There has been plenty of buzz in the last several months about Oculus Rift, the virtual reality company bought by Facebook for $2 billion (to give that its fair weight in zeroes: $2,000,000,000). Some laud Facebook’s decision as prescient, while others criticize it as folly, but the potential uses of virtual reality in everyday life are both plentiful and powerful, when and if it becomes affordable and widely adopted.
Consider touring a prospective rental property or real estate listing, from the comfort of your living room. The landlord or listing agent has walked through the property and done extensive image mapping, which renders a virtual, 3D “environment” that is available for prospective renters/buyers to walk through at their leisure. If done properly, they can even open cabinets to view inside, open closets and otherwise inspect the nooks and crannies of the house just like a diligent inspection of the physical property.
Mapping technology could even record audio data, such as creaks upon stepping on stairs, ambient noise, etc., although landlords and listing agents will probably choose not to share these unflattering sounds.
The experience would be interactive, in high definition, and very real seeming. That said, early adoption will probably be limited to high-end properties, leasing for a cool $6,500/month, or perhaps available for sale for seven digits.
Nor do the real estate implications of virtual reality end with simply seeing homes the way they look now. Theoretically, tenants could impose 3D renders of their own furniture in the space to see how it would look, or swap in that elegant couch they’ve been eying up at Pottery Barn. Prospective renters or buyers could change the color of the paint on the walls of various rooms to see how they might look, or different color carpeting, or hardwood versus bamboo flooring.
Potential buyers or tenants could even see the way sunlight moves through a room over the course of a day, or at different times of year. Sound like science fiction? The software would know the exact location of the house, and its orientation, based on simple map data – easily imaginable even with today's technology.
There are limitations to what virtual reality could provide, of course. A virtual reality tour would not capture bad odors, for example the smell of mold. It would also be based on a single snapshot moment in time, and would convey the condition of the property as it was in that moment. Perhaps a roof leak has sprung up since the mapping was done, ruining a bedroom ceiling and creating the aforementioned smelly mold? Of course, today’s photographs of listed properties suffer these same drawbacks.
There are also a variety of technical challenges still facing virtual reality, including resolution, latency, field of view and the sheer processing power needed to render 3D graphics realistically. These, combined with the economy of scale required to bring prices down to widespread consumer adoptions levels, will prove critical hurdles for VR companies in the next seven to ten years.
Still, virtual reality interactive tours could offer a much deeper impression of a property before buyers or renters have to physically visit the property, which would certainly make realtors’, landlords’ and property managers’ lives easier by filtering out all but the most interested parties before they made a physical appointment. People relocating to another town would also have access to far more detailed information about prospective new homes, and may feel more comfortable signing a lease agreement long distance, without physically seeing the rental property first.
While today’s virtual reality remains largely the realm of gamers and techies, ten years from now virtual reality will undoubtedly have far greater uses and implications, particularly in the real estate industry. And it has already started, to an extent: U.K. startup company Virtual View has raised over half a million dollars to create an app offering 3D rendered tours of high-end properties.
Where do you think virtual reality is headed, in the world of real estate?