How virtual reality is shaping tomorrow’s homebuying experience

by James McClister


The real estate industry is no stranger to tech revolutions. The Internet forever changed how people buy and sell real estate, while the advent of high-resolution photography changed the art of listing a home.

Listing homes on the Web with crisp, clear photos did not just change how quickly a home sold, or how likely it was to sell at all; rather, it changed the value of the home itself.

The price advantage for using a high-quality, digital SLR camera to take listing photos of a home priced $400,000 to $499,999 is upwards of $12,000, according to Redfin. It also makes the home 18 percent more likely to sell, and when it does sell, it will be about 20 days faster than similarly priced homes using lower quality home images.

The next wave in real estate tech is virtual reality, and it’s already happening.

The next big thing

In a recent report, Forbes named virtual reality the No. 2 tech trend dominating 2016. Ryan Serhant of Nest Seekers International told CNBC that “turning your head to virtual reality for real estate is like turning to Zillow, StreetEasy and realtor.com when they first became big.” He described it as the future of technology, saying that “soon buyers will be able to look at properties in New York while they’re sitting at dinner in France.”

But in Chicago, @properties Vice President of Development Sales and Marketing Cyndy Salgado is already using the technology to help new construction clients visualize the unbuilt.

“In new construction, you’re selling a blueprint, and it takes a lot of vision on behalf of the buyer, because it’s not built; it’s not there yet,” she says. “Virtual reality helps the buyer envision what their new home will look like.”
It’s about helping buyers feel comfortable in investing in the intangible, Salgado explains.

“Our renderings aim to give clients an idea of look and scale – how much room will this bedroom have with a king-size bed; what’s the kitchen going to look like once the walls go up and the cabinets are installed,” she says, adding that clients can view the virtual tours through a mobile device, like a smartphone or an iPad. “We send clients a link and they can take the tour right then and there. Or they can come into our sales office where, apart from an iPad, we also have a large touchscreen.”

A “critical” technology

With how far virtual reality has come, Salgado says that offering a truly realistic experience is far less difficult than it once was; she cites @properties’ digital renderings for the Prairie Court development as an example.

“Not so long ago, virtual reality looked very cartoony and unreal,” she says. “We knew our end design had done a really good job when buyers started confusing our VR for real life photography.”

Salgado and @properties have found such success in their VR for new construction that Salgado went as far as to call the technology as “critical,” assuming the size of the project warranted the price of the tech.

“For a design company to do a good job requires an immense amount of care and detail,” she says. “Not only do they need to get each room – its scale and finishes and lighting – to be right, but they need to recreate every image to fit the various perspectives available to the viewer. There are so many moving parts, “It’s not inexpensive technology,” she continues, “so the project has to be of a certain size to warrant the initial investment.”

That means agents working exclusively with single-family new construction are unlikely to find a designer who can produce quality renderings at a price that makes sense. But for mid- to large-scale new construction, Selgado says VR can be the difference between a project being planned and being built.

She says: “If the project is of a certain size, it’s definitely very helpful and sometimes critical in helping the developer meet the presale requirements necessary to get the project to its next milestone.”

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