Mixed Reality in the Real Estate Industry

For realtors, buying a client a birthday card or muffin basket was once considered to be superior service. Such gifts are now largely consigned to the past, as virtual and augmented reality offer realtors a futuristic way to add value to prospective buyers.

VR and AR — which overlays digital images onto the real world — are transforming the real estate industry, including the way properties are designed, bought, sold and maintained. Indeed, virtual design in real estate is catching up to the entertainment industry, a leader in crafting cutting-edge immersion experiences for consumers, such as feature-length VR films. Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, reckons that by 2025, VR software for real estate applications will be a market worth $2.6bn.

Screen+Shot+2019-09-23+at+12.17.40+PM.jpg

While real estate does not have the same stellar reputation for VR as the entertainment business does, the industry was an early adopter, especially in China. Real estate professionals have long used 3D photography and video effectively, fashioning realistic projections of the interiors of their buildings. Several companies enable this, like Transported and You Visit. This empowers potential buyers and investors to walk through properties virtually to get a feel for the space without having to make the trip in the flesh. This is especially useful for overseas buyers — a market worth $78bn in the US. 

One example of this sci-fi service is the “holoportation” system developed by BNP Paribas Real Estate, a wing of the French bank. Using a VR headset, fast internet connection and 3D cameras, prospective buyers are beamed into a virtual property as a holographic avatar of themselves. They can interact with elements of the space and talk to the holograms of other people snooping around, or the agent who can make fast alterations to the space.

The videos are potentially a marketing goldmine. 360-degree videos can be used on YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo, enticing new buyers to tour a property from afar.

This could revolutionize the buyers’ experience, curving travel time, which can prevent properties from being sold fast for a good price, as there may be myriad missed opportunities to view or exhibit homes. Property prices swing, so a house languishing on the market for too long may be caught in a downturn. 

What’s more, with VR the building does not even have to exist for prospects to take a peek — ArX Solutions renders virtual apartments that have not actually been built yet. VR is becoming the industry standard at preview centers for luxury homes, offering far more insight than an architects’ rendering or a flashy leaflet. Sotheby’s International Reality, for one, uses VR to sell expensive properties across the US, as does Corcoran and Douglas Elliman. Would-be buyers use the Samsung Gear headset to immersive themselves in a 360-degree environment, with an audio link to the Sotherby’s realtor.

Moreover, AR can showcase different specifications that can be customized by buyers, or add in residents and amenities to create an overview of the entire development. This can help buyers see how the property fits in with the surrounding environment and its distance relative to infrastructure like a local train station — important information for making a decision on whether or not to purchase a home.

A good example is StartVR, which uses architectural rendering and drone footage to produce cinematic views of properties and adjacent areas, displayed via 360 videos.

Designers and developers are increasingly embracing VR and AR as well. Architects are using the technology to tailor their designs to individual clients’ tastes, bringing them into simulations to show them fresh styles and features. These digital blueprints do require a financial investment, but this pales in comparison to the cost of furnishing a model luxury property.

Brochures can also be brought to life via AR, with data overlaid onto animated floorplans that may help buyers picture a property, which is far more engaging than paper. An example is Augment, a startup that builds apps for users to virtually customize real and simulated properties, perhaps changing the color of paint on the walls, or removing them entirely. This may ultimately result in buildings being completed more quickly and clients being more satisfied with the end result.  

Architects can also test the safety of their structures using VR. In the construction industry, VR is helping to train staff on-site safety and to identify and practice fixing specific problems, such as plumbing malfunctions. 

When the build is underway, VR and AR can vastly reduce safety concerns, with buyers able to visit construction sites in the virtual realm, away from hard hats and potentially dangerous heavy-duty machinery. The benefit is potentially improved safety, maintenance and perhaps a faster time to market too, which is good news for investors.

Ultimately, VR and AR have the potential to make virtual spaces quite close to the real experience, though they seem unlikely to replicate it outright. The result will be better client engagement, new marketing opportunities, clearer understanding of products, and VR or AR may save time and resources too. This all adds value through the entire sales process. We may have seen the last of the muffin baskets.

Mike Galvin