Have we reached a point where VR should be adopted across mainstream property?
We talk about it a lot, but judging from the agents I meet and the conversations I hear, VR is rarely at the top of anyone’s priority list.
I include myself on that list, giving most of my focus recently to things like blockchain, AI, and software platforms.
Are we right to keep VR contained to the back of our mind, or should agents be taking the whole thing more seriously? To help contribute to an answer, I think it’s important to try and understand the practical value of what’s currently on offer...
How is VR helping agents?
The technology for Virtual Reality property viewings has improved radically in the past three years. We’re seeing a real boom in advancement as we unlock more and more of VR’s potential.
What not so long ago were clunky, Playstation 2-era graphics tours around homes have recently transformed into hyper-realistic, immersive experiences. What’s more, for such cutting-edge technology, it’s remarkably affordable. A fact which adds to the democratising capabilities of VR.
There are dozens and dozens of VR companies in the UK. Some of whom, such as EyeSpy 360, are providing very affordable (if not free!), pay-as-you-go, DIY platforms for creating virtual tours of a home. They do so by using 360 degree photography, stitched together to build the walls around you.
This has definite implications for agents. Now that homeowners have the ability to create their own tours, agents should seriously consider taking advantage too, as not to lose potential business to the no-agent-required tech platforms out there.
Homeowners and buyers are growing increasingly convinced of VR’s ability to add value to their home or their search. A VR tour differentiates a home from the crowd, especially given the homogenous listings nature of property portals, and more attention means more potential buyers and increases the chances of achieving an asking price.
However, these affordable VR platforms offer real value to agents, too, especially small independent firms.
As I said before, VR is democratising. Small firms with lower stock levels and less marketing budget can truly stand out and offer a service that some of the biggest firms still don’t. Now, not only does your small firm offer better customer service, but it’s also at the cutting-edge of technology, allowing buyers to take virtual tours of half a dozen properties in an hour.
And the agent can even go with them on those tours, from wherever they are in the world, talking to them as they walk around.
The industry leader
Yes, there are quick and easy 360 photography tour solutions on the market, but to see the true power of VR, and the vast, almost immeasurable value it holds for agents, you have to look at companies like Matterport.
Matterport takes the VR experience to the next level; the photography is more accurate, the architecture more sophisticated, movement more free and dimensions more reliable.
Another feature unique to Matterport is their ‘Dollhouse’ tool, taking the same photography that enables the tour and creating a digital dollhouse. It’s an alternative to floor plans which is sure to capture the attention of buyers.
All of this advancement means that the price does go up. And so the question remains: is now the time to be making real, long-term investment in VR?
What’s the next step?
I think it’s really important to acknowledge the fact that VR is highly likely to become a regular fixture in our everyday lives, from entertainment to education and beyond. That means that, regardless of where we stand now, VR is certainly going to become the norm in property, too. And I don’t think it will take long; maybe as little as a couple of years.
Today, even the most advanced VR property platforms remain affordable, but that’s not to say it’ll stay that way. As demand goes up, prices may follow. So why not take advantage of low prices and get out ahead of the game at the same time?
Well, for one, it’s an extra cost; one more outgoing at time when forecasts say that house sales are going nowhere but down. It matters not how advanced your technology if no-one is looking to buy a property.
So, if a long-term investment isn’t on the cards right now, maybe a short-term experiment is a better option. There are lots of companies out there, some of whom offer pay-as-you-go, or one-off fees for creating virtual tours which can then be embedded directly into your own website.
Even if you only use it for the most appealing properties in your stock, I think there’s definite value in all agents at least dipping a toe into this technological pool. I’m telling you, they’re already doing some pretty incredible stuff with VR, and it’s getting better by the day.
Ahead of the game
Last week I took a helicopter ride across Manhattan, stood on top of (and on the very edge of) the Chrysler Building, checked out the brand new Tesla, toured a couple of potential Airbnb apartments in the Bronx, explored the Natural History Museum and walked through Time Square like a giant, with the high-rises and skyscrapers barely reaching my knees.
It was all courtesy of Garou, the open-platform VR company I was telling you about before. If you’ve got the headset, you can take some of these tours on their website.
Their experiences are remarkable in their authenticity, and the properties I toured felt true and tangible; I could crouch to look under tables and lean on the window to take in the view below.
But what I think is more important, especially for agents, is the manner in which Garou wants people to engage with its technology. It’s an open platform which means that anybody creating VR content can use it by downloading the software from the website.
This level of access, and this idea of shared creativity needs to be resonating with all agents. VR is in its infancy and growing fast, but it will only ever be what our industry needs it to be if we engage with what’s on offer right now and create a dialogue with its creators.
That way, agents can inform the VR companies on what they need, what they want, what they’re concerned about, what’s not working yet, and what homebuyers love the most. If nobody’s doing that, the tech is never going to be what we need it to be, even though it has the potential to be exactly that and then some.
If VR remains low on your list of priorities, there is no better time than now to address that. Before long, every firm in the world will have VR, so why not get there first?
*James Dearsley is a partner in PropTech Consult, digital transformation specialists for the real estate sector. To sign up to James’ Sunday PropTech Review, click here.