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VOL. 114 | NO. 178 | Tuesday, September 12, 2000

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Virtual house tours not only trendy but essential Virtual tours becoming essential part of real estate market By Sue Pease The Daily News Its getting easier to buy everything one may need over the Internet from the latest best-selling novel to an airline ticket for a long over-due vacation or even a brand new car. But the biggest investment that most people make buying a home usually does not happen online. That might soon change. In todays Memphis real estate market, purchasing a house online is rare, but one detail that Memphis real estate agents are finding essential in the selling process is the home "virtual tour." Agents say its more than just placing a few photographs of for-sale properties on a Web page. It entails a 360-degree moving view of a room allowing potential homebuyers to immerse themselves in a room and look around. A customer can pause the action, change direction, or zoom in and out of a room. The company who has set the standard for this virtual tour technology is Internet Pictures Corp., based in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Many local real estate agents are using their iPIX virtual tours as selling tools on their Web sites. Local real estate agency, Coleman-Etter, Fontaine has been using the technology since April and since the addition of this feature has seen a 50 percent increase in visitors to its site, according to David Miller, Web master. "We have seen a tremendous increase in traffic on our Web site since weve gotten the virtual tours," Miller said. According to Miller, Coleman-Etter, Fontaine was one of the first Memphis real estate companies to offer the virtual tours online and they currently have about 120 virtual tours available. Joel Hobson III, owner and principal broker of Hobson and Co., agrees the virtual tour is another tool agents can use to market their properties and says the new technology is a must in the real estate industry. "The real bottom line on this is that, in every industry people are trying to figure out whether to be afraid of the Internet. Whether it will take their job some day or whether it will help their job what Ive chosen to do is embrace technology and use it to our advantage. And I think that if you embrace technology and try to stay ahead of the curve on it, ultimately, you will be the survivor," Hobson said. "I dont think technology will replace Realtors, but I think that Realtors that use technology will replace Realtors that dont use technology," he said. Hobson, who had been using the technology on the companys site since February, is such a believer in the tool that he has outfitted his conference room with a computer projector and projection screen a sort of virtual home theater. Clients can view properties at the office to begin sorting out what they like and dont like. Sheldon Rosengarten, a broker with Marx and Bensdorf Real Estate and Investment Co., agrees the virtual tour technology is a must for a real estate Web site. "Its more than just a trend; its a part of the agents toolbox. Its like a screwdriver or a hammer nail," he said. Rosengarten said he has seen the iPIX tours actually make a sale for him. "The biggest testimonial came from one of my homeowners. Someone was within one-two hours of making an offer on a house, and (the prospective purchaser) happened to hear of this other house, he pulled up the iPIX of the pool, the hot tub, the greatroom. He said if it had not have been for that, they would have purchased the other house. So, yes, iPIX has made sales for me," he said. "IPIX is part and parcel of what we are doing today." Judy McLellan, a real estate agent for Crye-Leike Realtors, built her own Web site where she lists properties and includes virtual tours. Her husband, Mickey McLellan, marketing director for Judys business, said they added the virtual tours to the site because of the advantage it gives their customers. "It can cut down on the time. If a busy executive, for example, is looking for a home, instead of 10-15 houses, they can go in and look at the virtual tour. They can weed out some of the ones they would normally spend their time going out to actually visit," he said. "At this point, it has still been more of a support function, another tool in the toolbox. Anything that you can do for your customers to give them an edge is an advantage for us and our customer." The dynamic imaging technology has been around for more than 10 years according to iPIX officials. But, taking this technology to the Internet and making it an Internet focus company has occurred in the past three years. The original idea behind the technology was to create a way for robots to see by using an immersive type of imaging. IPIX has created what they call the PIXcast, which is comprised of team members who create the tour for the real estate agent by capturing the content, processing the images and hosting the tours. A base tour is $99. According to Bob Evans, vice president, real estate, for iPIX, the increase in number of real estate professionals using this technology has been tremendous. "The combination of the real estate industry moving to the Net en masse and putting up Web sites putting up their listing content on the Net really has come to be in the last couple of years," Evans said. "What you are seeing over the past two years is phenomenal growth of the real estate brokerage industry adopting the Internet and using it as a marketing strategy and once you start thinking about that you start saying to yourself What do I do to give the consumers what they want on the Internet? and the virtual tour, where you show people what homes look like inside and out, that is what consumers like to see," Evans said. The file size of each tour is between 70 kilobytes and 120 kilobytes. IPIX also can provide a full 360-degree streaming video format of a tour, where a customer could stop the video, move backwards, around, go into a previous room, for example. Evans said these formats are generally sold to companies in a broad band environment however, because most customers looking for a new home property are usually using their home computer so keeping the file format small and usable on a 28.8K baud modem is a good idea. Because the virtual tour is at such a high quality, there have actually been cases where a person has bought a house, sight-unseen. IPIX officials said actor and singer Will Smith purchased a condominium in Philadelphia, simply by seeing a virtual tour. However, will that be happening soon in Memphis? Maybe not so soon, according to local agents opinion. Rosengarten thinks the time isnt here yet. The customer has to see it. Touch it and feel it. You still have to kick the bricks," he said.
PROPERTY SALES 42 266 3,343
MORTGAGES 12 152 2,252
BUILDING PERMITS 429 905 7,956
BANKRUPTCIES 41 130 1,872