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Homestore said, VideoHomeTours said

April 10, 2002

Realtor.com operator refutes video tour company?s accusations, says process improved

By Bridget McCrea
Inman News Features

Homestore has been tweaking its virtual tour system for the last few months and real estate agents are responding favorably to the changes, according to Jonathan Greenblatt, general manager of imaging for the Westlake Village, Calif.-based company.

But one vendor of virtual tours has been quite outspoken about his distaste for some of Homestore?s new processes.

Brian Balduf, CEO of Chicago-based VideoHomeTours, said the changes HomeStore has made to its imaging program have had "a significant negative impact on agents, brokers, MLSs and associations."

Balduf said HomeStore in January began charging agents $40-$60 to post virtual tours with for-sale homes listings on Realtor.com and this month exited the photography business and began charging agents for photo services "even if they already paid for (the tours)."

"(Homestore) has decided to not take any responsibility for photography services (and)...in a bold act of deceptive practices, is now offering agents two or three 'self-service tours' (read: prepaid advertising credits) for every full-service tour that the agents have already purchased/paid for," he said. "This means if you already paid HomeStore to shoot a virtual tour, you now have to go out and find someone else to shoot it and pay that photographer."

But Greenblatt called Balduf?s statements "completely false."

HomeStore has made significant changes to its virtual tour system over the last few months, Greenblatt said, but continues to offer two core virtual tour products: HomeTour360, which supports iPIX and Panoramic technologies, and PicturePath. HomeStore still handles the technology, hosting and distribution for the tours.

But what has changed is Homestore?s servicing of such products.

Greenblatt said some changes were implemented after HomeStore CEO Mike Long, Realtor.com President Steve Ozonian and other top executives conducted a broad assessment of the entire company--virtual tours included--in January.

"Mike and Steve met directly with brokers and agents and gathered a lot of feedback," said Greenblatt. "In doing so, they realized our virtual tour system needed improvement."

He said customers used to call a central office in Toronto to order their tours, then wait for a local service provider, usually a photographer, to set up an appointment to shoot the home. The service provider then would ship the images back to Toronto and wait for HomeStore to post the virtual tour on the Internet. Customers who needed help had to call the central office, then be routed to the service provider for answers.

"It was an unwieldy process," said Greenblatt. "Orders were taking too long and even once a tour was photographed and processed, it was taking too long to get it posted on the Internet."

Homestore?s view is that removing itself from the middle of the process and having customers pay the photographers directly streamlined a once-cumbersome system. The functions once performed by the central office in Toronto now are being handled at other existing HomeStore locations.

Greenblatt said Balduf?s statement about HomeStore?s "new" posting fee is incorrect and that the fee, which is paid by the service providers, not the brokers or agents, always has been in place and currently is $40, not $40-$60.

He said the service providers set prices for virtual tours and will continue to do so under the revised system.

"Prices will go either way and will be dictated by the market," he said. "In some markets, they may be a little more expensive, in other markets it?ll be a little less."

Greenblatt said Balduf?s assertion that HomeStore has left already-paid customers hanging when it comes to refunds also is false.

"We?re willing to refund the service portion of the tours so they can then pay the service provider directly," said Greenblatt, adding that serveral customers have already used the refund process. "Alternatively, we?re also offering 2-for-1 and 3-for-1 self-service tours, and some (customers) are taking us up on that as well."

Greenblatt said Homestore?s customers are happy with the changes because they?re getting better service and their virtual tours are being posted on the Web faster than they were with the old system.

Copyright: Inman News Service



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