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Are virtual viewings the future for estate agents?

The virtual reality experience isn’t just for video gamers. Last year, Nottingham-based estate agency, Walton & Allen, opened a fourth branch office. This office stands apart from most estate agency premises for one reason in particular: it hosts a ‘Virtual Reality Zone’.

When Walton & Allen joined forces with Newton Media to allow them to add virtual reality property viewings to their list of services, they described themselves as the ‘first estate agency in the UK to bring large scale virtual reality property tours to customers’. That’s as may be, but other, typically more established estate agents and property portals are also embracing virtual reality (VR) for property listings and viewings. For example, Strutt & Parker offer what they’ve termed ‘3D model walkthroughs’, which can be viewed via a web browser. The ability to view a property in VR through a web browser is important, as it allows prospective buyers from anywhere in the world to view a property. Meanwhile, Rightmove allows people to experience a 360-degree video tour of a property through a Google Cardboard headset via their YouTube channel.

When estate agents use VR, the aim is to make the viewing process more efficient for vendors, buyers, tenants, and agents, limiting the number of unnecessary viewings and saving time for all involved.

How affordable is virtual reality technology for estate agents?

Affordable VR technology is becoming a reality, but there are inexpensive and expensive options available. If funds allow, you could invest in a VR system with far more advanced capabilities, such as Oculus Rift. It all depends on what your budget is and what you’re prepared to spend. For example, if you’re an independent high street agent with large overheads to pay, your budget may be smaller. In this case, you could invest in Google Cardboard (prices on Amazon start from around £5) as a means of introducing virtual reality into your marketing offering. Alternatively, if you’re prepared to spend a little more, the Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream might be suitable. Samsung, Sony, and Google have already brought out headsets which make VR devices of smartphones.

What are the pros?

Potential buyers with busy lives don’t always have the time to visit multiple properties in multiple locations. You could make the argument that potential buyers must make time to view properties, but if VR technology allows potential buyers to see multiple properties in a shorter space of time, why not offer it as an extra service to them? What’s wrong with wanting to make life easier for your customers? Likewise, vendors won’t need to prepare their properties for unnecessary viewings, while agents will have some of their time spared. Everyone’s a winner.

Photographs and floorplans can only do some much (although there is a lot of scope for estate agents who want to offer digitally enhanced floorplans). A virtual reality tour will allow a buyer or tenant to see inside a property properly without setting foot inside, while getting a feel for size and scale, and how the property flows from room to room.

A virtual reality video tour and a detailed floor plan are all a potential buyer/tenant should need at the first stage of the hunt for a new home. From an estate agent’s perspective, it’s a competitive marketplace. By working VR technology into your service offering you’ll be stepping ahead of much of your competition.

What are the cons?

High quality equipment is crucial to create an authentic VR experience, yet it is more expensive. Traditional 360 tours are formed using 360-degree photographs which are sandwiched together. This doesn’t really cut it or create the virtual experience which is needed if you are to offer the customer real value. 360-degree cameras vary, so if you want to take 360-degree images you’ll probably need to spend a little more on the equipment. A 360-degree video tour (which requires a special camera) should offer more of an immersive experience.

In a few years’ time, VR technology will doubtless have evolved, and estate agents may be able to use affordable 3D scanning technology in real time, offering the ultimate VR property viewing.

Do virtual reality property viewings help to sell houses?

According to Walton & Allen, they’ve experienced reasonable success, including receiving an offer on a property from an overseas buyer who had sat through the virtual tour beforehand. Naturally, the more successful the VR experience, the more likely the vendor/agent will be to grab a sale.

But it’s not just estate agents who are embracing VR technology and using it to sell homes.  Property developers are also putting its capabilities to good use when marketing their properties, and it’s especially useful for the marketing of off-plan properties. Developers can then market their VR service to potential buyers of off-plan properties via social media, as VR design companies are already doing:

Of course, virtual reality may never have all the answers, and it’s likely we’ll always want to experience first-hand the atmosphere of a property, to feel and touch a place, and see it with our own eyes before choosing to push ahead with what is usually one of the largest financial transactions of our lives. Virtual reality viewings are not intended to replace the physical practice of viewing a property, rather to make the property viewing process easier for all involved.

That doesn’t mean estate agents shouldn’t be using VR technology – they should. Headsets, 3D scanners, drones, and virtual reality will likely form the future of property marketing. For estate agents, there’s a whole other world – a virtual world – just waiting to be discovered.

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