Virtual Reality: A Sales Tool or More?
As technology moves forward in all areas of our lives, one form that is threatening to hit a tipping point is Virtual Reality (VR), and its cousin Augmented Reality (AR).
Most of us by now have probably tried a VR headset on, and can see it’s an interesting product, perhaps using it in a family entertainment setting to everyone’s amusement if you’ve ever tried the ‘swimming with sharks’ simulation!
Just a Sales Tool right? Wrong.
Whilst it clearly has entertainment value, the follow up question is what level of practical application does it have in our lives, and given we are property development professionals, what impact might it have in our sector?
The immediate answer might be ‘only as a sales tool for estate agents’, and probably nothing more. That was certainly my immediate reaction.
However, there is likely to be benefits in all aspects of the development cycle which could result in better cost and time savings, helping to catch build problems earlier, improving dialogue with planning departments and the public in consultation, plus in general better thought out and executed projects. All of which eventually leads to better efficiency and the likelihood of better profits.
Below is a brief outline of different project cycle segments and elements that could start to see improvements and why, plus some links below to conduct your own research:
There’s an excellent piece by Savills written in July 2018 on how VR/AR could transform the planning process (link at the end).
In brief, VR’s cousin AR, renders 3d graphics as an overlay to a real-life environment through a camera, and has far reaching potential benefits to visualising what will go on the piece of land you are standing on.
This can help developer/architect with improving the design process from on-site visits and some design firms are already using VR technologies to do this. For architects, they can play with a number of design scenarios seamlessly.
It could also be helpful for developer and contractor/sub-contractor, to look at more detailed issues on site before and during the build.
In planning, VR/AR will also improve dialogue between developer and planner, with regard demonstrating the vision in a more effective way, and ironing out the issues at hand. The developer would also have the opportunity to show different overlays, which could help with the type of planning consent both are seeking to agree on.
Furthermore, there is then the public consultation period, where attendees often arrive with concerns. Being able to demonstrate what the project will look like in a more visual manner is likely to help allay fears and help the planning period to become quicker and more efficient.
Floorplans are traditionally done in a 2D format and for some minds that doesn’t work as well as it does for others when visualising the end result. Bringing floorplans to life in 3D can be of help to everyone. The developer can better visualise the finer details, and in turn communicate better with the architect. Equally, end purchasers can get a better feel for what they are buyng from 3D plans than 2D.
Clearly the marketing and sales area is the aspect most identify this technology with. End buyers can view properties without the travel time and cost hassle of actually going to the property, which would be very helpful if you’re an overseas investor for instance, or other form of buyer or even a prospective tenant.
This is especially helpful in the luxury property market too, where wealthy, busy, time poor buyers who are not near a property can engage not just with the developer or agent, but also the interior design firm, all without having to be on site.
An interesting niche sales area that has taken the AR theme on is the furnishing aspect. Indeed companies like IKEA now offer an App for prospective buyers, who can play around with placing IKEA products in the rooms and seeing what it is likely to look like, alongside their estate/lettings agent of choice.
Clearly VR and AR markets are still developing but there is definitely traction appearing and the benefits across all parts of the development cycles, for all partners, seems to be undeniable.
So in answer to the question is VR/AR just a sales tool for property developers, the answer would appear that as we move forward, it will not be just a sales tool, but actually VR/AR could be a very useful enabler for plan/design/build as well as end user client/sales that could help affect the developer’s bottom line in a positive way.
As a result, it may be worth engaging with VR savvy project partners for your next projects, to see whether the benefits are demonstrable to you.
Links to Articles/Products/Firms
The above is very top level, so for more in-depth reading on all parts, please view the links below on property related VR/AR written in the last 6-9 months.
For UK Property Developers needing £500k to £20m