Virtual and augmented reality may be well-known as a technology used for entertainment, but it has important uses in health, retail, and of course — real estate.
Using VR and AR for real estate is not exactly new, as companies have been perfecting the technology over the last several years. However, a lot has changed about how the industry uses it, how technologists build it for optimal use and how we think about its future.
How the industry has evolved
For VR/AR startups, these changes in the traditionally old-school real estate industry have been for the better. Josh Glow, chief operating officer of Winnipeg-based Gryd, says it’s gotten easier for the company to explain the value proposition of its solution. Gryd offers its own VR headset to real estate clients, allowing prospective tenants to get an immersive experience exploring listings, and they use a network of video editors and photographers to do 3D tours. “At the beginning of Gryd back in 2014, it was a challenge to explain our products and service offerings as, at the time, they were very forward-thinking.” The pace of technology now allows these startups to thrive. Glow says that, when Gryd first started, they used more traditional media services like photos, videos and black and white floor plans. “We are now 3D-scanning the spaces, loading virtual furniture using augmented reality, and using drones for aerial vantages.”
David Payne, CEO of Toronto-based Invent Dev, echoes this sentiment. The company also got its start in 2014 and uses virtual reality to showcase homes for builders and real estate professionals. Besides virtual reality, the company also uses virtual renderings, 360-degree videos and more to help sell properties. Payne said its builder clients have sold 1,000 homes using AR and VR, without the need to build traditional model homes. “This would never have been possible without using AR and VR as part of the overall marketing and sales strategy,” says Payne.
VR/AR as an effective marketing tool
Put simply, VR and AR are such effective marketing tools because of their ability to help people visualize. Users can truly get a feel for a space in a way that is limited by 2D photos and floor plans. “If a builder wanted to sell a townhome project with a beautiful exterior garden feature and a shared clubhouse, they would have no way to let people experience their project in the past,” said Payne. “When buyers can experience living in their future home, they are more willing to make an informed and confident buying decision.”
Payne points out that VR and AR also open up an important marketing channel: overseas buyers. These can include investors, military buyers or vacation property buyers. When Invent Dev is in a situation where overseas buyers are purchasing many properties, “The idea of providing VR or AR experiences is often considered as part of the overall marketing and sales strategy.”
What to expect in 2020
Overall, both Payne and Glow feel that the continued development of technology would only continue in 2020. “With upcoming new hardware and new high-quality content being created daily, the use cases for VR is continuing to strengthen,” says Glow. In particular, Glow says more mid- and higher-end new multi-family developments will use VR and AR tech to better showcase their units before construction—starting a more economical option than building a leasing office or suite. “At a certain price point and once the technology is indistinguishable from reality, I don’t see why most households in North America wouldn’t have a VR headset in the next five years,” says Glow.
According to Payne, today AR is mature in that most smartphones can handle overlay furniture, finishes, and spaces over existing spaces. “The future of AR is likely wearable glasses that overlay information to combine the real and virtual worlds — provided that the goggles look fashionable, of course.” With VR, however, there will be a move towards making the hardware leaner — one of the main hurdles of the technology. Payne anticipates a shift away from cables and computers that make VR difficult to use. “With ‘cable-free’ headsets, people are free to experience new worlds, and, in this case, new homes freely,” says Payne. “Until that happens, VR is mostly for gaming enthusiasts.”
How real estate operators can start using VR/AR
Real estate operators may be excited to jump on this fast-moving technology, and for that, both Payne and Glow have words of advice. Payne cautions operators not to use these technologies simply because they’re “cool.” Rather, it’s important to first determine what they ultimately want to achieve before investing, whether it’s marketing, brand awareness or boosting sales conversions. Integrating this technology can also vary widely depending on what operators actually want to build, says Payne. For example, building a fully-immersive sales centre is much different than using affordable Google Cardboard VR to show homes at real estate events. “Without a clear understanding of the purpose of using AR or VR, the chances of seeing results is limited,” says Payne.
Glow also says that integration strategies depend on what the operator hopes to achieve. Gryd clients have purchased VR headsets to showcase multiple properties to tenants before an in-person visit, while operators can also use mobile applications to let people view properties using their own headsets. “The true value and applications of VR still have not been created,” Glow says. It’s an exciting time to be experimenting as an early adopter.”
What impact do you think VR/AR will have on the real estate industry? Let us know in the comments.
Jessica Galang is a tech journalist who has been tracking the Canadian tech ecosystem for the last several years. In the past, she was news editor at BetaKit and a reporter at The Logic, interviewing hundreds of entrepreneurs in emerging industries.