Agents Using Virtual Open Houses to Market Listings Amid COVID-19 Restrictions

 

 

 
Adapting to Change
These are challenging times for all of us. Federal mandates are in place limiting person-to-person interactions, which we at TruPlace understand must feel excruciating to most agents. The health reasons are clear and the business implications are nerve-wracking. But there are practical things that can be done to serve our clients, just like there are practical ways to serve yours.

 

 
Health First

For starters, TruPlace is complying with CDC and WHO guidelines to monitor the recent travel and health of our photographers and the agents they might interact with. We are also making sure any relevant expenses, such as medical gloves or hand sanitizer, are covered. Our entire office headquarters in Germantown, MD will be teleworking for at least the next two weeks so there is no interruption in customer service.  

Listing agents are facing a unique set of circumstances: they must sell their client’s home without inviting heavy foot traffic. Our clients are finding that 3D products are a safe way to market a home amid Coronavirus concerns. Specifically, TruPlace’s immersive visuals for buyers are a great way to experience the property without having to physically be there.

Work Smarter

The 3D Virtual Tour is the new Open House. It’s viewable from a web link sent by the agent to potential buyers. A floor plan image shows the viewer where they “are” inside the house. The 3D “spin” technology lets viewers turn in any direction and view that area closer up or further back by simply pinching the screen like they would with almost any online image.

TruPlace’s “Virtual Open Houses” enable potential buyers to explore every nook and cranny of a property from the safety of their own laptops or iPads. Our signature smart-touch layout tool with beautiful photos viewers love now has added 3D spins in the rooms where 360o matters most, like kitchens and backyards.

This solution can save on the cost of a full virtual tour while still giving guests the quick, quality inside look they want. These “user-controlled experiences” allow the buyer to move in and out of rooms, hallways, and stairs in addition to being able to spin around the room to see all the details.

For buyers looking to be guided through a property visually, TruPlace has Walkthrough Videos that escort viewers to each room. These video products are available at varying lengths from 1-minute to 4-minutes long, regardless of property size.

The 3D tours, Walkthrough Videos and Slideshow Videos designed by TruPlace provide the most comprehensive and realistic experience of a home’s layout, giving viewers a totally clear and immersive experience.

Stay Safe

The well being of our clients, employees, and neighbors are taking a front-row seat, driving our decision making, which seems to get tougher by the hour. We encourage everyone to stay safe and healthy.  

 


Q&A with the Pros: 3 Tips for Having the Best Vacation Rental Website in 2020

 

As a vacation rental property manager, your website is the digital “front door” to your business. Making changes to it is no small task, so we’ve asked industry professionals what their recommendations are for having the best possible vacation rental website in 2020.

Their answers probably won’t come as a shock, but how strongly they suggest you make these changes might be a surprise. Overall, when we asked them about today’s standards for a vacation rental website, they all agreed on having strong visuals, but they also shared a few thoughts around branding and communication.

Without further ado, let’s jump in.

Tip #1: Use only high-quality photos

According to our experts, the #1 website breaker is poor photography. Vanessa Humes from ICND exposes this head-on. “Poorly done photography will make your company look amateur, cheap, and unprofessional.”

Consumers react more favorably to professional, high-quality imagery. They make may an assumptions about the overall rental experience based on the quality of what they see online. Successful photography includes professional shooting and processing that produces eye-catching imagery with sharp detail and straight vertical lines, great lighting, correct color, and smart staging.

Tim Schutts’ definition of good photography expands even further. “I believe it is best to capture not only the rental imagery in great detail, but the area as well,” he says. “People don’t go on vacation to just stay in their room.”

But don’t forget how these photos are being viewed. Images should be optimized for websites and the mobile searching experience. According to vroomres, 42% of travelers use their smartphones to research and book their vacations.

 

“Invest in good pictures and videos, but learn to optimize them for your website,” Humes advises. “Large images will make your site load slow, small images blown-up become pixelated and don’t look great.”

Ask your web provider for the exact photo file specifications needed to make your website look and perform at its best (TruPlace clients, we can help you with this!)

Matt Bare with Q4 Launch echoes the need for quality across all visuals. “We’re in the business of selling space,” he explains. “The visuals of that space are all guests have to go on when making a big purchase decision. To say the quality of those visuals is of paramount importance is an understatement. It’s really all they have to go on to assure them that their hard-earned PTO and money is going to result in a great experience!” he adds.

 

“Visual marketing is the most important element when setting expectations and marketing the brand, and visuals are the most efficient way to communicate product standards,” according to Drew Hines with RealTech Webmasters. “Online attention spans are notoriously short, but visuals are one of the best ways to not only capture a user’s attention but more importantly, keep it.”

In today’s hyper-competitive environment, which, according to Skift, includes more than 100,000 property management companies operating worldwide, high-quality, professional photography is non-negotiable. It inspires guests’ vacations and trust in you, it demonstrates to owners your commitment to the success of their properties, and it elevates the professional property manager above the 57% of rent-by-owners that don’t use professional photography (Evolve Vacation Rental Network).

“Don’t underrate the power of high-quality pictures and videos,” says Ken Wilson of Bizcor. “Most vacation rental managers have an inventory where most properties are unique, making the photos the best tool to share the personality of that property. The effect is even more if you can provide a 3D or floor plan virtual tour,” he adds.

 

Tour Credit: Vacation Homes of Hilton Head

Videos and tours have become not only expected but requisite to delivering an engaging online user experience.

“In today’s vacation rental market, it takes more than beautiful photography to attract guests to your brand and listings,” explains Peter Scott with BlueTent. “Property tours and/or videos are an essential part of the search experience and are a must for your direct-booking website. Want to raise the bar?” he continues. “Throw in video clips highlighting your team, neighborhoods, and happy customers.”

 

Wilson also stresses consistency. “Make sure your photo quality is consistent across all properties! If you have great photos for some homes but not others, it compromises your overall brand and trust from the guest.”

Tour Credit: Atlantic Realty Outer Banks

Read: Why Floor Plant Tours Are No Longer Optional

Which brings us to their second recommendation.

Tip #2: Drive More Bookings Through Consistent Branding

Major hotel brands and venture capitalists are continuing to pour investments into vacation rentals. As Skift’s Travel Megatrends 2020: Short-Term Rental Winners Emerge points out, more unique offerings like yurts and houseboats are becoming increasingly popular and overall gross bookings of short-term rentals rose 7% in 2019. Peter Scott of Bluetent notes that modern travelers are discerning and have more accommodation options than ever before.

But for author Wouter Geerts, it’s not about categorization: “It’s about meeting expectations, whether that is on a couch in a New York apartment, a chain hotel room, or a Sonder-branded luxury penthouse.”

Scott’s advice: “Your direct-booking website needs to stand out from all the rest. Give travelers the confidence to click your ‘book now’ button by providing compelling content (including visuals), a detailed search experience, and secure booking.”

A big part of guest confidence is in successful branding. “Guests want to connect with local experts and one of the most effective ways to drive this connection is through a strong brand,” Hines underscores. “There are certain features and functionality standard to a good booking experience: easy search with filters, flexible dates, booking abandonment, etc.”

 

In fact, increased OTA independence isn’t the only benefit vacation rental managers get with strong branding. Companies in Lucidpress’s 2018 State of Brand Consistency study reported an average of 33% increase in revenue when their brands were consistent across all platforms.

Schutts reminds property managers to sell the experience, too. “It is not just about the lodging. I recently booked a condo in Vail, Colorado. We were across the highway, so proximity to the bus stop was key. The rental I ended up booking sold me because it was a 30-second walk to the bus stop, and they provided the bus route schedule for me. Something like that made a difference.”

 

Clearly, thinking through the end user’s experience is important, and it’s probably why we have our final suggestion around this topic.

Tip #3: Offer Ease of Use for an Amazing Website that Converts

All our experts agreed: ease of use should be a major focus. Make it all come together by investing in an integrated plan. “A lot of people think ‘I just need a new website,’ or ‘I just need some search engine optimization.’,” says Bare. “In reality, it all works together, and the more integrated it is, the better your results will be.”

 

“Ease of use first and foremost,” Schutts says. “Look at the apps that Airbnb and Expedia have provided travelers. Make it easy to use and friendly for mobile,” he advises.

But as surprisingly simple as the ease-of-use concept is, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to execute. According to UX Planet, there are four principles to successful travel apps like Airbnb’s, all of which property managers can deploy throughout their digital experience. They include transparency, minimalism, search engine optimization and speed (load times).

Hines concurs. A fast, simple user experience that gets users onto property pages with as little hassle as possible removes friction from the experience. “Websites that prioritize the user experience of mobile users on property pages and the checkout process will win in 2020.”

Wilson stresses consistency. “Showing true rental rates all the way through the booking flow helps the guest avoid surprises in checkout with hidden fees, and lessen the shock value when the final total is displayed.”

One certainty exists as we move into a new decade in the vacation rental industry: to remain competitive and prosper property managers must find ways to distinguish their brand. The property website and marketing visuals are foundational. Everything else grows from there.

For a free website visuals analysis or to learn more about how to leverage your property visuals to grow your brand, contact briannepope@truplace.com.


Tales from the other side: A VR Industry Professional’s Take on Book Direct Day

Bri Pope, TruPlace

 

I’m going to preface this post by saying something that might surprise my friends in the Vacation Rental industry.

I don’t vacation.

Shocking, I know.  Here’s the thing – I was raised by “weekend warriors”. My family’s idea of a vacation was a spur of the moment weekend getaway, planned on little more than a wing and a prayer. When I arrived at TruPlace, I quickly learned that most people (most normal people) actually do plan their vacations. Even after absorbing knowledge and insight imparted to me by some of the best mentors in the Vacation Rental Industry, I still never considered myself part of the equation. Rather, I considered myself simply an observer of the guest experience.

When it came time to plan my honeymoon in Asheville, NC (my first vacation in 10 years!) my time had finally come. Today, in honor of #BookDirect Day, the grassroots movement initiated by Amy Hinote at VRM Intel to educate guests about the advantages of bypassing third-party when booking their vacations, I address you not as a vendor in the vacation rental industry, but alas as a guest. Here’s what I found.

Strong Branding

Before I started planning my vacation, I knew I wanted to #BookDirect, but I found myself unconsciously perusing Airbnbs in Asheville. Why? Because of the ease of interaction with the brand. I maintain that the only way to retrain guests to book direct through you is to build a strong brand and be downright obsessive about it. During the booking process, I was inundated with amazing social media targeting, direct marketing, PPC campaigns, and fantastic websites that enabled me to effectively identify what we needed for our vacation.

Invest in Visuals

Your visual marketing is the tie that binds a guest’s trust and expectations. If there’s a disconnect between the two, you will struggle to promote any type of direct booking. Property pages with compelling photography, floor plans tours, and virtual tours arm your guests with information that gives them the confidence to book direct.

Be the Mayor of Your Town

I had never been to Asheville and the layout of the town was unfamiliar to me. We wanted to be within walking proximity to attractions, but also close to the highway so we could get to the various activities we planned.  A rental manager was able to help me quickly identify which properties best matched our needs. Being able to discuss this with someone helped me feel confident in where we were staying, strengthened my trust in the brand, and reassured me that it was the right decision to book through their website.

They’ll Remember You After the Vacation

Asheville is amazing. We had a blast, but more importantly, our experience from beginning to end with the property management company we chose was top notch. Throughout our experience, we felt as if someone was in our corner if we needed anything. That personal touch and attention to detail are what we will remember about the brand (read: property manager) we chose, which will make it much more likely that we’ll choose them again the next time we come to town. In a word, we were delighted.

At the end of the day, we’re all just striving for positive interactions. On Book Direct Day, take stock of where you fit into that equation. Let the need for information and ease of use drive your initiatives. If you can create that experience, they’ll remember your brand, your website, your people and your properties.

 

Bri Pope is the Director of Client Engagement with TruPlace. Specializing in Vacation Rental sales and advocacy, she ensures the client’s visual solutions are aligned with their diverse, unique brands. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to music way too loudly, hiking, and the occasional Netflix binge. Contact her at briannepope@truplace.com

A Guest’s Perfect Travel Companion: Floor Plan Tours with Professional Photos

TruPlace Floor Plan with Professional Image
Visit our gallery to see examples.

Planning a vacation is stressful and often falls squarely on the shoulders of one person arranging everything for a group. Massive OTAs and countless direct booking sites provide a paralyzing number of choices for where to stay. And even when those choices are narrowed down by filters, the nature of each vacation rental’s uniqueness makes it tough to know if a property will truly meet each guest’s needs and expectations. Once a property is booked, there’s then the pre-arrival planning and coordination, followed by overseeing vacation to-dos and timelines during the stay. The cycle of overwhelm starts all over again after checkout.

There must be a better way, right? Vacations should be relaxing, fun, and simple! What if every traveler in charge of booking, planning, and running their group’s trip had a digital travel companion that could help remove stress from the process? With TruPlace’s Signature Floor Plan Tours with professional photos, they do!

Pre-booking: Search > Find > Book

The average guest is rich in choices and poor in time when it comes to finding the right place to stay on vacation. They spend less than a minute on a single booking site but ultimately view at least nineteen properties before choosing one. A good travel companion like a Floor Plan Tour with professional photos makes this process much easier. It helps guests:

  • Narrow down properties to consider faster
  • Remain on your site longer to visualize themselves in a home through its photos and layout
  • Trust a property manager as one who is willing to invest in quality photography and helpful tools and, therefore, more likely to be one invested in the entire guest experience
  • Gain reassurance that a property will work for all the guests in their group

In fact, these technological virtual assistants are great companions to reservation agents, too, saving them an average of eight minutes per pre-booking call.

Pre-Arrival: Plan

Travel planning doesn’t end with the booking confirmation email. Once an accommodation has been booked, the primary travel planner for a group must spend several additional hours arranging transportation, planning meals and grocery shopping, booking excursions, coordinating fellow travelers and their schedules, planning in-home activities and outlining packing lists. One activity booking company once tallied this at 30 hours of work!

Floor plan tours with professional photos help the planner reclaim some time by clearly showing what is and isn’t in a property, along with key areas of interest. For example, a detailed floor plan with pictures of bedrooms helps with room selection and sleeping arrangements — prior to arrival (thus, avoiding the problem of whoever arrives first picks the best bedroom!). The location of stairs can help parents of a toddler identify how many baby gates they might need. Professionally taken photos show all the kitchen amenities available for the family chef to use for meals, and exterior layouts with photos of parking note how many vehicles guests can bring.

In Stay: Love

Nearly two-thirds of customers say their standards for good experiences are higher than ever, and half say companies aren’t meeting their expectations. This is a quick way to a subpar review. Instead, a good travel companion like a floor plan tour and quality photos show prospective guests if a property will meet their high standards before they book, so they arrive to a vacation rental with the right expectations. (This gives property managers the opportunity to surprise, delight, and exceed those expectations!)

Post-Stay: Share > Rebook

Easier travel planning and properly set expectations make for happy guests, and happy guests are more likely to book again — if not the exact same property, from the property manager who delivered a positive experience. Once a guest has experienced the benefit of a floor plan tour in their planning, they’ll appreciate (and expect) this feature when searching for the property that meets their needs on their next visit. This can have a significant business impact: retaining an existing guest costs one-fifth as much as it does to attract a new one. But winning new guests can be made easier as well. Happy guests are also more likely to write positive reviews and refer their friends — nine in 10 of whom trust their reviews over ads.

That doesn’t mean a good travel companion’s job is over. Texas Tech University found 83% of consumers are willing to refer others after a positive experience, but only 29% actually do. TruPlace’s floor plan tours lend a hand and make it easy to share a favorite property from a social and direct share button embedded into the tour view.

92% of travelers say that they trust reviews of their friends over commercial advertising. (vroomres)

To learn more about our Signature Floor Plan Tours, professional photography services, or other visual marketing tools, visit us at www.truplace.com.


An Industry Newcomer’s Take on the VRMA International Conference 2019

(From left to right) Bob Cusack, Suzi Cusack, Mary Beth Albertini (newcomer), and Brianne (Pope) Murphy – the TruPlace booth squad at the VRMA International Conference in New Orleans, LA. 

Observations from the Exhibit Hall Floor and Beyond

This is my inaugural blog post with TruPlace. I joined the company’s marketing department a week prior to VRMA International Conference 2019. Jetting off to New Orleans on week two was not a bad way to start a new job in a new industry (for me). I came to VR from cable, where I’ve attended my share of conferences over the years. I’m guessing that I may have been the brand-newest member attending the VRMA conference, among a record-setting 2,000 attendees. More than one person I met remarked that I’d be “drinking from the firehose!”, which was ideal because I was thirsty for knowledge. And VRMA 2019 did not disappoint.

I thought I’d share a perspective through a set of fresh eyes and ears that were there to absorb information and learn as much as possible. My approach was that of a journalist – to observe and ask questions that would answer the “who, what, where, why and how” about the Vacation Rental Management industry.

These shoes were made for walking all over the VRMA International Conference. The TruPlace booth squad could be easily identified by our red Converse sneakers.

Three days spent on the exhibit hall floor, attending keynotes, general and breakout sessions, and flitting about a multitude of parties was unquestionably the best initiation one could hope for.

Following are some of my decidedly industry-newbie takeaways:

  1. The industry is changing. Fast. New players have emerged in the past year while some have scaled up or down in market share, and still, others have appeared in a new iteration under a different brand umbrella. This seems especially so among the technology partners. And there is no indication that the tides of change will soon cease. So, we all ought to buckle up and enjoy (or endure) the ride.

5 Steps to Implementing Hybrid Floor Plan Tours for Vacation Rental Managers

TruPlace’s new Hybrid Floor Plan Tour is quickly becoming a favorite among our clients. If you’re ready to join them, we have budgets and implementation plans for any property manager. We’ll work together to create a plan that works best for you and guide you through every step of the process. Here’s what to expect.

1. Conduct a Needs Analysis

The first step to implementing Hybrid Floor Plan Tours is to note what you need – and what you don’t. Most of our clients choose to have TruPlace take care of everything – the floor plans, the professional photography, the image management, the resizing and uploading, the hosting – everything. Or, we can use your floor plans or photos. There are a lot of options – all designed to make it easy on you and your budget. We’ll walk you through customized Do It Yourself (DIY), Do It With You (DWY), and Do It For You (DFY) full-service options. What we can do for you:

TruFusion Photography: TruPlace provides its clients with a massive network of professional property photographers and top-end camera equipment, all backed by our proprietary processing technology. This means you get premium photos with vivid colors, brighter details and a better experience for the viewer. Image size matters too, so we’ll make sure all of your images are properly formatted for your website, OTAs, and every other use. We can also help with bulk projects and train your photographer for ongoing needs.

Floor Plans: If you have existing floor plans drawn from other sources, we can use those to convert into TruPlace. We can also train your staff to measure for them, or we can schedule our professional photographers to measure the property while onsite for photos.

TruFusion 3D Spins: These 360o images are the only element of the Hybrid Floor Plan Tour that must be completed by our trained TruPlace staff. This addition is what makes the hybrid tour the best of 2D and 3D combined for the most ideal user experience (but if you prefer the signature floor plan tour, that’s an option too!)

2. Determine Your Desired ROI and Budget

Your project budget will be determined by the DIY, DWY, and DFY options mentioned above, as well as the elements you already have on hand and the number of properties receiving the tour. No matter the budget, a popular way to offset the costs is to share the costs with (or pass them on to) homeowners. (If this works best for your company, let us know. We have existing communication programs to support the strategy.)

Some property managers also spread the investment across multiple departments, such as using TruPlace visual tools as a contract signing bonus for recruiters, or implementing the tours in stages, such as focusing on luxury properties first before deploying them across other groups.

In short, we have options for every budget. And no matter what it is, your tours will deliver company-wide ROI in reservations and saved staff time. We’ll work together with you to calculate an ROI and build a plan and budget to meet your goals.

3. Scheduling to Meet Your Timeline with Convenience and Efficiency

Depending on the level of service you choose, property availability and completion goals, we’ll help you with the project timeline. We’ll work with you to plan the most efficient scheduling possible, including batching property visits and completing all tour elements in one appointment. Large projects or short time frames are not a problem, as we have trained teams who can travel to meet your needs.

4. Creation and Delivery of Hybrid Floor Plan Tours

Once photos and floor plans are completed, TruPlace will create and deliver the tours to you the next business day. You and your staff will have immediate access to a client portal to the view photos, tour links, analytics and more.

TruPlace has an API with many major property management software platforms. If your PMS is one of our partners, all photos will automatically flow to your software. If not, we are happy to discuss this possibility with your PMS.

5. Maximizing Your Tours

TruPlace and your dedicated client advocate will work together with your website company to integrate your Hybrid Floor Plan Tours with your website to maximize their exposure and benefits. We have partnerships with most VR website companies with existing bests practices already in place.

We will also provide training and resources for you to leverage the full benefit of the tours across social media, guest planning emails, and owner acquisition and retention, not to mention other industry partner uses such as Key Data Dashboard and inspection software. Through this process and beyond, your client advocate will periodically review analytics, upgrades and feedback.

 

To get started with our new Hybrid Floor Plan Tours, email our Team at Solutions@TruPlace.com or give us a call at 301-972-3201