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Why your new reality should be virtual: Kylie Davis

New advances in the technology, price reductions and new consumer expectations could make 2017 the year of VR, according to experts at the INMAN New York real estate conference. Kylie Davis looks at whether the trend will finally take off this year.

Ryan O’Hara, the CEO of US web portal Realtor.com, said now was the time for real estate agents to ‘lean in’ to the technology.

“The time is now to invest in it and get comfortable so you are ahead of the curve,” he said.

“Everyone asks, ‘When should I do this? When should I adopt?’ Do it now. Make it a differentiator when you want to win a listing. Show what you can do to stand out from other agents.”

One Washington agent at the Hacker Connect pre-conference said he had won $5m in listings over the past 18 months by using VR in an area where the typical price of a home was around $300,000.

“I send examples to potential listings and say, ‘This is what I will do for your home’. People are impressed and I’ve not lost a single listing since I started pitching with it,” the agent told the conference. He used a college student to edit the video together, making the final package an inexpensive but impressive way to stand out from his competition.

With video and floorplans and photos of homes from every angle, why do we need virtual reality as well?

Stephanie Davis from Virtual Xperience said the difference with VR is that users can walk around inside the space they are looking at, which is much more immersive.

“It’s all about presence,” she said. “You can see and feel the space you’re in. You can sense the height of the room, spatial flow, the proportion. You get a feel of how far it is from the door to the furniture – it’s very compelling.”

In virtual reality, buyers can examine parts of the property that particularly interest them and there can be overlays to inform visitors of vital information. These can include visual pointers, such as the type of granite on the benchtops, through to warranty information about when the air conditioner was installed or key parts of the contract.

VR is an ideal tool for new home and apartment builds, giving buyers a much more realistic understanding of their new property in advance.

“When a buyer walks out onto the balcony of the new apartment they’re considering and sees and hears the sea, and the seagulls, – they are completely sold,” said Ms Davis.

Markets that have strong foreign investment or sight-unseen buyers are also prime contenders for virtual reality.

Will buyers need to go to an agent’s office or display home site to see many different types of properties using 3D in a single showing? Or will agents make cardboard VR goggles the new fridge magnets of marketing? The jury is out.

But there are several different types of virtual reality, from video walk-throughs to ‘mobile virtual’ captured on small inexpensive devices, to the full bells and whistles 3D rendering that can deliver entire suburbs and cityscapes.

The ‘vomit factor’ of VR is also being addressed with new technology from Oculus Rift, making being immersed in VR much smoother and removing the sense of car sickness.

Buying your own Oculus Rift device – and a laptop to run it – now costs about $US 2,500. And you’ll need to edit each VR piece you create, so add the cost of a college student or someone from Freelancer.com.

Alternatively, there are agencies that will deliver a VR service with costs ranging from $2 upwards per square foot of space shot and can take up to two weeks to deliver a VR render for a 1,000 square foot property.

Matterport, which specialises in virtual reality for real estate, claims it is the most scalable way for agents to capture VR listings, taking just 24 hours to deliver a model in the US at a charge of 20c to 30c per square foot.

Australian companies involved in VR include Virtual Reality Ventures, Pixelcase and RapidVR. They follow a full service model.

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