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VR in Real Estate: Seeing Opportunity in Enhanced Client Experience

While real estate isn’t traditionally known for being on the cutting edge when it comes to implementing technology in business practices, more and more brokerages and agents these days are seeing the value in virtual reality (VR). Home tours are among the most visible ways that VR is being used in the industry, but there are many other uses that are creating a demand for skilled VR specialists with an eye for design. Real estate professionals have exhausted those traditional ways of creating an experience for their clients and are searching for something more immersive, building upon a job market that may have been considered more “niche” (at least, for smaller operations) in previous years.

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Virtual Tours Becoming a Standard

When a home buyer – especially a more tech-savvy one – is looking for a home, they’ll look for sites that can provide the most information compared to others in their market. With the majority of home searches beginning online, this has created somewhat of an arms race in the residential real estate world. Online tours need to offer much more than just a few still photographs, and they can take a potential buyer around the home almost as if they are right there, seeing it in person.

With virtual tours becoming commonplace, buyers are beginning to expect them. The benefits are not so one-sided, though. Agents can spend more time showing homes that actually fit buyers’ needs as opposed to homes that were not properly represented in photographs.

As virtual tours feature becomes standard, agents and brokerages with enough resources are moving toward investing in virtual reality to further improve and streamline the showing process when meeting with clients in order to sift through those properties that “work” for their clients and those that do not before driving out to see them.

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Development and Construction Applications

It can be tough to imagine something that does not exist yet. Floor plans and blueprints can give buyers and investors an idea of what they’re getting into, but these methods still present a bit of risk to all parties involved. When builders offer the VR experience to clients, they can better communicate their desires and expectations before construction has begun.

Buyers, after seeing the home in VR, can make adjustments and changes, or even choose a different floor plan entirely, if they see that the home they were considering isn’t actually right for them. Sometimes it’s very hard to tell such things without seeing it “in person”.

In addition to VR assisting with home buyers seeing the homes, builders themselves are starting to see the benefits of using VR in their own businesses. Home builders are beginning to use VR for many purposes, though business employee training and safety are currently one of the biggest uses of VR. It is expected that home builders will increasingly utilize VR in the design and construction process in the coming years.

Helping Buyers See Into the Future

Buyers who are looking at purchasing a home may want to take their existing furniture with them. They may also want to buy new furniture, but aren’t not sure what will fit in the homes they are considering. When a homeowner measures their furniture, or furniture they like at a store, they can drop those dimensions and other information into a program and see where the furniture would go. By using Augmented Reality, or AR, they can also get a good idea of how well it fits in the space, and whether it’s going to work for the ideas they have in mind. It’s much better to discover before the house or the new furniture is purchased that something they had planned to use doesn’t fit the space at all. As Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality become intertwined with smartphones, tablets, and computers, having access to and an understanding of these technologies becomes increasingly important.

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A Changing Landscape

The majority of home searches occur online and, believe it or not, more and more buyers are purchasing property without ever seeing it in person. The real estate world is quickly changing, and businesses will have to adapt to the needs of their clients. Moving forward, VR in real estate may evolve much like the real estate website. When consumer access to computers and the internet were relatively new, professional websites were “nice to have”. After only a few years, they became an absolute necessity.

With this occurring in the not-so-distant past, real estate professionals may be eager to adopt VR technology sooner rather than later.

 

Anthony Gilbert is the owner of The RealFX Group. Anthony specializes in real estate lead generation and digital marketing.

What is Virtual Reality (VR)?

First things first: virtual reality is a communication medium, not a technology.

Technologically speaking, there are three variants: virtual, augmented, and mixed. These exist on a spectrum of RL integration, or we can call it degrees of immersion.

  • VR refers to full immersion, entirely computer-mediated content presented in total isolation through a headset and optional headphones (although social exists through embodied avatars). Think Fruit Ninja VR and Oculus Rooms.
  • AR refers to complementary immersion — a screen projects computer-mediated information into the real world, where users can synthesize and contextualize the screen-based content. Think Pokemon Go and Google Maps.
  • MR uses light, projected into the eye via mirrors (HoloLens) or prisms (Magic Leap’s rumored approach), to present content that is completely integrated into RL, even interacting with/responding to the environment and actions of the user.

The future will likely see more points of RL+CG integration and synthesis, so I refer to the medium as “MAVR” when talking about aspects that are true across all the tech.

As a communications medium, it’s important to put the technological advancements of MAVR into context: this is a tool for sharing ideas, experiences, and information. Just like paint, print, photography, and film, it has limitless uses and applications.

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The early 21st century has seen the medium of video reach true saturation. We don’t even notice that we’re using it, and that’s what makes it a tool rather than a technology, or a novelty. And it’s no accident that along the path from flat screen ubiquity to the novelty of immersion (surround-screen? no screen?) is just a hop, skip, and a jump, technologically speaking. It’s just wrapping screens around your head or projecting the light directly into your eye, thereby forgoing the screen entirely. Once you know how to direct the light, it’s only a matter of where you put the projector

So here we are, back in Plato’s Cave, just seeing the silhouettes of the visual spectrum through a new medium. It’s an exciting time ripe with possibility. But understanding it and using it require us as creators to redefine our relationship to our audience, and learn some 21st century skills.

First, you have to understand experience design. There are a bunch of complicated ways to explain what that is, but I’ll put it to you the way it was put to me: Ever been to a city park? Everywhere through the park there are paths — concrete, asphalt, brick, what have you — designed to take you the scenic route. Crossing over and around those paths you see dirt tracks that cut right through the grass. Those are the user-created paths, and your job as an experience designer is to anticipate the use and put the paths where they are most useful (and beautiful — never underestimate the importance of beauty).

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The second characteristic you have to understand about immersive design is framing. Though headsets limit the area you can see in any momentary gaze (just like your eyeballs do, but with a slightly smaller periphery), the “camera POV” no longer dominates. You’re surrounded, not compelled to look at a rectangle of information dictated by the director/designer. So, if you’re telling a story, the whole world is “on stage.” Very Shakespearean.

As a user, the most relevant feature of MAVR is agency. Video game designers understand this, because even though your designs only create the illusion of choice, you are rightly vilified if those choices are merely superficial masks for a golden path. But even when we’re not talking about entertainment apps, you still need to make room for the user who will co-create a personal experience. Whether you’re learning anatomy or meditating with Tron fish underwater or overcoming post traumatic stress, no one user will follow the exact same paths as any other. A whole new vocabulary of symbols, gestures, and space is being formulated to move creators beyond the limits of the frame.

Once you establish a conceptual foundation from these concepts, you can start focusing on execution. You will definitely need a computer, so building a foundation in programming, 3D modeling & animation, VFX, post-production, and 360 sound design (all rapidly evolving, complementary skill-sets), is a good start. You can try out 360 video, and experiment with cuts and transitions to move through time and space. But you may also want to make that live footage interactive, so you’ll need to learn compositing and utilize a game engine or webVR app to add those trigger points. And while we’re talking webVR, just wait until you can surf through a 3D internet (yes, it is just like Johnny Mnemonic and The Matrix … what does Keanu know that we don’t?)! Not happy with the design of the headsets, headphones, hand-held controllers, and other wearables? Look into AI, robotics, mechanical engineering, networking, human-computer interaction, product design, and software development.

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Career-wise, you can take one of two VR paths: technical or conceptual. Technicians will be the ones to build the content and solve the usability problems that will evolve into the same universal saturation for immersive content that we discussed with respect to flat screen media at the beginning of this article. Concept people will be the creative directors and storytellers of the immersive age.

The immersive age is upon us, how will you shape it? NYFA has programs in Game Design, 3D Animation & VFX, VR Filmmaking, Interactive VR, and VR Game Design. Choose your path.