In the battle to sell off-the-plan projects and entice international buyers, the property industry has barely scratched the surface when it comes to using virtual reality (VR) technology to move stock.
So far virtual reality applications have been few and far between, limited to 3D tours and augmented reality experiences that frustrate users with their limits.
This is because developers are unconvinced that consumers will grasp more sophisticated iterations of VR technology. The investment isn’t worth the risk, so until there is a broad consumer market for virtual reality, and we’ve explored it in retail and entertainment environments, the property industry is unlikely to follow.
This is a frustrating assumption. Australians are some of the most tech savvy people in the world. We are among the heaviest users of Facebook worldwide and have an extremely high smartphone penetration rate of 90 per cent. We’re digitally savvy and we love buying property – it’s the great Australian Dream.
Virtual reality presents a myriad of opportunities for developers to speed up the path to purchase and reduce traditional marketing spend. Most purchasers (with the exception of investors) require three touch points before they buy. Traditional advertising in the form of a hoarding or print ad might be the awareness kicker. Online research comes next, than a visit to the display suite usually follows. And, as the buyer gets older and the property more expensive, this journey gets longer.
Virtual reality crunches this journey. What can be done in a display suite is done at home. Clients can download an app and view every floor plan in 3D, with executions allowing them to position their furniture in each room. This is important with the highly affluent downsizer market as their decisions can take longer to percolate and require consultation with the wider family. Will the grandkids fit? Can we still host Christmas? When they’ve toured around the project and are ready to see a sales agent, they’re confident the product fits their requirements and are keen to be sold to.
Virtual reality also drives database generation. A recent attribution modeling project undertaken by Undertow Media with a property agent showed that overwhelmingly, websites with more information drive greater lead generation. Buyers want information. Developers can gate their 3D apps to gain leads and ask for more information in return for greater access to the virtual development. Imagine being able to better qualify leads virtually? Once the potential purchaser has viewed the 3D floor plans and have seen something they like, they can register for a Google Cardboard headset, which walks them through the property - an immediate signifier of an interested purchaser.
The argument against virtual reality is reminiscent of the frustration felt in the industry regarding real estate apps. Before, the only way to find out about a project was to visit a display suite. If someone showed up, they were into it. There was no avalanche of emails to wade through from vaguely interested purchasers hitting a submit button online.
Virtual reality will bring this back. The qualification process moves online. Yes, there will be emails. But those who come through that door will be highly qualified purchasers.
Its applications with international and interstate purchasers are immense. A one-off build fee – usually much more affordable than developers expect – can entice buyers near and far.
All it will take is one developer to take the leap, and the rest will eventually follow. In the race to be the first, it will be the paradigm-busting innovator who wins.
This article was written by Sarah La Roche, managing director of Undertow Media, one of Australia's biggest property marketing agencies.