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Virtual and 3-D: The New Reality of Real Estate Marketing?

by Leslie Fowle | Feb 28, 2017
Let’s just get this out of the way: not too many people are going to buy a home without seeing it in-person (perhaps a few times) beforehand. What then is the role of virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3-D tours in real estate marketing? Is it set to “disrupt” the entire industry like Uber did to the taxi, as some have suggested? Let’s set the record straight and explore how you might employ virtual reality into your marketing mix.
Virtual Reality:

What is virtual reality? Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that uses software to generate interactive simulations to replicate a real environment. It goes beyond plain
video to allow the user to interact and engage with the space. Users can walk, look around or maybe complete more complicated tasks as they dictate. Under this umbrella is augmented reality, using a tablet/phone/computer to modify or add to a client’s real world view of a property. (Remember the Pokémon Go app? This is augmented reality, imposing fictional characters on a real view through the users’ cameras.)

There are currently three devices that host virtual experiences: computers, mobile devices, and VR headsets. The last item is a relatively new consumer product, and, by now, most are familiar with the futuristic goggles from commercials or from their tech-savvy younger relatives. In fact, these VR headsets became one of the most popular
new tech gifts this past holiday season, with consumers snapping them up by the thousands. The research company Forrester predicts that there will be 52 million units in circulation by 2020.

Businesses and industries are now scrambling to find ways to capitalize, but real estate seems particularly poised to transform with this new technology for marketing. A few big names in real estate have jumped on the bandwagon as of now, with Sotheby’s
International Realty joining Redfin and Mansion Global as the few propertysearch sites to offer 3-D tours of select homes. Move Inc.’s released an augmented reality feature for its Android app in January called Street Peek that allows users to point a phone camera at a house and see an overlay of information from the Realtor® database like recently sold price and number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

Still, some dismiss VR as a gimmick. Others feels it’s a threat to their livelihoods as Realtors®, fearing that it further removes the agent from the transaction. After all, if you’re not schlepping around from property to property to meet clients, what do you
do? However, that sentiment gets at the very crux of how VR and 3-D tours can boost efficiency in your business.

Efficiency and Virtual Reality:

When done right, VR maintains the Realtors®’ position as the intermediary of the transaction because you control the VR experience. Whether it’s a 3-D tour hosted on your site, social media page, or on a VR headset in your office, you are offering an experience that stands out to potential clients and draws them in. Furthermore, when
done well, VR can save you time and money. Think of all the times you have toured a bunch of homes with a client, only to realize none were for them? This is a waste of time for you and your clients. Instead, VR offers the option to explore homes in an experience as close to reality as possible without leaving your office. That way, clients can narrow down a list of homes they want to see in person.

“During a showing, the Realtor® controls what the buyer sees. With 3-D experiences, they can see what they want to, go where they want to, and spend as much time as they need on a 24-hour basis. Virtual reality gives the buyer much more control, specifically helping those that are significantly out of market or out-of-state,” added
Kurt Thompson, Templeton resident and Realtor® with Keller Williams Realty North Central in Leominster.

Though it may be easy to get caught up in the hype, it’s important to weigh potential drawbacks to any exciting new marketing technology. In the case of VR, the biggest drawback right now seems to be cost. Buying a 3-D camera to take your own footage to host on your site might be a great investment, but can be prohibitively expensive up-front—especially for a small brokerage. The other option, paying 3-D photographers to take your images for you, can also rack up the bills if you want to send them to a substantial number of properties. Sit tight though, because as more people buy into VR technology, competition will drive prices down.

“I think within 10 years, every successful Realtor® will be hosting 3-D tours on their websites as these technologies become more affordable and accessible. That’s just the direction of the market,” said Thompson.

If it’s VR headsets that intrigue you, it might be best to wait until there is more demand from the average buyer. Thought headsets have received a lot of play in the media this year, the actual market remains small.

“I believe that while it may be possible to have a successful marketing campaign involving VR headsets, the day-to-day use cases will be limited,” said Dave Conroy,
R&D Lab Engineer at the NAR Center for Realtor® Technology in Chicago. “Currently
for VR headsets to be viable, it takes a specific type of property, normally new construction, and a client who can allow themselves to be immersed into the
virtual reality experience.”

Conroy added that, in contrast to marketing with VR headsets, he thinks that augmented reality tools will be a much more powerful marketing tool for the Realtor® of the future.

“Some creative ways augmented reality could be used in real estate marketing would be to virtually stage a property, enhance the landscaping, or test different paint colors on the walls – all from their tablets or mobile devices and without the expensive costs,” he said.

How to Get Started

If you’ve weighed the pros and cons and are ready to hop on the VR and 3-D bandwagon, there are some steps you can take—especially if you want to take some baby steps before running out and buying an expensive camera. Consider hiring a 3-D photographer to go out and shoot a few properties first (you can find some to choose from in your area online), and gage your experience as well as that of your clients.

“Just as home owners hire Realtors® to help them market and sell their homes, Realtors® should contract specialists to assist with photography, floor planning,
and measuring,” said Kevin Klages, cofounder of iGuide, a virtual reality for real estate company in Canada.

Once you become comfortable with the process, it might be worth looking into purchasing a 3-D camera for yourself. Look into models (Matterport is a popular brand) and carve out the time to learn to shoot homes in 3-D. "Once you get the hang of it, shooting a property with a 3-D camera takes about an hour to an hour and a half,
depending on the square footage," Thompson says. “Buying a camera really becomes
worth it if you want to offer a 3-D experience on all your listings,” Thompson added.
However you decide to experiment in the VR, 3-D, and augmented world now, it’s likely that your new marketing efforts will pay off as the real estate industry hurdles toward the future.