How Virtual Reality is Changing the Real Estate Industry

Virtual Reality | Brian Merrick

Virtual reality has already entered the gaming and entertainment industry. Now, it’s positioned to change the real estate landscape. Well before even setting foot in their next house or apartment, real estate clients are donning plastic goggles and doing a virtual “walkthrough” of their new accommodations. Virtual reality (VR) is poised to redesign the real estate industry in much the same way as internet listings did several years ago.

Many in the industry believe that the time is right. The technology has become affordable and easier to use, and both buyers and their agents have become much more comfortable with the use of technology. Virtual reality technology is a good fit with global real estate markets.


360⁰ Tours Have Become the Norm

Virtual tours, without the goggles, are now joining aerial drone tours as the common fare in many real estate markets. Clients are afforded 360⁰ room views that have been produced from sophisticated software that stitches together still photos, giving house shoppers an interactive 3D-type view of any home without the hassle of setting up a physical showing.

Although these tours are technically not three-dimensional, they place buyers into spaces that could be thousands of miles away, and they do give them a comprehensive look at the interior, making it quicker and easier for them to narrow down their choices. Even more important, the 360⁰ tour can generate an emotional response that’s more powerful than a single, fixed view of a room.

In addition to being able to pull at the heartstrings of would-be buyers and create momentum where there was none, the tours also make it hard for sellers to hide unsightly sections of the interior from long-distance shoppers.


Virtual Reality Takes It Up a Notch

VR Oculus Headset | Brian MerrickLet’s say, for example, that you’re planning to move to Los Angeles from the East Coast. You’ll need to book a flight, find a room, and clear out a large block of time for traveling between prospective houses. Traffic is crazy, hotels are expensive, and there is no guarantee that you’ll find a home that’s suitable. The way things are right now, the best you can do is look at some carefully staged photos or blueprints in advance of your trip. But all that will change in the not-so-distant future.

The new VR technology, used with goggles and headsets and paired with a cellphone or computer, uses the same technology that gamers have been using for years. From this perspective, house shoppers can feel like they’re part of the image–and not just from a distance or a single view or angle.

Many realtors are convinced that they will be assessing real estate like this in the future. Ryan Serhant, a real estate broker at Nest Seekers International, believes that this is the future of technology. “Soon buyers will be able to look at properties in New York, while they’re sitting at dinner in France,” he said.


A Brief History of VR

Several years ago, a Silicon Valley company called Matterport began to offer special cameras that could create photo tours that had a look similar to 3D. It was conceived specifically for real estate. In 2013, the Twin Cities company Realvision took the virtual experience one step further, developing software that worked with standard digital single-lens reflex cameras. It allowed realtors to tour properties using a variety of viewing devices, such as the Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and Samsung Gear VR.

Recently, Minneapolis-based Spacecrafting, a photography and video organization that works with area realtors, builders, and architects, announced its partnership with Realvision. Accessibility to VR technology took an upward turn in March 2014. CEO Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook bought Oculus, the leading VR headset company, for $2.3 billion. The investment has helped the entire industry show increased growth.


Where is the VR Industry Today?

VR viewing devices are now available in a variety of styles and price points, from cardboard goggles that cost a few dollars to sophisticated headsets with hand controllers that cost hundreds. At the same time, the software that helps transform images into multidimensional environments has become far more sophisticated and accessible.

There are 20 million people who use VR at least once monthly, and that number could reach 50 million by the end of 2017 and 1 billion by 2023. At that point, the flooded market will force tech companies to make less expensive and more user-friendly devices for all VR applications.

VR Global, a New York-based company, films commercial and residential properties and creates a virtual walk-through for potential buyers to experience a home from anywhere in the world. And many rental companies are using this technology to get a jump in filling apartment complexes before they open. Although it might cost thousands to adapt VR, real estate firms expect to make up for that by reducing the number of empty units after they open.


The Technology Isn’t Perfect

Virtual reality is a work in progress. As such, there are still small glitches that need attention. For instance, some users complain that moving too quickly through a virtual unit can be a bit jarring and dizzying. Others have reported feeling ill after spending just a few minutes wearing the goggles.

Still another issue is the shortage of headsets and computers that have the processing power to run high-end VR simulations. And, not all real estate agents are brimming with enthusiasm. Samantha DeBianchi, founder of DeBianchi Real Estate in Fort Lauderdale, is somewhat skeptical. “I think it’s a great tool, but that’s where it stops,” she said. “It’s virtual; it’s not reality.” DeBianchi isn’t convinced that a headset can take the place of real estate agents. “Real estate is personal,” she said. “Technology cannot get personal with a potential buyer or seller–it’s impossible.”

Despite these problems and doubts, VR gives distant buyers a chance to do a walkthrough and get a sense of an interior’s dimensions, flow, and possibilities. It is—and will continue to be–a compelling and honest method of presenting space.

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