How this VR real estate startup began with Navy family life

Realtor Lauren Taylor's tech platform makes home search easier for military families, long-distance buyers

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San Diego-based real estate agent Lauren Taylor, a Realtor with Big Block Realty and a proud Navy wife, serves a special homebuyer niche — military families relocating to Southern California who must find a home at a moment’s notice. The challenge of helping her clients view a large number of homes in a short amount of time led her to conceptualize and launch a virtual reality (VR) technology platform, Savvy Homes Portal, to show properties from a distance. Now her service is being used by agents and brokers across the country, and she is the CEO of a thriving new business.

Taylor’s real estate career began in 2014 under Harmony Realty, after her husband was deployed for the second time, and she sought an outlet to overcome “the redundancy of doing deployment and being alone.”

At Harmony, she found herself plenty busy. But her growing client base was routinely limited by her availability on the weekends, the only time when many of her buyers were able to hunt for homes in “marathon” fashion, which pulled her away from her personal life.

“I began thinking there had to be a better way,” she said. “I love my business, but I also love my family.”

When FaceTime only goes so far

Taylor became acutely aware that military families often received a permanent change of station with very short lead times, leaving them scrambling to find homes in unfamiliar new places and cooped up for weeks in hotel rooms.

Around October 2016, Taylor began assisting these types of clients with video chats and by sending over video tours to clients, but the processes were inefficient and clunky. “We have exhausted the limits of FaceTime,” she said.

So Taylor hired a coder to execute a better idea. In August, the search for a “better way” became her new venture, Savvy Homes Portal, where she remains CEO.  It began as a video upload tool for agents, but quickly evolved into a virtual reality house hunting platform. Savvy Homes Portal enables agents to create private “portals” for clients and upload standard walkthrough videos as well as 3-D virtual reality tours. The service also includes message capabilities between agents, clients, and other vendors.

The new venture accomplished Taylor’s goal of freeing her up more on weekends and then some, letting her create VR videos during the week for clients to view at their convenience. Using the platform she’s reached buyers from Japan; Germany; Italy; Washington, D.C.; and Spain, and helped them close on homes in SoCal.

Inside the Savvy Homes Portal

Savvy Homes Portal provides agents with 360-cameras that are plugged into their mobile device. From there, agents capture the home with a complete walkthrough of the property.

Agents are then able to create a portal for their buyers where they can access each video walkthrough on their desktop or mobile devices using an agent-created username and password. To experience videos in 3-D, buyers need to attach a virtual reality (VR) headset to their mobile device.

Agents are also able to upload important documents and photos, send messages and give portal access to a buyer’s spouse, family members or vendors for an immersive social experience.

Since the product’s launch, Taylor has now made it available for other agents and brokers to purchase and use. San Diego’s Big Block Realty, where Taylor works and provides virtual reality training to other agents, along with Frisco, Texas-based JP & Associates Realty, and Fathom Realty (started in Dallas-Fort Worth with offices now across the U.S.) all currently use the VR platform to serve homebuyers.

The monthly memberships for portal use range from $99 for 25 active home tours to $499 for 400 active home tours. All memberships include the addition of 10 agents, unlimited clients and unlimited portals, a company homes library that features all available listings, and wholesale pricing of virtual supplies, which include one 360 camera, three Savvy VR Viewer headsets and the Savvy Guide To Building Your Virtual Reality Real Estate Business for $349.

Taylor says larger brokerages looking for more bandwidth can sign up for a personalized membership.

The homebuyer dream: What you see is what you get

Travis Winfield, a San Diego-based real estate agent who recently retired from the Navy after 24 years, says Savvy Homes Portal has fundamentally changed how he serves his base of military families who need to find a home on short notice.

Before using Savvy Homes, Winfield says he would use FaceTime, Skype or Facebook Live to conduct tours, but often struggled with timing issues since some buyers were stationed overseas. Those videos could be a “little misleading” since the camera wasn’t able to pick up all the details in the home, he noted.

Another great benefit, Winfield says, is the fact that clients are given complete transparency: what you see is what you get. “I want to make sure they know that — 100 percent — that’s the home they want.”

Beyond added transparency, Winfield says Savvy Homes has saved him and his buyers precious time in this competitive market.

“I can get up at 8 o’clock in the morning on my time, upload all these recordings, upload them to the portal, and my client can go on at their convenience to do these virtual tours and really whittle down what they want to see in person,” he said.

Winfield acknowledges there are other VR tools available, but what makes Savvy Homes Portal special to him is the ease of creating and sharing videos on a single interface, and being able to provide the VR experience to buyers without breaking the bank.

Savannah, Georgia-based agent Karin Carr echoed Winfield’s sentiments, saying that Savvy Homes was a lifesaver in two of her most recent deals for buyers based in California and Japan.

“[My buyer] wanted to see 20 houses in two days. That’s exhausting and not enjoyable for anyone — not the buyer and not the agent either,” Carr said.

“So I toured the homes the week prior to his arrival, just visiting four to five per day,” she explained. “He watched the videos in California and he got feedback from his friends and family on his favorites.

“He was able to narrow it down to only five houses that we saw together on Friday afternoon. By Sunday, we were under contract.”

Email Marian McPherson.