• There's no way to know how a new technology will have an impact without testing it.
  • Finding an advantage over your competitors will help bring in additional new business.

Technology is an integral part of real estate. We have software that help manage our client relationships, document management systems that aid in auditing paperwork, and electronic signature tools that ease the contracting process — no matter where the parties may be located.

There has also been a lot of talk recently about new technologies, such as augmented reality, virtual reality, “bots” and more, all of which have found their way into the real estate sphere. There have been countless presentations on these new technologies, but there is one that we haven’t seen much talk about: 3-D printing.

Why would you want to invest in 3-D printing?

Let me pause and give a bit of backstory.

Our broker-in-charge, Brad Allen, attended the Cape Cod and The Islands Association of Realtors and Massachusetts CRS Spring Mastermind meetings in April.

During one of the sessions, some of the technology folks from the National Association of RealtorsCRT Labs were Skyped in to talk about the new 3-D printer they had just gotten — and its use within the real estate space. They talked about the potential of building replicas for new constructions and new developments, but hadn’t yet started testing it.

That conversation got Allen’s mind spinning, and we began to scour Facebook groups, blogs, chat rooms and more. No one else was really using 3-D printing in his or her businesses.

Through Brad’s research and through questioning/polling different groups, there were two kinds of responses:

  • The Encourager: Wow, that’s a great idea, let me know when you do it.
  • Or the Cynical Agent: Why do real estate agents just waste money?

The second variety of commenter helped to spark a debate on pushing the limits and why to incorporate the newest tools.

The new toy

Fast-forward to today, and we now have a fancy new toy in our office.

We represent three local builders; our goal is to take builder and client concepts and turn them into real life objects that they can hold and take home, where they can decide if they like the location of a wall, a door, a room or bathroom.

Just imagine how powerful that is, especially for people that have a mental barrier from being able to conceptualize ideas off of plans and drawings.

It seems that new construction is the primary use for 3-D printing. In talking with Sasha Farmer, team leader at the Sasha Farmer Team Real Estate at Montague, Miller & Co., new construction is one of her primary focuses with 3-D printing, along with providing a model home as a closing gift to her buyers.

Although her team does not own a 3-D printer, there are plenty of alternative sources that allow her to purchase printed models.

What are the costs and benefits of 3-D printing?

We’ve been asked quite a few questions about 3-D printing, such as the costs and other details, so we pulled together a list:

1. Is it expensive to print things? No, not at all; most print jobs cost less than a $1.

The printer itself is the most expensive part of the process. We have the Printerbot Plus, which can print up to a 10-inch-by-10-inch cube. The printer itself cost $1,079 without tax, and rolls of the plastic filament cost about $12 per roll (with one roll making between 12-24 models, depending on their size).

2. Does it take long to print plans? A painstakingly long amount of time. It takes, on average, about 15 hours to print one house plan.

3. Is it easy to use? Not at first. We actually melted one of the main parts accidentally the first time we tried to use it!

It took a solid two weeks of messing up and reading, and messing up and reading.

Now that we know how it works — it’s easy to use!

4. Who makes the 3-D models? We had to contract out the labor.

We tried to use a program called SketchUp to make the plans in-house but we found it easier, more helpful and more efficient to hire it out.

We have used Fiverr and Craigslist to find contractors. Most of the SketchUp designers charge between $5 and $25 dollars per plan.

5. What is your ultimate goal? Well, there are two.

It would be great to be able to take photos of clients’ home and make smaller versions for them as closing gift when they sell, much like Farmer is doing.

The main goal, however, is to make a replica of every home that our builders build, so that when we meet with people about building a custom home for them, we can pull out the models and show them the different homes we have built to see if any fit their needs.

6. Is it addictive? It’s mesmerizing to sit and watch it print all day. Allen equates it to watching a fire burn.

7. How else can we use it in our business? We’re still testing this out. Right now, the most obvious use of the technology seems to be creating models of the homes that our builders are constructing, to take a 2-D floor plan and make it into a tangible object for a new buyer.

While testing and playing around with it, we actually made an iPhone case for an iPhone 6+.

It’s possible that, with some additional work, we could produce branded materials for our agents using the printer. Any additional suggestions are welcomed!

8. Is it a waste of time? We don’t know yet. We’re just trying to find new ways to bring value to our clients and make their experiences better.

If the idea isn’t going to work in the end, at least we’ve given it a try rather than just guessing!

Jay Luebke is a residential sales specialist and the visual coordinator with The ART of Real Estate in Columbia, S.C. You can follow The ART of Real Estate on Twitter @TheARTeam.

Email Jay Luebke.

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