If you’re currently searching for a new home, chances are you’re looking online.
More than 80% of people in the U.S. now begin their hunt for a new address on the web, and most won’t even bother to visit a property in person if they don’t find enough visual and factual information online first.
That’s understandably putting pressure on real estate companies to improve their virtual presence and develop new ways of impressing an increasingly tech savvy market. Millennials currently account for a third of property sales, and we know how much they love all things digital.
Here in the U.S., we’ve been relatively slow to adopt any major changes to the real estate format, but overseas things are changing rapidly. Internet-only real estate firms are gaining in popularity, and home buyers are being given the chance to take virtual reality tours of properties, inspecting each room without ever setting foot inside.
It should be only a matter of time before similar VR technologies become common in the U.S. as well, and when they do, there will be a chance to improve on those silent self-guided tours by adding video conferencing and taking a local agent along with you. A combination of real-world expert knowledge and online convenience will make it possible to visit dozens of properties in a single afternoon.
Virtual Reality Real Estate
Like I said earlier, virtual reality real estate isn’t currently as well established in the U.S. as it is in countries such as the UK and Australia. There are, however, some exceptions.
Zillow, for instance, currently offers its 36 million monthly users video walkthroughs of available properties, such as this charmer in Richmond, Virginia. Generally, though, we get the Trulia treatment, with a dozen photos and a couple hundred words of explanation.
In the UK, though, more advanced thinking around what’s possible online has caused such a boom in online sales that internet-only estate agents now charge fees a tenth of their brick-and-mortar competitors, and are expected to be responsible for half of total sales by 2020, a huge leap from their current share of 5%.
Things are moving even quicker Down Under. Australia’s largest real estate website, RealEstate.Com, has partnered with Google’s DayDream virtual reality technology to give its online customers an immersive, self-guided tour of properties. Rival Real VR has taken that process a step further by offering virtual tours of kit homes still at the planning stage.
Once things get to this point, it’s time to add in some video conferencing and create a hybrid out the best bits of the virtual and the real-world home buying experiences.
Exploring a Home by Video Call
While the virtual property tour technology is still in its infancy really, we don’t have to wait around for it go mainstream before advancing what’s available.
The obvious addition is more information to accompany the visuals. These could be tagged to interactive stage posts within the tour itself, simple pop-up text, or pre-recorded audio comments that embellish the experience as the viewer enters each room. What you really want though, is the ability to ask questions–your own personal questions–and get some real-time answers.
To add that live element and to recreate the experience of being led through a home by an expert estate agent you need to find space for a video calling chat window in the display. Both Facebook Messenger and Kik video calling apps have recently introduced chat windows that can be minimized during a call to let the user perform other tasks on their smartphone while maintaining a face-to-face conversation.
That kind of streamlined experience would ideal for the virtual property tour. As the necessary hardware, such as Google Cardboard or the aforementioned DayDream, is already built around smartphones and their multiple cameras, it’s a solution that needs only software development, not the introduction of a whole new piece of equipment.
That’s a very small step in app development terms and the best reason to believe video calling could be paired with virtual house inspections sooner rather than later.
Exploring the Housing Market in Virtual Reality
Assuming that combination someday becomes available, an average online house hunt could take in dozens of properties in a single afternoon. You could obviously save time that would otherwise be spent jumping from house to house by just clicking your mouse. It also makes moving to a new city or state (and one day, country?) far easier by eliminating the need for an exploratory visit. And you’ll get all the local knowledge from a local guide.
To make the connection, the buyer would surf the same nationwide sites currently dominating the market, except now each listing would include a link to the local agent. Provided there’s a common video platform available or easily downloadable, and the agent is diligently waiting by their smartphone, the tour could start instantly.
And it could switch to another property just as fast. Once the prospective home owner has exhausted one agent’s listings they could bid them adieu, return to the hub website and start the process all over again. Group video chat would make it possible to bring along the family, or a private property evaluator, or just a trusted friend.
With three quarters of us already searching online before consulting an agent for the final decision, it makes a lot of sense to cut out the journey in between and conduct the whole transaction in cyberspace.
Soon you’ll be confronted with the question, would I buy a home I’ve never set foot in?