‘The future is digital’ is a phrase which is often thrown around when discussing the shape and direction that society will take in the next 50 years. But to what extent is this true of the property markets, and where can technological developments be seen?
The main technological development that appears to be revolutionising the marketing abilities of an estate agent is the use of Virtual Reality, a commodity that is currently worth $1 billion and is expected to double in value by 2020, according to Goldman Sachs. The process of VR tours sound complex but in reality just uses clever bits of technology that comprehensively take and stitch together series of 360 degree images to create a 3D image of a room. A headset is then donned which tracks the movements of the head and eyes to follow a number of specific hotspots through the property, thereby creating the illusion of actually walking through, whilst in reality one is perched on their own sofa, potentially thousands of miles away.
After venturing onto the internet and viewing a rather plush house via a virtual reality tour, I still remain sceptical by it, however that could have something to do with the fact that past experiences with VR haven’t been successful. But even I must concede that it does seem to be the next logical advancement for improving the marketing of a property. For one, it reduces the amount of time wasting that comes about as a result of prospective buyers not being hundred percent certain on a property but still looking around ‘just in case’. Another benefit can be seen in the fact that the internet is a readily available commodity to a large percentage of the world, thereby making properties in London easily viewable for a buyer in the Middle East, without needing to fly over and physically view. By reducing the effort required to view a property, VR is revolutionising how agents are able to target and sell to specific clients, particularly to those in areas of serious investment; North America, the Middle East and Asia.
The element of VR that impressed me the most whilst researching is the idea that it can be used alongside another ‘app’, thereby potentially benefiting a multitude of businesses and introducing a new round of professionals into the process. One such app is Google’s Tango, which allows prospective buyers to place their own furniture into a property whilst on a virtual tour. If the potential purchaser’s furniture doesn’t fit for whatever reason, Tango then suggests potential new furniture and fittings, thereby allowing interior designers, retailers and developers to benefit.
Irrespective of the benefits that VR offers, it is still largely inaccessible for the majority of agents outside of London. It remains expensive, with one VR tour costing about £200-£300 per house to make. Whilst this might not sound a lot in the grand scheme of things; times that cost by 50 houses and a small firm is ending up with initial marketing costs of £10,000-£15,000 without even being guaranteed a sale. Another drawback of adding VR tours into the marketing process is agents being disintermediated from the process, something that many clients will dislike. For them, the sale of their house is like selling a part of the family, it is something they have formed an attachment to and they want to see it dealt with in a personable manner. In addition to these drawbacks, the main aspect of VR that I personally didn’t like would be the inability to gage the feeling and vibes that a property gives out that you can only really pick up when physically in the property. In my humble opinion, I feel that VR is currently a marketing device available only to the corporate firms in London looking to sell multi million pound homes with relatively unlimited marketing funds.
Having done a decent amount of research on VR and its ever increasing usage in the property markets, the conclusion I reached is that, yes the future will be digital, but not on a universal scale for a few more years. It remains a myth that is yet to be discovered and pounced upon by the smaller, less wealthy estate agents that aren’t operating under corporate umbrellas. Therefore, until costs come down and the entire concept of VR becomes more accessible and universally appealing, it currently remains a toy for the big wigs to play with in London.