Many consumers found an odd-looking piece of equipment waiting under the Christmas tree this year: virtual-reality (VR) headsets.

  • Adoption of VR is expected to accelerate in 2017.
  • If 3-D marketing is part of your listing proposal, bring VR goggles to listing appointments and invite prospects to explore the tour virtually. Going the extra step will help agents stand out to clients.
  • Virtual reality can be an engine for increased efficiency, allowing clients and brokers alike to get a feel for more homes in a shorter time span.
samsung-gear-vr

Samsung’s Gear VR

Many consumers found an odd-looking piece of equipment waiting under the Christmas tree this year: virtual-reality (VR) headsets.

Fueled by a wave of holiday promotions, these gifts not only “wow” grandpa but also allow prospective real estate buyers to virtually explore homes from their living rooms.

Adoption of VR is set to accelerate in 2017, as equipment and production costs fall and new products hit the market. 3-D provider Matterport estimates that anywhere from 4 percent to 6 percent of U.S. residential listings will include Matterport-powered tours by the year’s end, up from 2 percent today. Other firms that offer VR-compatible home tours include RealVision and Immoviewer.

While the 2016 window may be closing, here are nine ways agents can stay ahead of the VR curve next year.

1. Create a virtual-reality station

Agents can impress buyers, gauge their preferences and call attention to certain listings by encouraging visitors to plop into a comfy chair, strap on a pair of VR headsets and digitally saunter about 3-D property representations.

In his Greensboro, North Carolina, office, broker-owner Larry Story has the Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR on tap. Clients can use either headset to wander about lifelike tours that Story captures for his listings using Matterport’s 3-D camera.

virtual-reality-station

Story’s office features a VR gaming system, including at least two headsets (one of which sits on the nearest table shown in this photo) and a controller. Credit: Larry Story

2. Mail out VR viewers

Agents can fish for new clients by delivering the VR experience by mail. Companies such as Miemode offer customized cardboard mailers that fold into VR viewers.

Story plans to shell out around $1,000 for 250 of these. He’ll sprinkle them on the doorsteps of prospective listings throughout his market, each featuring Story’s branding, contact information and links to his 3-D home tours.

“It’ll cost a little bit more, but the thing is for us, it’s highlighting and showing all the differences we have as far as the tech,” Story said.

miemode-virtual-reality-flyer-headset

A sample real estate mailer from Miemode that folds into a virtual-reality viewer.

3. Host a broker’s open house

Brecksville, Ohio-based Realtor Anthony Colantuono nabbed media coverage when he hosted a virtual-reality broker’s open house earlier this year. The event took place in a restaurant around 20 miles away from the listing it promoted.

Between hors d’hoeuvre and cocktails, attendees dropped in at one of three VR stations set up at the venue to tour a $1.65 million home. Each station featured a swivel chair with arm rests and a Samsung Gear VR headset.

The event received rave reviews, with about 70 local agents in attendance, according to Colantuono.

virtual-reality-brokers-open

Agents who attended Anthony Colantuono’s virtual-reality broker open house use VR headsets to explore the listing promoted by the event.

4. Streamline the broker’s caravan

A similar event could stand in for what are sometimes called “broker caravans.”

Rather than driving around en masse to new listings, agents can save time and gas by gathering in one home, touring it in person and visiting a host of others via VR.

“When you have VR, you can do a caravan without having to leave the location,” said Kathryn Royster of HouseLens, a real estate marketing firm that produces more than 100 VR-compatible home tours a month for agents. “You can turn a single-property broker open into multi-property broker open.”

5. Get more mileage out of open houses

Apply the same logic to open houses for the public.

Hosts can encourage attendees who don’t show interest in the featured home to explore some of the agent’s other listings without leaving the event.

“If [the homebuyer] said, ‘it’s pretty but not quite right for us’ … [the agent] would pick up the VR headsets and say, ‘Well, I have a few other properties here. Do you want to go ahead and take a look and see if any of the others might [meet] your needs?’” said Royster, describing a technique one HouseLens customer uses.

Screenshot of a 3-D model from Matterport. Users can click the goggles icon to view the tour in virtual reality.

Screenshot of a 3-D home tour from Matterport. Users can click the glasses icon in the lower right-hand corner to view the tour in virtual reality.

6. Partner with Samsung or another VR provider

Colantuono was able to produce his virtual reality-powered broker’s open thanks in part to the assistance of a local Samsung sales representative.

As providers look to generate interest in VR, some will offer financial and logistical support to agents interested in using their products in creative ways.

“We’ll talk to any of them and kind of help them along,” said Samsung’s Don Williams of partnering with agents who want to use Samsung’s Gear VR in their business.

7. Jazz up listing presentations

If 3-D marketing is part of your listing proposal, don’t just show a tour on a desktop computer: Bring VR goggles to listing appointments and invite prospects to explore the tour virtually.

“When you go that next step, and you actually put them into the VR experience; it’s just a further separator from any of the other agents that have talked to that homeseller,” including many agents who offer 3-D marketing, said Matterport CEO Bill Brown.

8. Exhibit VR at community events

Agents often operate stands at food festivals and other community events to snag and convert passersby into clients.

“There are people out there selling wind chimes and whatever, but you’ll also get some agents or brokers who have a tent … and they’ll be there trying to get new customers,” explains Williams, who helps head up partner programs for Samsung’s content and services division.

“Instead of just standing there and trying to grab people as they walk by,” some of these agents offer up VR home tours to passersby.

9. Wrap it up as a closing gift

Some agents have told Williams that VR content makes a great closing gift. Agents can memorialize a purchase for a client — and their role in the transaction — by providing a 3-D home tour along with a VR headset to view it.

Five, 10 or 20 years down the road, clients can travel back in time to see their home just as it looked when they first bought it.

Nothing beats the gift of nostalgia.

Email Teke Wiggin.

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