When Engel & Völkers Real Estate CEO Anthony Hitt had his first experience with 360-degree 3D virtual reality technology, he knew his firm had to have it.
Hitt, who is based at the company’s North American headquarters in New York, received a Google Cardboard viewer as part of a special project created by the New York Times.
“I slapped my iPhone in there and suddenly I was on top of the World Trade Centre. I was just blown away,” he said, slowly drawing out those last two words for dramatic emphasis. “I was blown away. Literally.
“Immediately I saw the potential from a real estate perspective.”
Fast forward about a year, to March 2017.
Engel & Völkers reps across North America, in more than 100 US locations and its 13 Canadian shops, are receiving the equipment and training to create the VR experiences. Within 90 days Hitt wants virtually every property in the company’s listings to be viewable in a virtual experience. (Would you like a preview? Click this link to see a sample listing)
New properties will be shot as they are added to Engel & Völkers’ listings. Existing properties will be re-imaged with the hand-held 3D cameras, provided through a partnership with VR technology company Immoviewer. The equipment is already arriving at Engel & Völkers’ offices.
A natural choice
Hitt says Immoviewer was a natural choice because of its existing specialization in the real estate sector.
“When it came to us trying to find a partner, when it came to standardizing this as part of our service platform, we did a lot of due diligence. When we found Immoviewer we found a company that had like-minded attitudes and experience in the real estate space.
“They specialize in the real estate community and creating a really good consumer experience when it comes to viewing real estate.”
While 360-degree video has been utilized for a decade or more, Engel & Völkers says it is the first company to roll out the more immersive 3D VR experience to all its shops. The technology is expensive, but Hitt said this mass rollout makes it economically viable. As such, it will be used to showcase all Engel & Völkers’ listings.
“Our brand is all about creating a great customer experience and we believe this is a good premium experience at all price points,” Hitt said. “We expect it to be standard.”
Two key benefits
The technology offers two substantial benefits to clients. First, as with any video “walkthrough”, a potential buyer doesn’t have to actually visit a site to get a feel for it. Buyers can simply crank up a computer, at home or at one of the company’s offices, and view dozens of listings for properties that best suit their wants and needs.
A virtual reality “walkthrough” is much enhanced from point-and-click software. By putting on one of the company’s branded Google Cardboard viewers, or wearing your own VR headset, you’ll actually feel like you are in the rooms.
“You get a much more immersive experience,” Hitt explained. “So when you literally, physically, look up you see the ceiling. When you look down you see the hardwood floors or the carpet. When you turn around you see what’s behind you. You get much more of an immersive experience, feeling like you are in the property versus viewing the property in that 2D environment.
“When a lot of people say virtual tours, I think they are thinking about the technology that we’ve been using for eight, nine years where somebody can look at something online and click and drag and spin around a little bit in the room. You are using a lot more senses when you put that headset on.”
If you’re not using a VR headset you can still view the images, but you don’t get the immersive 3D effect.
From a company standpoint, Hitt said National Association of Realtors statistics in the U.S. show only about nine per cent of agents or brokerages offer a virtual experience.
“It is going to be good for business. It’s good for the consumer, and when it’s good for the consumer it’s good for business,” he said. “Just having that as an offering is going to put you ahead of 91% of the marketplace.”
Immoviewer says, on its website, brokers using VR technology are able to sell properties 32% quicker than without a virtual experience.
Engel & Völkers serves mainly the residential sector in North America, but Hitt believes the technology is equally adaptable to commercial, business and industrial sectors.
The virtual reality experience is also still in its infancy.
‘Dreaming’ of the future
“What is interesting, when we start dreaming a bit, is when we start getting into augmented virtual reality.”
Potential buyers could conceivably pop on a headset and place their own furniture or design elements into a property they’re interested in. Or, they could go into an apartment complex and check out the virtual views.
“Being in that top unit and looking out at the ocean view, or the city view and the skyline and seeing it in the daytime or the nighttime. We are not talking about decades away, we are probably talking about years.”
There are also potential uses for developers and architects. Imagine walking out into an empty field, putting on a headset and building out a site plan which appears in 3D before your eyes.
“Not only are you seeing the real property, but you are seeing what it could be like, or what it’s going to be like,” Hitt said. “That’s pretty exciting.”
But that is a story for another day. Stay tuned.