Pictures might be worth 1,000 words, but they have their limitations. We have all snapped a pic of an amazing place only to find the picture to look distorted and unimpressive. Confined spaces are often the hardest to capture. Comprehensive views are often only attainable using special lenses. AirBnB realized this quickly. The problem was so important to their business model that they pay for professional photographers to shoot new listings.
What pictures lack is perspective. They flatten a three-dimensional world so it can fit neatly in a rectangular frame. In order to get the depth back into an image a space has to be scanned by an advanced modeling camera and software has to be built to allow the viewer to move through the virtual world. The concept of VR is not new. The hit movie ‘Lawnmower Man’ that introduced many of us to the concept came out 24 years ago, long before the internet, cell phones or social media.
Only recently has VR technology gotten to a point where it can be commercially viable. One of its first commercial applications, it seems, will be in real estate.
Today commercial real estate platform Truss has announced its partnership with VR company Matterport. The arrangement will call for the 3D modeling of over 2,500 of Truss’s listings. This will allow prospective tenants to view have a true-to-life 3D viewing of eligible spaces. In my mind, this marks the end of the speculation of what role VR will play in real estate. Now we are actually going to see the transformation play out.
It makes sense that commercial real estate would be an early adopter of this technology. The importance of leasing decisions and the aforementioned inabilities of traditional photography make space viewing a localized, time-consuming process. The landlords are eager to expand their marketing footprint past those who can physically come to their locations. The tenants are busy and want to do as much due diligence as possible in the limited time they have. The only stakeholder who’s outcome is uncertain is the broker.
I asked Thomas Smith, co-founder of Truss on his view of the broker’s new roll in the age of virtual viewing. “With VR, brokers, and tenants can narrow down their search and only tour the properties that actually meet their needs,” he explained. Saving brokers time shuttling clients to locations that they might have a very low chance of approving. “With more available time on their hands, brokers can focus more on providing expertise and value-added counsel throughout the search process. Human interaction will remain an important piece of the office search process. VR will just make it more efficient.”
As this move shows, VR is already affecting how real estate is viewed and transacted. Touring a space before making a final decision will likely be an integral part of the process long after VR has become commonplace. But, the ability to further refine a search by interacting with it in 3D on any computer, cellphone or tablet will help make the process more efficient. In the end, efficiency is what lowers vacancy rates, decreases search time and pays for every broker’s next vacation. Now there’s a proposition everyone can get behind.