Director, Head of Innovation
Technology is changing the way we buy and sell homes, making the process more efficient for buyers, sellers and agents. Don a virtual reality headset and you can go on a tour of a luxury London apartment or a country manor without ever setting foot inside the door.
In this article, Strutt & Parker explain how they’ve used virtual reality to improve the buying and selling experience for clients.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality, or VR, is an artificial, computer-generated environment that you experience as if you were inside the image. By encompassing your field of vision, and being responsive to movement, wearing a VR headset tricks your brain into thinking you’re in a completely different place.
Basic virtual reality headsets have been around for a while, but with the technology improving in leaps and bounds, the applications for its use are increasing. As VR develops, you may find yourself a player in the film you’re watching, cooking a meal with your favourite chef (complete with the smell and taste of the food) or exploring the Taj Mahal – all from the comfort of your own home.
When it comes to selling properties, using virtual reality a buyer doesn’t just have to look at a property, they can walk around inside it.
How does it work?
3D imaging has come a long way since the cardboard red-and-blue glasses you may once have worn at the cinema.
A VR headset uses a combination of lenses and LCD displays to create an illusion of depth. The resulting stereoscopic 3D image mimics how our eyes naturally work together to view the world. Unlike an image on a TV or computer screen which is set within a boundary, a VR image wraps around you, giving a more natural field of view of 100 degrees.
A head tracking system senses the wearer’s movement and changes the image accordingly. So, if you’re in the living room of a Georgian townhouse and you want to check out the fireplace, turning your head to the side will bring the centrepiece of the room into view.
Kevin Powell, Head of Digital at Strutt & Parker, outlines some additional features that can enhance the experience. “You can embed videos or add text or commentary overlays into the tour. For example, if you’re viewing a kitchen, a video could pop up that tells you who the designer was and details of the materials and finishes.”
How VR is used in the residential property market
VR has revolutionised the selling process for luxury properties, particularly for off-market properties and overseas investors.
With virtual reality, distance doesn’t matter. You can offer the same experience to a client in London and a client in Hong Kong.
“Buyers like it because they can go into the office to view a property or look at it online before coming in,” says Kevin.
With a VR headset, prospective buyers can move around a house and get a feel for how the space flows and the rooms link together. They can explore all the decorative details that may be missed on a photograph and get a much better idea of room sizes and ceiling heights. As Strutt & Parker have the VR model embedded into their website, viewers can return to view the property again and again from the comfort of their own home.
But does virtual reality actually sell properties? “Virtual reality isn’t intended to sell houses,” Kevin explains. “It’s more about streamlining the process and affirming leads. If someone comes into the office to use the VR headset or have experienced the model online and still wants to view the property, it’s likely they’ve got a strong interest in buying.”
What selling agents need to consider when using virtual reality
Strutt & Parker focus on providing a high-end virtual reality experience to present each property in the best light. While there are companies offering low-cost VR filming, the cheapest option is not necessarily the best.
Here are Kevin’s tips for using virtual reality to showcase properties:
- The quality of the camerawork is essential. We partner with a company we know can deliver the results we want for our properties.
- For a good user experience, the 360-degree camera needs to take data from multiple points in each room of the house.
- Consider the vendor’s privacy and security, for example, by suggesting they remove precious artwork or valuables from the room before filming.
- Give prospective clients different ways of accessing the model. The platform we use can be served through a headset but also accessed through a web browser, such as with this Queen Annes Gate. If users have a VR headset this can enhance the experience, but it’s not essential.
Using VR can help streamline the process of compiling a property’s brochure. As the camera takes high-resolution video as well as photos and measurements there’s no need for a separate photographer and videographer.
How virtual reality has made a difference for Strutt & Parker
Strutt & Parker pioneered the use of virtual reality to improve clients’ experience of buying and selling homes.
“We’ve been using virtual reality for two years and it’s really acted as a differentiator – something we can offer that other selling agents haven’t yet adopted. Vendors like it because it gives their property an extra edge,” explains Kevin Powell.
VR has been particularly useful in adding value to the property-buying experience when working with overseas investors. “Our agents took headsets loaded with the show flats at the former BBC Television Centre over to Asia for overseas buyers. The virtual reality experience was an important part of the buying process.”
Even in the UK, VR is valuable in enabling clients to remotely view properties first-hand. They can get an idea of the property – or properties – they’re interested in and decide whether to go ahead with a viewing. And it’s especially useful for off-market sales where client confidentiality is a must.
The future of virtual reality in real estate
While VR is currently used predominantly at the luxury end of the property market, the pace of adoption is increasing.
Kevin is excited about the future. “Facebook recently launched the new Oculus Go VR headset which is a standalone headset that will retail for $199. It’s bringing VR to the mainstream. And virtual reality is really only the first step. The next level is augmented reality – creating extra layers over the real world.”
Virtual reality has proved its worth at the top of the property market and it won’t be long before it transforms the property-buying experience for homebuyers all over the world.