We can use them to aid us in talking about a new client’s project because all we have to do is pull up one of the tours and see the design,” Warth says. This is especially true when it’s difficult to explain certain design elements, even if they are drawn out. Now customers can visualize the design and make confident decisions.

This gives Warth and her team the ability to complete most of the design work in-house, instead of running back and forth to client’s homes to go through samples or drawings. This convenience has provided a lot of time and overhead cost savings to Warth and the clients.

“I think it appeals to clients because it looks very professional and authentic,” Warth says. “Also, the convenience of working with us, being able to visualize their project is very valuable to them.”—Morgan Zenner

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