We put the latest VR technology to the test, and came to an unexpected conclusion about tomorrow’s property market.
Virtual Reality has arrived and is generating extraordinary headlines. Oculus Rift went on general sale in March and tech firms are investing heavily in similar products that transport us to exciting new worlds – or someone else’s home.
Could this undermine the role of estate agents?
VR technology is potentially disruptive because the way we present property to buyers is such a key part of the sales process. A buyer’s first experience of a property matters – a lot – and analysis of Kyero’s own traffic confirms it:
On average, properties with high quality images generate 54% more leads
Since our mission is to maximise the leads we generate for estate agents, we decided to road test the latest imaging products and see how they might improve or even change the way we work. The only limits we set were that products must be hand-held, require no photographic expertise and cost less than €1,000 (i.e. accessible to busy realtors).
These devices made it onto our shortlist…
Price: $499 (+iPad)
Structure Sensor is a tiny 3D scanner that came from a very successful crowd funding initiative last year and is now on general sale in the US. The system uses tiny lasers to take 3D measurements of the objects placed in front of the sensor and (in theory at least) these can be turned into floor plans or even virtual reality tours of a room.
The hardware was indeed simple to use. The sensor is an elegant attachment for the iPad and you simply press a button while waving the pad slowly around the room to create a 3D model.
Unfortunately this is where “easy” ends. It took several attempts to get a complete room scan that we were able to turn into a basic floorplan. Getting this out of the device and into a usable format was difficult, although the scan did successfully provide a set of room measurements. In truth we could have achieved this in half the time with a €40 laser measure.
Turning your scans into a full VR tour is the next logical step, but again this is not yet plug and play.
To be fair to the manufacturer they don’t claim this is a finished product – more an experimental “platform”. In practice you’d need some high level programming and engineering expertise to turn your scans into a halfway useful virtual reality experience.
The other (and perhaps bigger) problem is giving buyers access to a finished tour.
Right now most people don’t have access to VR equipment. But let’s imagine they did: Would buyers really don a big headset to look at a property online? It’s hard to see this technology beating the convenience of a smartphone and good photos.
Verdict: Intriguing but ultimately disappointing. Years away from useful.
Price: €33 / £25 (+mobile app)
Panoramic tours have been around for many years and there are a vast array of smartphone apps for creating them. They’ve had limited appeal in the real estate industry due to error prone rotation and clunky viewing software.
Things have improved on the latest devices and we had some success with a product called the Bubblepod combined with an app called DMD Panorama Pro.
Bubblepod is a circular stand that rotates your smartphone smoothly through 360°, creating a full panoramic room tour. The Panorama Pro app then merges the image slices and transfers them to online viewing software that can be embedded on any website. We found a tripod advisable with the Bubblepod but the system works well:
In 2014 Rightmove UK created a branded version of this equipment for their agents. The project subsequently went strangely quiet and 360° tours never fully made it onto their website. Why?
Because 360° tours are time consuming.
Creating the panoramas, organising the images and embedding them online creates a heavy extra workload for estate agents.
There is also no real evidence that buyers prefer looking at properties this way: Panoramas take a lot more time and effort to view than traditional photos. It’s a clumsy experience for people who are trying to build a shortlist from tens or even hundreds of property listings.
Verdict: A good supplement to traditional photos (if you have the time)
Price: €15 / £8
This product is so simple we almost overlooked it: A tiny lens that clips onto your smartphone, turning your phone into a wide angle camera.
The product requires no special software, is easy to attach/detach and slips happily into a jacket pocket. When professional photography isn’t available, this little gadget significantly improves your smartphone camera.
Verdict: An excellent pocket gadget for busy agents
It’s hard not to draw parallels between VR products and the failure of 3D cinema: It is expensive technology that ultimately adds very little to the viewing experience. The property buying process is about creating efficiencies for buyers, not obstacles.
There may be some potential for property developers. When a sales visit isn’t possible, VR-tours generated from architectural plans may help buyers view a property that is yet to be built.
Any further impact on the property industry is at best highly speculative and at worst, plain silly. The traditional photograph remains the fastest way to present property to buyers.
Roberto Botella at Engel & Volkers in Alicante agrees “In my opinion, high quality, professionally taken photos are the best way to increase the quality and quantity of enquiries.”
The key lesson isn’t about new technology, but about using existing technology better.
To excite buyers, forget 3D. Upgrade your camera.
Kyero.com promotes 200,000 properties in Spain to international buyers in 13 languages