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Property marketing: an Augmented Future?

JAMES DEARSLEY IS AN Independent Technology Consultant for the real estate industry in the UK. In this article, he discusses the potential of augmented reality technology for property companies around the world.

AUGMENTED REALITY, or the superimposing of digital imagery on your real world view, is not necessarily a new concept. In fact, rather strangely, it was first referenced by the author of The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum, back in 1901. Interestingly he was discussing the notion that we would soon be able to wear glasses where images would be superimposed over the lens to tell us whether a person we were looking at was good or evil.

In one fell swoop, L. Frank Baum was putting forward the concepts of wearable technology (think Google Glass), and augmenting your view with information. This was over a century ago and is only now becoming a reality. Virtual reality is a growing trend, but augmented reality (AR) is now available and being used today by a raft of property companies.

Reviewing AR for the first time can be confusing as there are so many different aspects to the technology. Firstly, there is a geo-location feature because of our prolific use of smartphones and their ability to send information regarding our whereabouts. Property portals Trulia in the US and Funda in the Netherlands have capitalised on this already. Should you open their app, stand on a street and turn around, properties that relate to your search preferences appear as clickable buttons to give you more information. Several companies in the UK, like Haart, have looked into this and are continuing to experiment.

AR can also be about augmenting your physical marketing material like newspaper advertisements and property details. One of the most popular apps that facilitate this is Blippar, with a turnover of over £10 million a year. ‘Blipp’ an image with a Blippar logo and, if you are viewing that image through their app, an augmentation will occur.

However, with the vast array of AR platforms out there, we have to be careful. If we are looking to augment our adverts or property details with extra content (think videos, slideshows of images and contact details) we need to “reduce the friction between intention and action” – a phrase often used to demonstrate the potential of AR. If a paper has one advertisement that needs Blippar to show the content, another advertisement using Layar and another using Augment it will bore the client and waste their time.

As such there is a property-based AR platform, built by a former real estate agent, which is one to watch. It is called Virtual View and is free on the App Store. From my understanding, it is already working with large brands like Fine & Country in the UK.

It offers all basic AR content at an affordable price, and can also offer more complex augments like 3D floor plans or entire buildings that appear to ‘pop out’ from the page. As long as people have downloaded the app and are connected to Wi-Fi or a 3G or 4G network they can see extra information about the property. With good analytics in place, agents can achieve a greater understanding of how their advertisements are performing and which properties are appealing to their audience.

We have looked at cost-effective solutions for businesses so far, but there are also more complex ways to use augmented reality if you are in the New Homes sector. Bespoke apps can be built to cater for far larger developments; in fact developers St. James and Weston Homes in the UK and Lanterra in Canada have some fantastic examples of AR. Emaar, one of the world’s largest developers in Dubai, are investing in their first AR application for one of their flagship developments in the Dubai Marina – their first of many such applications, I hear.

It is an exciting time in property marketing; augmented reality is available now and many agents and developers are already taking advantage of the technology. There is an even more exciting future to it too. L. Frank Baum was right in his assumption that our vision will soon be augmented. With wearable technology like Google Glass and, currently in discussion, augmented contact lenses, it will only be a matter of years until we will be selecting what sort of view we want to have and what information we want to see in the physical world around us. There will no longer be terms such as ‘virtual reality’ or ‘augmented reality’, but perhaps an overriding term: ‘immersive reality’, ‘interactive reality’ or my favourite, ‘selective reality’. We are living in interesting times.

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