Imagine that you are looking to purchase a home, and are set to have a walkthrough of a prospective property with a real estate agent. Will you prefer that the agent describe the home’s physical attributes like area and building materials or talk more about its history and the neighborhood it is located in?
Each client has their own preferences when it comes to house tours, and this makes it quite difficult for the agent to tailor their approach to the tour without preparation. The process of choosing a home is in dire need of customization options, and virtual reality for real estate agents might just be the perfect answer. Can VR app development work hand-in-hand with real estate practices? This is the question our article seeks to answer.
How is VR Being Used in Real Estate?
When the first major VR platforms came out, they were viewed as novelty items for the rich. Eventually, more affordable variants like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive began to seep into consumer markets, but they were still seen mostly as tools with which to play video games or enjoy immersive experiences. It is only in the past 5 years or so that enterprises started taking a second look at the technology and adapting it to their business needs. The real estate industry is no exception to this trend.
According to a study by Goldman-Sachs, an estimated 1.4 million realtors will be using the technology by 2025, which will almost certainly make up the bulk of the total specialists in this field. Though data on current use of VR in this industry is limited, we have seen notable examples with adoption by companies like Compass, Zillow, and Sotheby’s International Realty. These businesses have successfully adapted the technology to their operations, and in doing so, made the work of their realtors a little easier.
The aforementioned companies are ahead of the curve when it comes to the technological tools they have at their disposal, but it is not too late for other real estate (RE) businesses to get in the game.
How VR Helps Real Estate Agents?
If properly applied, virtual reality will provide a number of benefits that will extend to RE agents, their company, and their customers. Some of these benefits include the following:
- The realtor makes fewer trips to the house
- Customers get to window-shop virtually
- Reduced costs
- Forming emotional connections
- Unlimited customization
In order to capably market a property, a realtor has to be very familiar with it. Thus, to know all the nitty-gritty, they often make a handful of trips to the location to add to their notes and refresh their memory. When the person has to juggle a dozen such properties, the trips take a significant toll of time and fuel. Fortunately, a digital model of the house can reduce the number of trips needed and allow the specialist to “return” to the property without ever getting in their car.
Window shopping is known as the practice of checking out goods and products for purchase at a distance. VR can create the same effect in a simulation, giving prospective home-buyers the chance to visit and evaluate a building from afar. This is highly convenient for several reasons. Firstly, there is no pressure from the side of the agent and the customer can explore at their convenience. Secondly, they do not need to drive a long distance to get a tour, which eliminates the disappointment of investing time and money on a physical visit, only for the house to prove unsuitable for their needs. All a customer will really need is access to the simulation and the right hardware.
Although creating a simulation of this type does require some investment, the costs are recuperated with the savings that you can extract from its application. Firstly, fuel costs are reduced both for agents and prospective customers, as they can visit the property remotely, soin-person visits become something reserved for only the most serious clients. Furthermore, estate services hardly need to invest in other marketing and promotional materials when they can just provide access to this convenient resource. Finally, giving tour access to realtors saves their time and allows them to accomplish more during their workday.
There are few technologies as immersive as VR, which can digitally put you in the shoes of a person walking around a building/home. The realism, familiar physics, and interactive elements all contribute to a highly immersive experience, which can help people form an emotional connection with a place. For example, if they go inside the home and fall in love with the woodwork and designs, they will probably want to see and feel it in person. You can hardly get an effect like this if you are relying solely on a video, photos, or other outdated promotional materials.
Unlike physical structures, simulated tours and walkthroughs can be customized with very limited effort. From the side of the realtor, you can customize the tour to appeal to a certain category of customer. For example, you may want to focus on lighting, interior design and zoom features, and detail if the customer is a visual learner; or pop-up windows with detailed facts, statistics, and measurements for those who like to see the numbers. From the side of the client, you can easily add features for them to customize: adding furniture, changing the layout and coloring of a home, picking out possible interior design products they may want to buy (vCommerce), and much more.
Considerations for Building a VR Real Estate Experience
If you choose to take a leap of faith and build a VR program for your RE business, there are several important points that should be considered before and during development:
- VR platform
- Guided or interactive
- Animation and LOD
- BIM elements
If you are targeting your application towards clients who own a VR headset, it is recommended to make it available on several different platforms at once. At the time of writing, the most popular platforms in this category are Oculus (Rift, Go, Quest), HTC Vive, Playstation VR, and Valve Index. If you want to provide the experience through digital models overlaid on real-life surroundings, you may also want to consider the Hololens mixed reality platform or augmented reality on mobile devices.
Don’t know what VR platform to choose for your product? Check out our article about the best VR headsets in 2020.
In case the plan is to host the headset yourself and provide it to customers to look through several house options, you will only need to build for this sole platform. Conversely, if you want to make the experience accessible to as many people as possible, we suggest that you choose a web or mobile platform, which can provide the same visuals and functionality without the immersive effect of VR.
In order to make a program, you need a program. It is just the way software development works. Thus, the 3D models and designs used in the tour can be created in modeling software such as ZBrush, Maya, and 3DS Max. As for the actual app, it can be built with the help of a game engine (like Unity or Unreal) or simply as code compiled in an IDE. You can expect software development to take much longer than the planning and testing phases combined.
You have the choice of making your virtual tour guided or interactive, which will strongly influence how much work goes into development. With a guided tour, the user will just sit back and watch as they are ushered through different parts of the building, possibly with audio commentary. It might even be a pre-recorded video. On the other hand, an interactive tour gives the user free will to move around as they please and interact with different elements.
For example, they can use a VR controller and point to a pool, then a window will appear with its volume, depth, and other features.
Speaking about additional features, you have the option to make various objects in a building interactive (such as a door handle that can be turned, a window that can be opened, etc.). The movement of models in these features will be achieved through animation, which takes a moderate level of skill to create. Another big factor that can influence your project’s difficulty is the LOD, which stands for level of detail. Traditionally, the more details and realism you plan to add to models in a simulation, the longer it takes to build them.
BIM stands for building information modeling, and represents transforming construction blueprints, plans, and data into accurate digital models. Thus, in the context of real estate, BIM elements in an app would allow users to look at the structural elements of a building, its wiring and sewage system, and various other things about a house that are important but lie beneath the surface.
These points are a lot to take in, especially for a business that has never developed software of this kind before. Fortunately, anyone in this precarious situation should remember that they do not have to do it alone. There are plenty of companies and studios ready to develop RE applications using VR and other innovative technologies, and achieving a partnership with them is much easier than diving headfirst into development alone.
An Example of How a Virtual Reality Real Estate App Might Look
“Virtual Hotel” is a solid example of the remarkable achievements that become feasible when the power of digital visualization is applied to RE. This application developed by Program-Ace features a 3D simulated hotel with all floors, rooms, and major equipment included. Thus, employees of the hotel can use the app as a guide to learn the layout of the building and how to navigate around it. Over 15 different types of rooms were designed for this program, and it took dozens of different object models, too.
Realtors typically deal with properties smaller than hotels, so most virtual real estate applications developed for this industry would probably be built faster and might feature more interactive options for the user. The apps can even have dual functionality: 1) for realtors; 2) for potential homebuyers.
What VR services we offer for real estate market
Even though VR is a relatively small niche in the big world of software development, there are still plenty of companies and studios that specialize in this type of development and can help you with your project. Among them is Program-Ace.
Our long history of developing virtual reality software has given us the skills to deliver projects of different size and caliber, while our experience with construction and RE projects makes us uniquely suited to handle a combination of the two. We are the company behind the aforementioned VR Hotel app, as well as several other walkthroughs and simulated tours that bring real houses and buildings to the screen of a headset, computer, or mobile device.
Working with Program-Ace, you can expect to get a dynamic, detailed, and immersive experience that will help your business reduce costs, differentiate yourself from competitors, and add plenty of convenience to the property sale business.
We are ready to discuss your project at any time that works for you. Just contact us today.