Virtual reality is getting more attention than anyone ever expected.
As technology is evolving rapidly and infusing itself with all the major segments of the industry, it was only a matter of time before VR was going to find its place in the real estate business.
In the past, buyers had no other option than to look at pictures or to see the property in person before deciding on buying it. These days, however, the customers have the ability to slip on a VR headset and instantly be transported to a property without having to leave home.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality (VR for short) is described as a computer-generated 3D environment which can be interacted with and freely explored by the user. Unlike the traditional interfaces which simply display images and videos, VR puts the user inside the experience itself. This means that instead of simply viewing a screen put in front of them, users are completely immersed and have the ability to interact with every aspect of their virtual environment.
How Does VR Affect the Real Estate Industry?
One of the largest industries that stands to be transformed by VR is the real estate business. The biggest issue buyers have with shopping for a new home is having to browse through several properties before settling on the one that’s just right for them. This, of course, demands a significant portion of one’s time to view them all and carefully balance their time between work-related obligations and the times realtors are available to schedule showings. Even with pictures and video walkthroughs, the experience is not the same as physically walking through space.
Although VR headsets used to be very expensive, these days, the average person can download plans from the internet, order a couple of lenses and piece together a headset using cardboard cutouts. Google has embraced this low-cost philosophy and made Google Cardboard, a fold-out VR headset which works with both Android and iOS devices.
There are more sophisticated, premium models available, including Facebook-bought Oculus Rift and HTC-owned Vive, which cost $599 and $799 respectfully. Even Samsung has jumped on the VR bandwagon with its Samsung Gear VR headset, which cost only $99, but unfortunately, works for only a handful of Samsung smart phones.
How Can VR Be Used In the Real Estate Business?
There are two distinct ways VR can be used to view a property. One way is to use sophisticated software that stitches together still photographs in order to provide users with an interactive, 360-degree view. This, of course, is far from 3D reality because it places the buyer at a fixed point inside the room. Users lack the ability to “move” through space, but it does offer a rather comprehensive look at the interior. This is particularly important, because the traditional still images can be taken at a specific angle to hide any visible issues, where 360-degree view completely eliminates this problem.
The second way is to use a special camera to capture a complete 3D rendition of the property. Unlike 360-degree view, where images are spliced together to create the illusion of 3D space, this technology maps the environment and creates 3D objects which users can actually interact with. This allows users to get a complete and unobstructed view from every conceivable angle. Additionally, the 3D space can be filled with useful information such as the price of individual objects, their age, place of origin, types of materials used in the construction and even detail the specific shade of paint used on the walls.
With more advanced techniques, users will have the ability to place 3D models of furniture around the virtual property and further customize their viewing experience. IKEA has already toyed with this notion by using AR (augmented reality) to superimpose pieces of their furniture into existing spaces.
It’s safe to say that it’s only a matter of time before this AR initiative gets carried over into virtual reality while giving potential buyers the ability to not only see how the place would look once filled with their favorite furniture, but to visualize and change the design of the entire house, as well as the design of the surrounding landscape architecture.
The guys from Musa landscape design Sydney postulate that this kind of VR application has all the predispositions to completely revolutionize the way designers work with and implement their creative choices both indoors and out, as well as the way consumers discover, inspect and ultimately, purchase a property. A design company could have a virtual list of property presets where every 3D element can be customized in order to provide the customer with a completely personalized shopping experience. Consumers could be presented with the ability to change and fully customize every part of the 3D rendition, ranging from smaller, simple objects such as furniture pieces, to large-scale renditions of houses complete with a matching landscape design.
In the future, there could be entire cities made in virtual reality with properties up for display. Customers could easily see how old the property is, how much it costs, how it was built, the plumbing and electric layout, contact information for those interested in purchasing, etc. With virtual technologies, customers can enjoy a VR tour anytime, anywhere in detail never thought possible before with a simple push of a VR headset button.
Can Virtual Reality Replace Current Marketing Strategies?
The short answer is both yes and no. Traditional real estate marketing efforts rely on having a platform with real authority and an established audience in order to convey the message. Realtors also have to use extensive e-mail campaigns targeted towards interested buyers, as well as some traditional techniques such as offline advertising and word-of-mouth.
These methods are not only costly but also time-consuming and are slowly but surely becoming obsolete. Images can hardly convey the look and feel of a particular space and although videos can help tremendously, it’s only a matter of time before they become replaced with detailed 3D models.
Virtual reality is more than a simple gimmick and realtors can use it to attract audiences which would normally be unreachable using traditional efforts. Not only does VR have the capabilities to provide more information regarding the property, but it also keeps the customers engaged while doing it. If the customer considers the VR tour to be informative and interesting, they are more likely to engage their friends and family in conversation regarding the property being viewable in VR. Not taking advantage of free marketing is simply a bad business move, especially when that marketing comes from interested parties and potential customers.
There are some limitations to virtual reality. Most of the headset available headsets (except for Google Cardboard and some similar models), are somewhat expensive for the average person. Until the costs of virtual reality headsets come down, 360-degree and 3D virtual reality tours will most likely be considered a luxury. However, with ongoing technological advances and the fact that almost everyone owns a smartphone these days, this VR-enabled future is closer than you might imagine.
Soon, potential customers could easily view 20 or 30 homes in one sitting from the comfort of their favorite sofa, without the need to be physically present at the location. As the industry moves away from pictures to video, virtual reality has the potential to be the next step in the way we market and purchase real-estate. It might be a luxury now, but it will certainly become a part of our everyday lives, soon.
Hannah Thomas is an expert in business and real estate innovation with love for writing. Always eager to learn new things and to share the knowledge she acquired along the way. Fascinated by technology, robotics and movies of the same sorts.