Most conversations around virtual reality in the commercial space start with a focus on games. Maybe that’s intuitive, since immersing our eyes and ears in another world probably appeals to our love of story. In the real-estate market, too, however, sellers and agents know that story can be a crucial factor to closing a sale.
Now, using VR to create next-generation approaches to virtual staging, technology is foregrounding immersive narrative opportunities — showcasing properties with powerful you-are-there experiences.
Going far beyond already familiar 2-D virtual staging software, apps that dress digital photos with furniture and the like, the new VR-fueled version of virtual staging allows sellers to create fully furnished, fully realized environments that buyers can enter via VR headsets. Home-seekers can then move through these spaces (using handset controllers), and they can see and experience first-hand how furniture and decor shape and change rooms.
In the sections that follow, we look at how VR virtual staging works — what sellers are doing with it, and what agents see as its ultimate value — as applications of virtual reality and real estate continue to evolve.
The Nuts and Bolts of Virtual Staging
Using scanners that can photograph 360-degree 3-D images, sellers such as Matthew Hood, working with Sotheby’s International Realty, recently told Fortune of his firm’s efforts to communicate spaces to buyers using Samsung’s Gear VR technology.
Once a property is imaged into the VR space, accessed via its headsets and software applications, Hood can lead a VR-based tour remotely, even adjusting details along the way. In this aspect, the potential opens wide. For example, is the kitchen counter not to the client’s liking? A seller or agent can address it in the virtual space as one would in person, in conversation, but VR technology also allows sellers and agents to change it on the fly — displaying a series of options in front of buyers in real time.
These are critical conversations to have, says Kevin Pickett, residential real-estate agent at Keller Williams Realty, in San Francisco. Speaking to HomeLight, Pickett identified the effect of moving potential buyers into a personalized experience with the spaces they’re considering — one that comes down to identifying sentiment and seriousness around a given deal.
“If someone is trying to measure out the size of their furniture and trying to fit it in a room, and move it around like a puzzle, I think you’re definitely dealing with someone who would seriously consider purchasing the property,” Pickett says. “I think that if you can take a photo and swap out the color of the cabinets, or swap out the color of a counter-top, I think it ’s extremely valuable, even for investors. They can go into a property, they can see what it looks like in its current state, and then what it could look like before doing the work — measure it out, remove walls, open up space — I think will be extremely valuable now.”
Valuable as it may be, how much does all this cost?
Hood says some $300–$700 per home, in terms of scanning the rooms with a VR camera and setting up the program to show in a headset unit. Other instances peg setup prices at $3,000 to $15,000, CNBC reports. Larger commercial spaces can cost significantly more as well. The upshot is that agents and sellers are likely approaching a certain category of properties first, given the pricing of VR virtual staging: Hood told Fortune he focuses on high-end inventory in Los Angeles, New York City, and the Hamptons, for example.
Next-Generation Virtual Staging: Selling Across Time and Space
The impact of virtual staging in the VR space, for real estate, is not confined to flexible environments and the ability to fill them with furniture, color, and textures. The technology’s potential spans space and time as well.
Leasing agents in Manhattan, for example, last summer used VR virtual staging to showcase a 40-story office tower that was still under construction. Sage Realty Group, as The Wall Street Journal reports, turned to $199 headsets so their clients could tour the tower’s forthcoming Sky Lounge in a finished state — complete with VR-rendered greenery, conference areas, and wet bar. The technology even lets the client peer over a rooftop railing and get a sense for the property’s place on Madison Avenue.
Similarly, says Brad Cohen, a broker interviewed in the piece, “Think about CEOs overseas [who] need to make the real decisions, and they can’t get on a flight for another two weeks.” In other words, showcasing the property can start earlier, and take place from far-flung locations, going further than what a purely physical process can allow.
Key Players: Startups Bring VR Virtual Staging to Real Estate
Another company, Matterport, in California, raised $30 million last year to expand its VR platform, according to VentureBeat, and its chief executive says it’s already sold thousands of the cameras needed to photograph the immersive walk-through to real estate professionals. The applications, as Matterport sees it, extend also to the independent seller: they too can use the technology to communicate their space in the virtual world.
Other apps include Smart2VR, TourslerVR, and YouVisit, reports GearBrain. Even YouTube offers VR virtual staging videos, though it is, compared some of the industry-specific toolkits in our preceding examples, at the beginning stages of offering immersive functionality.
Is Virtual Staging Here to Stay?
Key questions surround the use of VR staging in the real-estate space, of course. Can it — and should it even try — to replace in-person sales and walk-throughs? Will this new virtual-staging technology last, even, or is it destined to be a fad?
“I think it’s here to stay,” Pickett says, “and that it’s going to move more and more towards the top of the funnel, where it’s almost necessary to offer all these things to your client.
“Any seller who has any sense is going to say, ‘I want that. I want an agent who is thinking innovatively like that,’” he continues. “I think it’s going to probably get you a higher price on the sale, probably more buyers, more people that are interested in you as an agent, more people that are interested in the property, and more people that are going to come in with a serious mindset about the sale.”
After all, what suggests the next unwritten story like a blank page? The answer may well be an empty apartment.
And while successful sales, in the end, may well remain deeply dependent on the skills and talents that dictate every agent’s and seller’s ability to tell a compelling story, VR virtual staging is a new and potentially powerful tool for crafting every property’s narrative — and in ways that buyers can truly (almost) see and feel.