Buying a new development is inherently risky business: buyers must hope that the quality is good, the proper permits have been secured and that they can move in when the developer says the project will be finished.
And at the end of it all, they just have to hope that the final product matches the vision shown in renderings and conjured in their heads.
Realtor Andrew Ernemann of Sotheby’s — and owner of Aspen Starwood Properties and a former ski racer — knows this well, so he set out to encourage potential clients to step away from blueprints and generated floor plans.
According to Ernemann, flat, glossy brochures are so last decade for seasoned buyers. And so in 2018, he’s bringing the vision of their future homes to virtual reality sets with a showroom highlighting luxury properties in Colorado to prospective customers even before they’re built.
“I opened the showroom in Aspen, Colorado, almost two years ago,” Ernemann told Inman of The Aspen Property Experience. “Finding a different way of showing real estate to clients in a seasoned luxury market like Aspen helps create a more comfortable buying environment. This is because I can showcase dozens of listings within minutes to clients flying into town for the day, for example.”
The showroom was built using both HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets, with visitors encouraged to wear the VR goggles and explore an entire under-construction home as if it were already built. It cost “several hundred thousand dollars” to create, according to Ernemann, which he paid out-of-pocket.
The project has proven popular not only with property shoppers, but even locals fascinated by the technology, which has turned the showroom into a community hub of sorts, according to Ernemann. He told Inman his team has done “countless VR showings online, dozens a year in the showroom.”
“Part of the VR development process was figuring out what’s going to be useful for people to see and experience,” he notes. Unlike lustrously staged listing photography, rendering 3D imagery of potential future property showcases a more realistic look at what’s to come. From a kitchen island’s scale to floor-to-ceiling outdoor views, clients see it all.
This also means potentially sell property faster, due to the “wow” factor and the design possibilities the technology sparks in clients. Case in point, Ernemann sold a $10 million property soon after opening the showroom, which he said was directly tied to the VR tour experience.
The Aspen Property Experience is hardly the only such VR showing experience available these days: Last year, Engel & Völkers opened a “virtual reality theater” for home showings inside its office in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. And other Realtors have generated buzz by handing out cheap Google Cardboard VR headsets and hosting virtual reality events.
The VR listings strategy is worth the extra expense and time for certain properties, according to a case study by Outer Realm, the Los Angeles-based AR/VR firm Ernemann partnered with to develop and build the showroom.
Not only was the flashy project able to generate customer interest and commitment, more importantly, according to the study, it helped “reduce their financial risk in a business that requires significant upfront capital expenditure.”
Part of the appeal for clients taking in preview appointments at the Property Experience has been imagining the potential a floor plan, or even exterior, of a new home can have by donning a VR headset and taking a trip into the development future.
“Not only does it represent exactly what’s going to be realistically built, but it’s also a much more enjoyable and more streamlined process than heading to a construction site,” Ernemann explains.
This has also surprisingly become the case for the designers working on these properties, with some even making design adjustments after taking in a life-like construction viewing.
According to the study, regardless of technology, there is still something to be said about the emotional aspect of buying a future home. So even when the decision is being through a VR lens, it was important to make sure the VR strategy evokes a “gut response” from potential buyers looking for a new home for their families.
The investment in such a project has certainly benefited Ernemann’s listings, who foresees the future of listing showings going virtual beyond the luxury market.
Take for example, a young couple looking for their first apartment in a hot urban market. Ernemann believes as more VR-based listings pop up across the country, they’ll help save time not only for the clients running from showing to showing, but also for the agents and brokers involved
Further Ernemann thinks that Realtors willing to invest in such a setup could rent it out for others to use for gaming, corporate, events or other entertainment purposes.
As with all things tech though, Ernemann admits that the main learning curve with operating the showroom was “getting the actual VR technology to work in the showroom” as the operation got underway. Given the potential financial sales involved, maybe all the time and money was worth it.