• Augmented reality is set to become mainstream with Apple's newest launch. Real estate tech firms are taking notice.

Apple released its newest operating system today and with it a promising frontier for real estate apps looking to offer augmented reality (AR).

In contrast to virtual reality (which requires separate, sometimes awkward equipment and creates an entire artificial world), AR overlays information on top of the real world and is available through the mobile devices people carry around every day.

Apple’s new iOS11 includes ARKit, a new framework for developers to create augmented reality experiences for iPads and iPhones, the latter starting at version 5s and going all the way up to the latest version, X.

“By blending digital objects and information with the environment around you, ARKit takes apps beyond the screen, freeing them to interact with the real world in entirely new ways,” Apple says on its website.

Some real estate tech companies have been offering AR features for awhile, including HomeSpotter, Rooomy and Hutch.

But Apple’s latest release means that even more AR opportunities will soon be available to real estate agents. Already today, several real estate apps rolled out new AR features with today’s iOS 11 launch, including:

  • Homesnap, which allows users to see the property lines of a home as they are walking

Augmented Reality “Walk the Property Lines” #WalkTheLines from Homesnap on Vimeo.

  • PLNAR, which generates floor plans without the need to manually measure and document room dimensions

PLNAR screen shot

  • Magicplan, which allows users to create floor plans while walking and automatically computes the required amount of materials for DIY projects, such as paint or flooring, based on the plan dimensions

  • Houzz, whose View in My Room 3D feature allows users to preview more than 500,000 images of furniture and decor products from the Houzz Shop and move them around and position them to see how they look before they buy

Screen shot of Houzz View in My Room 3D

Why AR will take off before VR

Virtual reality is probably years away from becoming mainstream, according to Leo Pareja, CEO of real estate big data company Remine. Pareja spoke on a panel called “Connecting Immersive Technology With MLS Data” at the Council of Multiple Listing Services (CMLS) conference Friday.

“VR is way in the distance and probably never mainstream, but AR, absolutely. It’ll start in our phones and then go to wearables,” Pareja said.

Fellow panelist Andrew Flachner, founder and CEO of RealScout, agreed. “Now everyone has an AR device in their pocket with Apple’s announcement.”

But he cautioned that the artificial intelligence and machine learning that underlie some of the newest technologies are very far from being able to understand our world the way humans do.

Currently, tech is available that takes a photo from the MLS and is able to identify definitively that it’s a photo of a kitchen, Flachner said. But we’re a long way from technology that is able to understand that a particular home is perfect for a particular buyer the way a real-live agent can.

Andy Woolley, Andrew Flachner, Cathy Libby, and Leo Pareja at CMLS 2017 in Austin

Is it time to blow up IDX?

Panel moderator Andy Woolley of Homes.com asked panelist and MLS CEO Cathy Libby whether any companies had come to her MLS, Maine Listings, and asked for MLS data for an AR application.

“Crickets,” she said, shaking her head.

But that doesn’t mean the request isn’t coming. MLSs generally distribute and display data according to Internet Data Exchange (IDX) rules set in place by the National Association of Realtors — how quickly should MLSs look at further adapting IDX display rules to deal with this technology? Woolley asked. “Do we need to blow up IDX and start over?”

“When it comes to AR or VR, I think a lot of the policy is probably sound,” Flachner said.

But, he added, if IDX display rules were “less intense” or somehow consolidated, there would likely be a lot of new entrants into the real estate tech space.

What should MLSs and technology providers be doing to prepare for this new technology? Woolley asked.

“A lot of our communication with the MLS is more reactive. It would be great to be proactive … to get ahead of the curve and better serve our brokers,” Flachner said.

Libby agreed. “We’re so busy trying to run a corporation that sometimes we need to look up and see what’s coming down the road. This is organized real estate, so let’s make it organized and work together.”

She acknowledged that current IDX policy offered “a good foundation,” but said a lot of policies need to be reviewed.

“We need to empower our participants to be innovative. We can’t stifle their creativity. I do think it’s time to review the IDX policy. I’m not ready to light the fuse on it,” she said.

IDX policy “was drafted from a reactive position” in 1999, when third-party websites displaying real estate listings were proliferating, according to Woolley. That “reactive position” limited MLSs’ ability to structure listing display the way they wanted to, he said.

This time MLSs can — if they choose — take advantage of the opportunity to proactively tackle how to handle still-nascent technology, he added.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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