• Virtual reality

Virtual reality: Revolutionising the property industry

Virtual reality: Revolutionising the property industry

Christine Toner finds out how virtual reality technology it being used to bring property to life for house hunters. 

Words by Christine Toner

Anyone who has ever been house hunting knows that while a picture can tell a thousand words it can also hide a multitude of sins. Those photos on property portals which showed a spacious and light family kitchen/diner seem somewhat deceitful when you’re faced with a cramped dark room with barely enough space for a breakfast bar.

What if there was a way you could view a property exactly how it is before deciding whether it’s worth actually going to visit it? Well, thanks to advancements in technology, there is.

Virtual tours, which use virtual reality to allow would-be buyers to ‘walk’ through a property without actually visiting it, are growing in popularity.

Virtual reality: Revolutionising the property industry

Daisy Burns is digital marketing co-ordinator at Bootle-based 360Vu, which creates virtual tours for property clients.

“For many years people have relied solely on single photographs of properties,” she says. “There is no doubt that photos can be taken to hide problems within properties. However, we use a high-quality technology that exposes the property; warts and all. It’s about giving customers a true representation of property at a timely and affordable cost.”

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Rob Bence is co-founder of The Property Hub Group, which includes development arm Property Hub Homes. He is currently working on two new developments – a 14-house development in Crewe, featuring a mix of detached and semi detached properties, and 24 apartments in Ashton in Manchester. He says virtual tours are becoming an essential tool for developers.

“For developers, virtual reality tours offer a fantastic opportunity to bring a development to life,” explains Rob. “They enable potential buyers to get a feel for the way a property will look in a way brochures and pictures cannot do. It’s an immersive experience.

“We’re certainly looking to offer virtual tours of our developments and are currently speaking with a number of firms offering the technology.”

But it’s not just developers looking to show off unfinished developments that can benefit from VR technology. 360Vu produces virtual tours of properties for estate agents, sellers and auction houses amongst others.

“We want to make purchasing property so much easier and efficient,” says Daisy.

“Whether carrying out viewings on a commercial office space, or showing potential customers around an investment property in auction, it can be tedious and time consuming for agents.

“There is no other way for the industry to expand other than to embrace innovation through such technical enhancements as virtual tours.”

“Today’s consumer wants things as quickly as possible and virtual tours play straight into this. It’s quick and easy for buyers to view, it helps them in their decision-making and they can eliminate properties and filter the choice of what to buy or view within minutes.

“There is no other way for the industry to expand other than to embrace innovation through such technical enhancements as virtual tours.”

Rob says the property industry as a whole is embracing such initiatives in order to streamline customer service.

“Technology has really shaken up the property industry,” says Rob. “It’s well documented that buyers start their property search online, but now with the advent of online estate agents and even AI robo advice for mortgages, it’s clear we’re operating in a whole new landscape.

“Buyers want efficiency, they want services that fit with their lifestyle. Virtual tours can help buyers to view a property in true-to-life definition from their own home before deciding whether or not to view in person. It’s all part of improving the customer journey.”

Indeed, the market has witnessed something of a technological revolution of late. A new breed of mortgage brokers have emerged operating solely online while the recently launched Nuvo offers mortgage advice via a Facebook chatbot. Meanwhile, of course, online estate agents are becoming more popular with sellers.

“Virtual tours certainly give an additional dimension to a property’s online listing and are growing in popularity as the technology is refined and perfected.

Russell Quirk, is founder and CEO of online estate agent Emoov.co.uk. He says the “digital disruption” of the property sector, and the selling process in particular, has been rapid and is enabling higher levels of service at a much lower cost.

“The new face of estate agency that has been pioneered by the hybrid and online sectors, complimented with third-party technology such as virtual viewings, is allowing us to search, view and buy or sell properties on our terms and timetables and not that of the agent as has traditionally been the case,” he says.

However, Russell says such technology should never be used as an alternative to viewing a property in person.

“Virtual tours certainly give an additional dimension to a property’s online listing and are growing in popularity as the technology is refined and perfected. They can be a great tool to help buyers narrow down their search from the comfort of their home, without having to visit property after property in person, and are also useful for sellers with little or no time to host their own viewings.

“They should, however, always be the final stage of our online house hunt and not the house hunt as a whole. As with buying a car, we would always recommend that buyers view a property in person before submitting an offer.”

That said there’s certainly no denying that VR tours are growing in popularity.

After working with 360Vu, property auctioneer Sutton Kersh saw over 10,000 views of its virtual tours leading up to its December auction and Daisy says the technology firm is currently in talks with other Merseyside agents.

“Virtual tours are not out of scope for any agent. We have developed a system that does not displace real estate agents or lettings agents but complements their work. After all nothing beats the naked eye.”

Perhaps not, but taking a walk around a property from the comfort of your couch is a pretty close second.

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Do you think virtual property tours would help with your house search? 

Are they important to the future of buying, selling and letting homes? 

Tell us what you think during our Your Move Twitter chat from 12:30-1:30pm on Wednesday 14 February, and use the hashtag #YMvirtualviewings to be part of the conversation.

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About Author: Christine Toner