How the pandemic has driven a rise in virtual tours
By Mark McCorrie, Made Snappy
The pandemic has changed so much about the way we think about our homes – not just obvious things like a desire for more space or the freedom to move beyond commuting distance to the office, but even the processes that we use to rent and buy property.
An example of this is virtual property tours. Between November 2019 and June 2021, the use of virtual tours increased by 600%, according to Made Snappy’s analysis of data from Rightmove. Prior to the pandemic, they were used for 1% of properties to let and 2% of properties for sale. Fast-forward to the present day and virtual tours are now used for 7% of rental homes and 14% of homes for sale.
The benefits of virtual tours
Clearly, virtual tours – or 360 tours, as those in the property industry call them – are advantageous when it comes to reducing face-to-face interaction. This has made them ideal for use during the pandemic, but it is far from the only benefit that 360 tours deliver.
With an in-house solution such as that offered by Made Snappy, the tour itself can be created by staff in as little as 10 minutes per property, with another 15 minutes or so on the computer back in the office. Any potential viewer can then tour the property online.
Being able to show a property so quickly and with such ease is a real game changer for agency staff. And providing viewings without leaving the office saves a huge about of staff time. Ashley Rigg, Co-founder of Bristol Property Partnership, which manages over 600 units, mostly in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), comments:
“The Bristol lettings market is crazy. We have four negotiators working across the city and the rule is you don’t leave the office unless the applicant has viewed the virtual tour. It just saves so much time in terms of reducing wasted viewings. It’s also perfect for our student properties; we can often show parents a tour when before they would have come in person to a second viewing.”
The ultimate time-saver
The elimination of wasted viewings is, I would argue, the ultimate benefit of virtual tours. The amount of time that agents such as Ashley can save as a result of prospective renters or buyers taking a virtual tour is huge. In my own experience, using 360 tours cut out 40% of my viewings, all of which would have been a complete waste of my time – and of the time of those viewing the properties.
This significant time saving means that agencies can keep their costs lean, as staff are using their time more efficiently and effectively. Everyone wins – the agency, the landlord/vendor (who benefit from fewer invasive viewings that they have to tidy up in advance of!) and the prospective buyer/tenant. This is why virtual tours have continued to grow, despite lockdown restrictions lifting. Screening out any potential tenants who don’t like a property’s interior is harder to do with still images than it is with a 360 tour. More and more agencies are appreciating just how much more efficient the lettings or sales process can be.
Kevin Hall, for example, is Director of Martin & Co in Ashford, Kent. He began using virtual tours during the pandemic and now wouldn’t be without them. He explains:
“We are getting 50, sometimes up to 200, leads on every rental. As well as asking applicants to fill in a short questionnaire, we ask those who qualify to view a virtual tour. It speeds up the process massively as there is so much demand at the moment. If we didn’t have the virtual tours, I genuinely do not know how we would cope.”
With 360 tours in place, Hall is able to manage his lettings agency with just one negotiator to cover 600 properties. After a virtual tour, he finds that an in-person viewing becomes more like a second viewing. In fact, the tours are so detailed that Hall reports it would be possible to let 50% of the agency’s properties without in-person viewings.
The situation of having over 100 prospective tenants per rental property is not unique to Kent, or even particularly unusual. Up and down the country, we’re witnessing an incredibly hectic rental market. Property sales have also been booming during the pandemic, meaning that estate agents have been under considerable pressure to maximise the use of their time.
Virtual tours enable agents to cut out wasted time and boost conversions, freeing them up to deal with more properties, which ultimately means more income. What we’ve seen, therefore, is the pandemic drive interest in 360 tours, leading to that 600% increase in their use. However, it is the efficiencies delivered by the tours themselves that have convinced agents to stick with them for the long haul. Virtual tours are here to stay.