Splashing hundreds of thousands of pounds on a house is no easy thing. Homebuyers and estate agents spend precious time chasing one another, queuing through rush hour traffic and traipsing around houses before hands are finally shaken on a deal.
But what if we could just pop on a headset and see dozens of properties without having to step outside? Claire Price, our Zoopla content manager, takes a look at how VR could take some of the drudgery out of home buying.
The real benefits of virtual reality
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are the buzzwords on every estate agent’s lips. It’s estimated to already be a $1bn industry, and a report from Goldman Sachs in 2016 suggested that this figure would treble by 2020.
This suggests that it is more than just a passing gimmick. Estate agents – and homebuyers – are putting more trust in the technology, which is increasing demand. But what exactly are the benefits?
It’s a time saver (and a money maker!)
At the moment a property buyer sees an average of 5.8 houses before making an offer. When you consider that each viewing requires the buyer to arrange a time with the agent, travel to the property, look round, and get home again, this takes up a lot of time. It also means the buyer risks losing out on their dream home because they’re lower on the viewing list.
With VR, a buyer could view all the homes they’re interested in without getting up. This will not only save time but means that they could see dozens, if not hundreds, of properties. This could widen their property choice and make them more likely to find the ideal home.
Buyers aren’t the only ones to benefit from VR’s timesaving potential. Virtual viewings mean estate agents can spend less time chasing futile leads and more time sealing the deal. Prospective homebuyers who do ring up to see a home after admiring it via VR are more likely to be interested in making an offer because they already have a good idea of what the home is like.
People selling their homes can also bask in VR’s advantages. If buyers are viewing more properties, their home will get more exposure. It also means they don’t have to fit pointless viewings into their schedule. Let’s face it, who wants to have to keep cleaning and tidying to make a good impression?
Creating an emotional bond
On a less practical level, viewing a property through VR can also help the potential buyer to connect to the home. And connection means sales.
VR and AR create an immersive experience. The buyer can look at things in detail and wander around at their leisure. This is especially true of viewings made through a proper headset, such as Oculus Rift, but even a 360 degree video viewed on a browser screen helps the buyer to engage. You can test out this theory by checking out these 360 degree walk-throughs.
Agents can ramp up the emotional appeal of a property even more by introducing sound effects. Classical jazz or other stylish music can add class, whereas homely sounds such as bird song or the sound of a kettle or toaster can help viewers to imagine what it will be like to actually live in the home.
Some estate agents are also playing with story-telling using guided walk-throughs. A relatable guide (or even a famous face) could be used to make the process even more memorable. If this idea makes you cold, you may prefer the videos that feature subtle, but noticeable, pieces of information that appear as you look around. (Check it out.)
VR and AR for new property developments
VR and AR’s ability to establish an emotional connection means they really come into their own in new developments.
Parting with cash before a brick is even laid requires rock solid confidence. But inspiring this in homebuyers using just a flat plan, lots of adjectives and a glossy brochure is a tricky business for even the most persuasive salesperson.
With VR, homebuyers don’t need to be the world’s greatest daydreamers. They can view the property fully built and furnished, or they can view it as it is being built, enabling them to share in the excitement of its progress.
Customisable elements give a property video even greater emotional wallop. Some videos allow the viewer to change the time of day, so that the buyer can check that it looks just as cosy during the night as it does during the day. Others allow you to customise the wall colour, furnishings, and carpets, which help buyers to really visualise what it will be like to live in.
Technology already applied by the likes of IKEA means that future videos are also likely to capitalise on the ability to import new or current furnishings into a room. This means that you can figure out the feng shui in advance or just simply check that your wardrobe will fit. This all helps to foster an emotional bond, which will inspire trust and confidence in the sale.
Being able to visualise also has another very important advantage for developers. Getting planning permission for projects can be time consuming and difficult, especially if residents and the council don’t understand their vision. With VR and AR, a developer can show concerned locals what the finished product will actually be like, which could save both time and money.
So we’ve established that VR and AR can do some pretty nifty things. But is it too expensive to be rolled out on a larger scale?
It’s perhaps a little early to say, but as technology costs lower, the possibility of all homebuyers viewing homes through VR or 360 degree videos becomes more certain. The long-term money and time-saving costs to estate agents are also likely to be a factor.
Plus there are already cheats in the cost, at least for homebuyers. VR videos don’t necessarily have to be viewed through fancy headsets – Google cardboard means you can enjoy an immersive experience via your phone. And if you don’t have a cardboard box to put over your head, the videos are perfectly compatible with tablets or desktops.
In the meantime there are plenty of other influential digital strategies being employed. Live streaming of videos can have huge success rates, especially as viewers can ask the property owner or estate agent questions in real time. On a more rudimentary level, Bluetooth beacons and QR codes are also being used on development sites.
Crystal ball time
This leads us nicely on to the future of VR in the property market.
As we all become more familiar with VR, it’s possible that we will begin to want even more immersive experiences. In terms of the property market, this could include the ability to open cupboards and doors.
Happily, forward-thinkers are already working on this concept. Hand tracking, where your hands and fingers are tracked in VR, is already possible in some gaming circles, so it’s only a matter of time until it’s introduced into virtual property viewing.
If you want to share your thoughts on the property market, or are interested in developing property content, please contact us. Drop agency director Zoe Francis an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or search Archantdialogue on Twitter.