Traditionally, real estate agents tour model homes with their clients, pointing out the features and flaws of homes and guiding their buyers in their choices. Like everything else in the world, technology changes that template.
In May 2017, real estate brokerage Redfin commissioned a survey and found that one-third (33 percent) of buyers who bought a home in the previous 12 months made an offer without seeing the property in person — up from 19 percent of buyers in 2016. Many of those buyers, whether they were purchasing a newly built home or an existing home, saw their future residence virtually.
Earlier this year, a Realtor.com survey of visitors to that site found that one-third of visitors had used virtual reality in some format and 60 percent had heard of it.
“We found that 70 percent of the people we surveyed said they were somewhat or very likely to use virtual reality when buying a home,” says Leiyang Zhang, head of market research for Realtor.com in San Francisco. “Another 89 percent said they think virtual reality can be very helpful.”
Some buyers and real estate agents aren’t clear about the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality.
“Virtual reality is more headset-based rather than on a computer screen,” says Daniel Prochazka, director of product management for Matterport, a developer of virtual reality in San Jose, Calif. “You can look at a flat-screen in an office or at a phone with goggles and virtually walk-thru a building or a development that doesn’t exist.”
Augmented reality, says Prochazka, is when data is overlaid on an already built environment to do things like add flooring and paint colors.
“Virtual reality provides a more immersive way to turn around and actually experience the feeling of a home,” says Prochazka.
Zhang says virtual reality is particularly valuable in newly built communities.
“Builders can build one model and then use virtual reality to showcase additional models and different features so buyers can see how they will look,” says Zhang.
For example, Toll Brothers recently introduced “Kitchen 360,” a virtual reality tool that allows buyers to envision 29 quadrillion possible design configurations in their homes. Buyers can make changes to their floor plans and kitchen finishes and see them in realistic-looking virtual reality.
“The use of virtual reality has been amplified over the past six to nine months, but some buyers are still intimidated by the idea of it,” says Lauren Taylor, a Realtor with Taylor Harmony Realty in San Diego. “There’s a role for agents to experience virtual reality with their clients to make it less intimidating.”
Benefits of virtual reality for buyers
Virtual reality can give buyers a better sense of a home’s layout, says Zhang.
“Buyers find it easier to look at pictures than to read a floor plan, but they are also looking for accuracy,” she says.
While Zhang says virtual reality is especially helpful for people if they are buying long-distance, even local buyers like it because it saves them time when they look at a computer image first and then decide if they want to see a model in person.
“Buyers like virtual reality for the home itself, but they also are interested in getting a feel for the neighborhood, the other homes in the community, amenities and views,” says Zhang.
Taylor says her clients have responded positively to virtual reality, particularly if they are long-distance relocation buyers.
“The assumption is that virtual reality is for high-end homes, but we’re using it for medium-priced listings,” says Taylor. “Local clients like it, too, because it saves everyone time.”
While Taylor says she anticipates that more builders will embrace virtual reality in the future, she says her clients of all ages find it easy to use and a valuable tool when house hunting.
“Virtual reality relieves some of the frustration of scheduling visits to various homes since people can look at them first in their own time and space,” says Taylor.
Benefits of virtual reality for Realtors
Gaining a comfort level with using virtual reality can set a Realtor apart from other agents.
“Agents can present themselves as being aware of cutting-edge technology,” says Prochazka.
Prochazka recommends that agents practice using virtual reality themselves so they can share the experience with buyers.
“Agents can also tell their buyers to look online before spending time touring model homes,” says Zhang. “Buyers still want to see a home in person to check out the foundation and construction and finishes, but virtual reality can help screen out properties and save time for both the buyers and agents.”
Prochazka recommends that Realtors keep headsets available in their office to show clients how virtual reality works. Taylor says she ships virtual reality goggles to clients so they can preview homes and then she takes them to models they want to see in person.
“You can also send inexpensive headsets to clients so they can use it in their homes,” Prochazka says. “You can brand the Google cardboard versions with your own logo so it becomes a marketing tool.”
As an agent, embracing virtual reality technology can enhance your reputation and provide a new way to save time and communicate productively with your buyers, whether they are around the corner or around the globe.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.
She writes for regional, national and international publications in print and online for a variety of audiences including consumers, real estate investors, business owners and real estate professionals.
Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Urban Land magazine, NAREIT’s REIT magazine, National Real Estate Investor Magazine and online at Bankrate.com, HSH.com, The Motley Fool, DailyFinance.com, Insurance.com, Fox Business, MSN, Yahoo, Investopedia.com, MoneyCrashers.com, GetRichSlowly.com and in numerous state and local realtor association publications.