Cynthia Dearborn is one of a growing number of people touting the benefits of virtual home tours as a way to speed real estate sales.
"If I can look at houses at 11 p.m., when my children are asleep, with a glass of wine-that's the way to house shop," she said.
Ms. Dearborn said on-line technology not only helped her find a new home in Santa Barbara, Calif., but also helped sell her $700,000 Dallas property. She listed it with a local real estate agency, Keller Williams, which used a virtual tour on-line concurrently with more traditional methods like ads, fliers and open houses.
"It took less that two months to sell my house because of the virtual tours. Buyers were already interested by the time they came to me," Ms. Dearborn said. "It is great to preview a property, but it's even better to be able to review it. It eliminates all the remembering and note-taking."
Ms. Dearborn said efficiency is what attracted her. The virtual tour "saved us time, which you can't put a value on," she said.
The growing popularity of these tours could accelerate the real estate industry's move on-line, said Kevin McCurdy, a founder and executive vice president of one of the leading virtual image companies, Bamboo.com Inc. The company was set up in Canada last year, and its first client was a premier Canadian real estate brokerage firm, Royal LePage. Bamboo.com expanded to the United States six months ago and is now based in Palo-Alto, Calif.
"The on-line real estate category has not come of age yet," Mr. McCurdy said. "The virtual tour component is an enabler for the industry on-line. Without it, Internet listings are really nothing better than classified ads with a thumbnail photo of the property and some text."
The typical virtual tour offers the prospective buyer a 360-degree view of four main rooms in the house. The picture rotates on the computer screen, and the viewer can stop the rotation at any time.
Ms. Dearborn said virtual tours enabled her to pare down her list of houses to visit when she traveled to California.
Mr. McCurdy said real estate professionals need not worry that they will be pushed aside in favor of on-line tours. His company only deals with licensed brokers, never with self-sellers.
"This saves you money and time and more than that, it saves you stress. A buyer may drive around all day, only to discover that they have no interest in the house as soon as they walk through the door," Mr. McCurdy said. "A seller has to go through the hassle of cleaning, putting out the dog, etc. This way, only qualified, interested prospects come to the home."
He added that home buyers typically visit the property before a purchase, hence the traditional role of a Realtor.
Bamboo.com charges $99.95 for a four-scene virtual tour and real estate agents can list as many or as few properties as they like.