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Virtual and augmented reality in real estate

Reading Time: 10 min read
Published: November 2, 2016 by Siteloft

If you’re one of those people who think virtual reality is just another passing fad (like it was in the 90’s), you might want to reconsider your stance… maybe.

Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and 3D mapping are three of biggest new technologies Silicon Valley’s collective R&D basements have to offer. Sony has PlayStation VR, Facebook has Oculus Rift and HTC and the Valve Corporation have the HTC Vive – and that’s just three examples.

In the first few months of 2016 alone, investments into virtual reality development were north of $1.1 billion (USD). That’s a wad of American dollar bills 120 kilometres tall – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. By 2020, combined investments into virtual and augmented reality are estimated to be upwards of $150 billion. With funding like that, we’re going to be seeing some massive improvements on the quality and price of this new technology over the next few years.

Cool – another expensive toy you need to buy for your kids at Christmas. But what’s it got to do with real estate?

Fast Company released an article on five industries set to be reshaped by these technologies over the coming few years. Too the surprise of many – video gaming wasn’t first. In fact, it didn’t even make it to the list. Real estate received second place – just after live events (like music festivals and sports).

Even if we’re not set to be the most reshaped industry – we’ll probably be the first. Real estate agencies across the globe are already using these technologies to surprising success.

Applications for 3D and 360-degree video in real estate

Buyers have a bit of a problem: our tediously two-dimensional property photos often don’t give them the full picture. There’s no depth. There’s no immersion. It’s just a slice of the property behind a glass screen – and the homes aren’t always as they appear. Though, thanks to the miracles of modern science, there’s a far more transparent way to show off your listings online: 3D imaging.

The large American real estate franchise Redfin have been offering ‘3D walkthroughs’ on their website since 2014. The results need to be seen to be believed. As a matter of fact, these walkthroughs are so impressive that Redfin have since reported that homes listed with them sell an average of 8 days faster and for $4,300 (USD) more than comparable properties.

They do it with something called a ‘Matterport camera’. While these are hardly cheap ($4,500 USD or your soul), you can hire them for your more plush homes without breaking the bank. Australian 3D imaging service TicketyView will bring one to your property and map it out for you. Prepare yourselves – the future is here.

If that’s a little bit too high-end for you, we also mentioned some of the cheaper ways to capture 360-degree video and images in a previous post. Now that you can upload and view 360-degree footage to YouTube, many real estate agencies have taken the opportunity to start recording their own interactive open homes.

You can pick up a 360-degree camera for far less than one of these whizz-bang Matterport gizmos. Here are three we suggest you take a look at if you’re interested:

The best part? Having your footage on a ubiquitous network like YouTube means it’s easily available to all your potential buyers without forcing them to jump through any hoops.

But 360-degree footage is just the beginning. You can create your own virtual property tours for much, much less than you’d need to pay for a MatterPort scan.

Bushby, one of our clients, have started using one of our integrations to upload their very own virtual tours to their Siteloft website. The results are pretty amazing. Check this out.

This virtual tour was created by Archilogic, a Swiss technology company that creates interactive, 3D models for real estate and architecture. Agents can upload floor-plans and create and customise their own virtual tours. The results are, as you can see, pretty outstanding for the price.

These sort of added features aren’t necessarily just ‘nice-to-have’s. By utilizing these sorts of technologies, Bushby create demand. Because they’re the only ones in their area to put this much effort into every listing, vendors will naturally gravitate to their service, and as time goes by, they’ll elevate the standard of service vendors and buyers expect.

What’s more, this service costs absolute peanuts in comparison to a Matterport scan, while achieving mostly the same effect. Keeping up with the latest technologies isn’t just about looking clever – nor is it about keeping up with the competition. It’s about being competitive.

Applications for VR in real estate

So while it’s quite nice to be able to sit on your phone and scroll through these virtual tours and 360-degree videos with your thumbs – wouldn’t it be nice to be in there instead?

The answer: Virtual reality. Naturally the next step.

Rather than just viewing the 3D mapping or 360-degree footage on your computer or phone – why not strap it to your face and jump right in? Imagine being inside that Matterport home tour?

Virtual reality is defined by as “an artificial environment that is created with software and presented to the user in such a way that the user suspends belief and accepts it as a real environment.”

That sounds like some proper, Star Trek tech. It also sounds terrifyingly expensive.

You might think ‘suspending the user’s beliefs’ would require a headset worth more than that one the Queen wears to Coronations – but that’s not necessarily the case. Check out Cardboard by Google: a simple piece of foldable cardboard and your smartphone was all they needed for basic VR experience. You can pick one up for $15.

Plus, because Cardboard and YouTube are owned by the same company – Google (now Alphabet) – they’re very much compatible with one another. You can use the headset to view all those 360-degree videos you’ve recorded and uploaded. Not only that, but all Archilogic virtual tours can also be experienced through this $15 wonder.

Though if you would prefer to splash out a little more for a better, more comfortable headset, we’d recommend the Samsung Gear VR (Note: only compatible with Samsung Galaxy Note phones). These have had some great reviews and go for around $150 from most online electronics vendors.

Of course, if you want VR as a big part of your service – you’ll probably want to invest a fair bit of money into a seriously good headset. You know, one that isn’t powered by a phone. We’d only really recommend doing so if you’re using exceptional 3D imagery (Matterport quality). There’s no point owning a Ferrari if you can only drive it in a school zone, after all. The Oculus Rift (designed primarily for gaming, but awesome for every purpose) is probably the best current option. These are some of the most high-end headsets available – and as luck would have it, they’re finally shipping this year.

Whatever end of the spectrum you want to buy from – a VR headset inside your office is a perfect way to show off your listings to buyers without actually taking the trip there.

What are the real benefits of VR?

Okay, so like me you’re probably wondering whether or not it’s actually worth putting any money into something like this at all. Why would anyone want to see a virtual house over a real one?

The amount of glib remarks about this technology ‘disrupting’ traditional open homes and transforming real estate forever is, I’ll admit, truly astounding. Virtual reality will be a great way to run your buyers through a few different homes they like the look of from your office (or their own home, when headsets become household) – but they’ll never really replace OFIs.

But boy do they make a decent substitute for people with no access to the property.

For overseas or interstate buyers, VR may be heaven sent. Ouwens Casserly Real Estate have taken full advantage of that. In fact, they’ve even sent a headset to China. Now buyers there can ‘walk’ through listings in Adelaide from the other side of the world.

Applications for AR in real estate

While most of us are still reeling from the prospect of virtual reality, there’s still another (even cooler) level of reality yet: augmented reality (AR). While VR puts you inside a virtual world, AR puts virtual things into the real world.

Primitive augmented reality applications hit the real estate industry around 2013. The basic premise was that since everyone carries around a smartphone or iPad, we could use them to unlock far more information from brochures or other marketing materials. By scanning a particular barcode or icon – the logo of a particular property development, for example – an application on your phone or tablet could reveal more information. That could be a call to action (eg; call the agent, find out more, enquire now – whatever), or even a 3D rendering of the property.

Take a look at this:

Keeping in mind the above video is three years old, you can see the potential this kind of technology has. Though true AR is proving to be a pretty tough nut to crack.

It’s one thing to load a call to action over the right footage on a phone camera. It’s another thing entirely to strap on some goggles and walk through your own personalised augmented planet – which is precisely the goal of Magic Leap.

Magic Leap have been working on a product unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Their goggles work by literally projecting the desired image right onto your eye. That’s right – tiny little projectors beam changes to the world around you directly onto your cornea. Sounds painful – but so far, the results have been amazing.

Now, here at Siteloft we can only speculate on how this kind of thing is going to change the way we buy and sell real estate. Though we’re certain it’s going to have a pretty significant impact.

Let’s say a buyer finds a home one they love – except for the paint job. Fuchsia isn’t their colour. Rather than speculating on how it might look in cream, AR might allow you to change the colour and actually take a look.

Likewise – if the house is empty, AR could allow you to furnish it for VR open home visitors. What’s more, buyers could even see what their favourite couch would look like in the living room.

Alternatively, people might realise that a pair of goggles will only set them back a few hundred dollars, whereas a house will set them back a few hundred thousand. Subsequently everyone lives out their lives sprawled out under bridges and on park benches, all the while sipping Moet with their celebrity of choice around a tiny cannon that fires hors d’oeuvres into their waiting mouths at random intervals. No one buys houses anymore. You spend your last pay check to join them. Life as we know it crumbles around us and the robots finally take the opportunity to turn humanity into batteries.

Maybe. Maybe not. No one knows for sure.

But we do know one thing for sure. The first mobile phones were once designed for calling family and friends on the go. Now they’re used for a million and one different things: Skype, browsing the Internet, watching Netflix, GPS, playing Candy Crush Saga as the finite sands of your life slowly twirl out from under you – you name it. Like all new technologies, VR, AR and 3D are going to evolve. You need to keep up – because as they do they’re set to shake the real estate industry like a Bond Martini.