5 technologies that push the boundaries of real estate marketing

While some already exist, others are just waiting to be funded

If you think about it, homebuyers are obsessed with making the virtual world real.

When searching for a home, consumers rank photos and virtual tours as the most valuable assets on a website. Why? Because they are the best tools available to help buyers imagine what it would be like to live in a home.

MIT's InForm Dynamic Shape Display
MIT's InForm Dynamic Shape Display

Floor plans are valuable, but not all listing agents pay for them. For example, they’re common in New York and Britain, but virtually nonexistent in the San Francisco Bay Area. The reasoning is frustrating for buyers but common sense for agents: Photos are the most attractive and cost-efficient way to draw a potential buyer into a home, where the sale is ultimately made. And the more buyers an agent can get into a property, the more buyers he can represent on future transactions.

This is not to say that the agent’s sales tactics are wrong and the consumer’s need for information is right. Both have valid reasons for their behavior. But as real estate technology startups flood the market, the ability to provide relevant and scalable information may overcome this agent "gatekeeper" mentality.

Particularly exciting is the 3-D rendering of the virtual world into the real world. Here are five technologies that are pushing the boundaries of traditional marketing techniques, and may be a look into our future:

Matterport
Matterport produces a camera that takes photos of a room and stitches them together to produce a 3-D rendering. This allows a user to walk through or fly above a 3-D floor plan. It could be particularly valuable for developers, foreign investors, or buyers of second properties. Image quality is a little rough now, but expect it to improve quickly. The price is $4,500 and is projected to be available in January.

Office Redesign Demo from Matterport on Vimeo.

InFORM's Dynamic Shape Display
The video below recently hit the Web. Created by MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group, it is a mind-blowing approach to transmitting people and human touch anywhere there is an Internet connection. They can interact with objects or feel market statistics -- literally. It’s the beginnings of an idea with broad potential.

MagicPlan
MagicPlan is an app, produced by Sensopia, that allows you to easily create floor plans. Simply move your phone’s camera to each corner of a room and it will determine the size of each wall with 95 percent accuracy. You can even pair it with a Bluetooth laser meter to get exact measurements. Use the 2-D model you’ve created, or you can upload it to FloorPlanner to create a 3-D model. This is great for buyers who consider a home’s layout very important, and, like Matterport, it’s great for out-of-area buyers. Cost is $3 per floor plan.

3-D printers
Chris Anderson, author of "The Long Tail"and Wired’s former editor-in-chief, spoke at length about 3-D printers at this year’s NAR conference. He believes that, just as your nerdy friends got an Apple II in the late 1970s and learned how to code, today’s kids will get a 3-D printer and learn how to manufacture. This will lead to The New Industrial Revolution, as proposed in his new book. In terms of real estate, 3-D printers may be best applied to architects and interior designers who need to literally see a space before it is built at full scale.

Tie it together with maps
We know that Google Earth and Apple Maps are able to render the exteriors of buildings into 3-D models. And we know that Google offers virtual views of the interiors of buildings. What if Google applied the 3-D rendering of a home’s interior onto a map? You could fly from 6,000 miles above the Earth into a house within seconds and "sit" in someone’s living room. Add predictive search to help you find a city that precisely meets your needs, a Zestimate to determine estimated value, and Google Hangouts to remotely chat with an agent, and you can see how a virtual home search starts to become reality.

The only question -- and possibly the most important -- is who will fund these ventures? Most likely it will be a major technology provider like Google, Apple, Yahoo, Zillow, Trulia or Move. It may even be Realogy. But it will most definitely NOT be the individual agent -- the funds and the needs are just not there.

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These changes may be years away, but the technology is here now. The only thing holding us back is consumer demand.

How do you think these technologies can be applied to the real estate sales process? Add to the conversation by posting your comments below.

Many of the ideas for this article came from the participants of a recent MeetUp led by Shalin Sheth of Second Century Ventures. Thanks to all.

Aman Daro is director of media and business development for Red Oak Realty in Oakland, Calif.