Brokers and agents who use virtual reality (VR) to enhance their listings, burnish their brand with a tech-savvy shine, and delight sellers and buyers with top-notch marketing that gives them a streamlined way to view homes.

In many ways, real estate is a perfect application for VR. It immerses participants in 3-D models, giving them the sensation of physical presence with the aid of visual devices.

Curaytor clients Carrie Smith Qualters, leader of the four-agent Red Door Atlanta team, and Eleanor Cippel, co-founder and managing broker of the six-agent Tennessee brokerage Great Life RE, are among a vanguard of agents leveraging the new technology to stand out in their markets.

View of a 3-D, virtual reality-enabled model Curaytor client Eleanor Cippel built for one of her listings. If you have a VR headset, click this link and select the VR goggles icon.

Their experience represents the tip of the iceberg. As real estate increasingly shifts online, and VR and headsets become more widespread, VR will only become more central to the real estate consumer and agent experience.

VR + real estate

Virtual reality is clearly becoming more prevalent but its real estate growth is currently limited by two things -- the relative dearth of both virtual reality-enabled models and the headsets consumers need to view them.

Real estate VR received a huge boost in October when popular virtual tour company Matterport unleashed VR on all of its 3-D models, which now number over 300,000 listings (more than 80,000 of which are active). In 2016, 2.4 percent of all U.S. listings had VR capability via a Matterport model, according to Matterport CEO Bill Brown. Given the firm’s trajectory, he anticipates that percentage will double this year.

Matterport automatically adds VR to all tours for free, but will begin charging agents a one-time fee of $19 for the feature beginning this July.

Virtual Xperience is another firm gaining traction in VR. While Matterport creates models from physical spaces, Virtual Xperience designs spaces from scratch and makes them available in VR, providing renderings of spaces yet to be built or remodeled.

Google Cardboard offers an inexpensive VR headset option.

Smartphones provide a cost-effective VR headset solution as they become a full-blown VR player once slid into cheap devices such as the $15 Google Cardboard. (Matterport models can be viewed with Samsung Gear and Google Cardboard on Android and iOS devices; Virtual Xperience models can be viewed through Google Cardboard as well as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets).

Qualters and Matterport

Qualters bought a Matterport 3-D camera two years ago to enhance the marketing of her listings. When Matterport unveiled its VR update in October, all of her Matterport models gained the feature.

“The biggest impact has been the cool factor,” Qualters said of VR in the four months she’s had it as a marketing tool.

A Matterport VR-enabled tour for one of Qualters' listings.

But it’s not just that. VR has won Qualters listings. On a demo with a local homebuilder interviewing agents to partner with, Qualters showcased one of her Matterport models through virtual reality and won the account, which has already turned into four listings.

Qualters acknowledged the technology outpaces many consumers, as most don’t have the requisite VR headsets to take advantage of it. But she knows it will become more widespread.

Seeing the unseen

Agents and brokers are not just mapping real spaces with VR, they are creating reimagined virtual remodels for users to tour.

Cippel hired Virtual Xperience early in 2016 to perform a virtual remodel of one of her listings in desperate need of a revamp. The 4,000-square-foot, five-acre lakefront property in Louisville, Tennessee, has great potential, but Cippel described it as “modern architecture outside, 80-year-old lady inside.”

“It requires a buyer with vision,” she said. She’s helping provide that vision with virtual reality.

She sent Virtual Xperience the home’s first floor measurements and photos of features she wanted the reshaped space to include. 

The virtual redesign included moved walls, new doors, flooring, a redesigned main floor, kitchen, dining area, master bedroom and closet. Cippel put her branding in the virtual model. Viewers who tour the space see a photo representation of the outside when they look out the windows, adding an extra dose of reality to the tour.

Kitchen of Cippel's listing from slightly different angles; photo (left), virtual remodel (right).

She capitalized on the tour by holding a virtual reality showcase at the home in July 2016. She set up an Oculus Rift at the event that colleagues and buyers used to navigate the VR model.

Her press release about the event was picked up by 350 local outlets and scored her an interview on a local radio show, which has helped give her brand a tech-savvy shine.

It also got the home sold! It's currently under contract with buyers who said they could never have envisioned the home's potential without the VR model, according to Cippel. They will use the VR model as a remodeling guide.

WHY CURAYTOR?

Editor’s note: Eleanor Cippel brought on Curaytor in mid-2016. She and her firm were looking for a web platform when they discovered Curaytor and learned that it is so much more. She liked that it offers an awesome product but she recognized that its holistic approach to building its clients' businesses set it apart from its competitors. 

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