Why virtual reality is a game-changer for Asian real estate

For hundreds of online property portals and real estate brokerages, virtual reality is a powerful tool to increase sales and stand out in a crowded industry.

November 07, 2016

Virtual reality is quickly becoming a must-have technology for real estate agents and brokers wherever they are in the world.

For hundreds of online property portals and real estate brokerages, virtual reality (VR) has the potential to be a powerful tool to help increase sales and stand out in a crowded industry especially in Asia.

This may seem a little surprising; at first glance, developing markets in the region don’t seem to have the right background conditions for VR innovations. They typically have lower smartphone and internet penetration than their western counterparts – and slower bandwidth speeds and underpowered phones and laptops are known as limiting factors to VR adoption.

Yet the opposite is true. The challenges that developing real estate markets in Asia face make them uniquely positioned to take advantage of VR technologies, and in the coming years we can expect the region to be a strong example of how VR technology can empower real estate professionals.

A new way of viewing property

The biggest use of VR technology in real estate today is virtual property viewing. One big benefit is that it saves time for both the client and broker. Instead of scheduling an appointment to view the property or waiting for an open house, the client can get an immediate feel for the layout of the property, furnishings and the space through their personalized virtual viewing. The broker is also on hand to answer questions, allowing them to quickly gauge client expectations and enabling the process of relationship building between the two parties to start earlier.

So what makes Asian cities more suited to virtual property viewing? There are a few factors but by and large the most major is traffic. Major cities in developing countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and China have some of the worst traffic in the world. A simple property viewing on the weekend could be a three or four-hour round-trip journey. It came as no surprise that when ZipMatch, a Philippines Property Portal surveyed 300 brokers in the Philippines, they found the most common drop-off in the sales process was to get a client from an introductory phone call to a viewing. With four hours at risk, who can blame them?

In addition to the convenience factor, many major Asian cities are in the midst of an ongoing condominium boom, and that a majority of the units in these buildings are sold off-plan (or pre-selling as it’s often called locally.)

Off-plan properties are very dependent on their showrooms for sales, but at some point these showrooms are torn down, often before the building has been completed or has sold out. VR allows property developers to archive their showrooms in the cloud indefinitely, and make them transportable. Meanwhile, international sales teams can easily show model units to clients overseas, and clients can even review properties on their own if they have the right equipment at home.

From niche to mainstream

This brings us to the cost and availability of such products. When most people think consumer VR Technology, they think of the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. These high-end VR systems can easily get into the US$5,000 range when accompanied by a proper computer to power them.

Asian markets are known to prefer cheaper smartphones, often averaging in the $80 – $120 range. That’s quite the gap. The solution lies in the lesser known VR standards like Google Cardboard and Samsung VR. Both solutions work by inserting a smartphone into a pair of VR goggles and enable agents to add VR into their sales demos as long as they have their smartphone and access to relevant content. With many VR-focused apps able to download content directly on the phone, slow or non-available internet becomes less of an issue.

And the tech is evolving fast. In the coming years we may well see more interactive services such as being able to customize aspects of the property being viewed. Interior design, architecture and landscaping all lend themselves well to on-the-fly prototyping and visualization.

We may be in the early days of VR but the buzz is real, and it’s set to have a huge impact on the real estate industry both in Asia and beyond.

Kyle Wiltshire is the CTO of ZipMatch, a Philippines Real Estate Marketplace, that specializes in Developer-backed Condominium and House and Lot projects in the Philippines. ZipMatch has a database of over 1800 Condominiums for Sale in the Philippines, over 500 of which have 360 Tour and VR Capability.

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