For the past few years, we’ve heard about the remarkable potential for virtual reality headsets to become a common way for buyers to view properties from anywhere. Now, we’re starting to hear more about augmented reality, using apps that allow you to superimpose furniture into a room as you view it through a smartphone’s camera.
Jack Miller, who has worked two decades in the industry and now serves as president of T3 Sixty, a consulting and research firm focused on real estate, breaks down which of these tech tools may be the bigger game changer.
Q. What impact are we seeing from these two technologies—AR and VR—in the real estate space?
MILLER: Virtual reality appears to be poised to have some real traction in real estate over the next 24 months. VR applications in real estate are most likely to appear in property and neighborhood marketing. The cost of producing 3D, immersive walkthroughs is going down, with new market entrants such as Immoviewer and established leaders such as Matterport offering more accessible ways for real estate professionals to produce 3D content. I believe this trend will continue. The consumer market now has more reasonable choices for VR gear (under $200), and that will drive the adoption in real estate as more consumers purchase and have the equipment.
Today, and in the short term, augmented reality applications are being delivered via existing platforms, such as customer’s mobile phones. There isn’t yet a compelling set of capabilities for real estate, and the industry is in a very early, experimental phase with AR.
Q. What are some pros and cons of VR and AR?
MILLER: One AR pro is that the technology is readily available to anyone with a smartphone, and some off-the-shelf applications have shown value in the general consumer market. For example, comparison shopping using the Amazon app, or using Yelp Monocle to “see” nearby local businesses.
In terms of a con, the ability to deliver immersive AR experience will be hampered until there is a widely adopted consumer wearable platform. The current experience requires the consumer or real estate professional to take out their phone and launch an application that they then use. So, most likely only more expert users and real estate professionals will think to do this. Also, there are no real estate–specific applications that at this point have significant traction. The industry has not really identified a real estate–specific or consumer-specific need for the technology. There have been several attempts at launching this in real estate, such as virtual staging and property information apps, and some have seen success. Homesnap got its start as a very early stage AR application that showed information about a home based on the GPS location of the user.
Some VR pros are affordable headsets and a compelling value for consumers via media, games, and other VR content are creating a rich environment for VR generally. This means that real estate could tag along on the VR trend as consumers adopt. Further, very low-end headsets that use the consumers smartphones make this accessible to everyone who really wants to give it a try. VR is certainly becoming more mainstream with broader applications driving adoption in gaming, travel, and now real estate.
As far as VR cons, the more compelling VR experiences will require a specialized headset such as the Oculus Go in order to get the most compelling experience. Content development takes focus, time, and some resources. For the average real estate agent working their business, it’s difficult to carve out what is needed to do experimental VR marketing.
Q. One of the first examples of AR that most people probably think of is Google Glasses—wearable smart glasses that superimposed information on the line of sight. They didn’t quite live up to the hype. Do you think there’s still a place for AR smart glasses? Or will other deliveries of AR prove to be more popular?
MILLER: At the moment, the smartphone is the most likely delivery vehicle. The consumer market has not produced a successful wearable platform for AR. Whereas in VR, we appear to be right on the cusp with the $200 price of the Oculus Go.
There may be some applications for inspectors, for example, that would make use of specialized AR equipment (like smart glasses). It could make inspections easier and have greater detail, such as on the home’s systems and appliances. But at this point, it is more of a concept than a reality.
Q. Do you think AR or VR trends hold enough promise to warrant real estate practitioners experimenting with them for their businesses?
MILLER: Real estate professionals should take a wait-and-see on AR until there is an application or consumer appliance that makes AR compelling and reduces the cost of executing it in business. At this point, it’s in an experimental phase and there isn’t an obvious dominant player for real estate. There is a more compelling case to be made for 3D listings and neighborhood walkthroughs with VR, which, due to the accessibility of the VR platforms, seems closer and potentially more valuable.