CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The next time you buy a house, remodel something or rent a new office, your first view of it might be through a virtual reality headset.
The technology, proponents say, offers architects and real estate brokers an easy way to show off new properties, and a cheaper and quicker way to make changes to proposed designs.
Interior Architects, a national firm that opened a Charlotte office about three years ago, is using virtual reality to give clients tours of new offices before they are designed. That lets people “walk” through a new office, looking around and seeing everything as it’s being designed. They can move through the space with a controller, and, wearing the headset, get a full 360-degree view of the space.
Clients can point out things they don’t like and change them on the fly, in minutes. Virtual reality is replacing costly renderings, which can run $2,500 a pop and are outdated as soon as a client asks for a change.
“They’re static, they’re very expensive,” Doug Gigi, head of Interior Architects’ Charlotte office, said of traditional renderings. “Clients don’t know how to read [technical] drawings, and we don’t expect them to, either.”
Kelly Funk of Interior Architects said virtual reality offers a less-expensive alternative to mocking up a whole floor of office space for a client.
“Everyone’s wanting to do pilot floors these days,” she said, speaking at a conference put on by CoreNet, a corporate real estate association, in Charlotte last month. “It’s expensive, it takes time.”
And virtual reality headsets are getting cheaper — Facebook’s Oculus Rift ships for $599, $200 less than rival HTC Vive — and could become ubiquitous in coming years as prices fall more.
Real estate isn’t the only field virtual reality could reshape. Banks are experimenting with ideas such as virtual branches that could make interacting with customers faster, and jet manufacturer Airbus is using virtual reality to demonstrate planes to potential buyers.
Maren Brisson-Kuester, president of the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association, said she doesn’t know of any Charlotte-area real estate brokers using virtual reality to sell residential property yet. But she doesn’t think it will be long before the technology makes its way into the local residential real estate market. The technology could be even more useful selling future houses before models are built, Brisson-Kuester said.
Nationally, high-end real estate brokerage Sotheby’s is using virtual reality to sell luxury houses in Los Angeles, the Hamptons and New York City. For now, virtual reality works best with high-end houses, because it can cost several hundred dollars to create a good scan of the house.
For Interior Architects, the potential uses of virtual reality go beyond simple tours. They are sending clients headsets and cheaper “goggles” that simulate a virtual reality experience with a smartphone. That means clients can download new renderings of their spaces in real time and collaborate remotely on the design. Such technology can also be used to give employees tours of their offices when companies move, or as a recruiting tool to show potential employees where they will work.
“When you actually stand in that room, it’s different,” said Guy Messick, of Interior Architects, on a virtual reality experience vs. looking at two-dimensional drawings or renderings. He has had customers readily agree to add more expensive finishes to projects once they see them in virtual reality — something that didn’t happen commonly before virtual reality.
“I haven’t had that happen too many times in my career, and I’ve been doing this a long time,” Messick said.