Have estate agents found the first real-world use for VR headsets?
By Jamie Thomson
Could the real estate industry be the catalyst in bringing virtual reality into our everyday lives? This is the year that VR goes mainstream – or so tech experts keep telling us. Sony, Facebook, Samsung and Google are releasing (or have already released) VR headsets in 2016, but until they look a little more elegant than something a detainee in Guantanamo might be forced the wear, many commentators are sceptical about their widespread appeal.
But what if it addressed one of the major pains of property hunting: all that time wasted looking at unsuitable apartments, racing from unit to unit, inevitably missing appointments with agents and landlords. Instead, a fully immersive VR representation – shot on a special 360-degree camera – means you can enjoy a walkthrough of any apartment that takes your fancy without so much as leaving your sofa.
That’s the goal of US real estate website apartments.com, who are trialling a selection of their listings compatible with HTC and Samsung headsets. They even demonstrated the new technology at a recent trade show in San Francisco. Sotheby’s in Los Angeles have teamed up with both Samsung and VR pioneers Oculus to sell their luxury properties, with one wealthy househunter from Dubai buying a multi-million dollar property based solely on a VR walkthrough.
And industry experts believe that Facebook’s recent $2.7bn acquisition of Oculus VR had the real estate market in mind. “You could do real estate open houses with 360-degree views and have a client come to your office and check out 50 homes through a head-mounted display and then pick the top ones to visit in person,” says Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. “Facebook looks at VR as skipping the realtor completely.”
Compared to schlepping halfway across town to see a unit that, as soon as you cross the threshold, is obviously offering too little floorspace for too much money, clamping on a headset and swivelling around like a malfunctioning robot seems like a far preferable option, even in the public glare of a busy real estate office.
The one caveat is that, once again, we’re placing our trust in real estate agents to providie an accurate representation of the property (and not attempting to CGI in an ocean view or an extra bedroom). But when has that ever been an issue?
We have already encountered VR house displays here in Australia where you are actually looking at images of empty rooms where the furniture has been added digitally.
And then there’s the interactive brochure which sends a signal to your smartphone allowing you to see 3D images and additional data about the property.
If only they had a VR headset that made you feel like you were living somewhere fabulous, then we could all save a fortune of property.