The average American moves house about 12 times throughout the course of their life. Although home listings have come a long way in recent years, especially as they’ve moved over to the online sector, they still don’t usually provide enough information for buyers to forgo an open house. But that may soon change with the rising popularity of a type of technology that was once thought to have only recreational value: virtual reality.
For most people, the process of buying a home retains some traditional elements. Buyers are overwhelmingly purchasing homes with help from a real estate agent. In fact, the number of buyers who use realtors has increased from 69% in 2001 to 88% in 2014. After viewing a listing — typically online rather than in the newspaper, these days — they’ll head to an open house or will tour a home privately with their agent.
While this may seem fairly straightforward, it gets a little more complicated if you’re moving across the country or plan to have your home built from the ground up. The majority of us wouldn’t dare buy a home sight unseen, and visualizing the final result of a house not yet built is a challenge for most.
That’s where virtual reality comes in.
To provide buyers with a better, more tangible experience, builders are starting to market their homes using virtual reality headsets. At sale and design centers, a consumer can put on a headset to instantly be transported into a home that has yet to be built.
Founder and chief executive officer of Builder Homesite, Tim Costello, says,
“Most people can’t read a floor plan, and they can’t visualize how the light will come into a room. They see the words kitchen and great room on a floor plan and the room dimensions, but they can’t visualize what that room will feel like. Virtual reality gives you a true sense of place, that you’ve actually walked around the room and can judge it because of the ability to see it from multiple angles.”
Experts say that the widespread use of virtual reality may eventually reduce the need for builders to construct model homes for walk-throughs, which could save builders money and speed up the sales process.
However, the use of VR isn’t that extensive quite yet. Costello says that even though the number of builders toying with this technology has increased significantly over the last year, the bulk of them aren’t using this method exclusively.
“Maybe 1% of builders have actually deployed virtual reality,” Costello explains, “while many of the rest are still trying to decide how they should deploy it.”
More than likely, builders will end up using VR as a supplement to their current practices.
Valerie Dolenga, director of corporate communications for Pulte Group, the third-largest home builder in the U.S. last year, says her company started using virtual reality to sell homes last year. But she still thinks buyers want a sense of tradition, too.
“Model homes are here to stay because people still love to touch and see a home before they buy it,” says Dolenga. “But maybe eventually we’ll build one model instead of three models and use virtual reality to showcase those other floor plans.”
But Jeanna Roach of Texas-based Betenbough Homes says their company has found success in switching to the modern method.
“We have 42 house plans right now, and building a model for each one gets very expensive,” says Roach. “Each model home costs $350,000 or more to build, but we’ve found we can attract buyers with virtual reality and spend under $20,000.”
Judging by their long wait list of buyers who have experienced only their VR tour, Roach says it’s a great way to capture younger buyers.
“What’s different about virtual reality compared to a regular video tour is that this is more engaging to buyers. The buyers are controlling where they go and what they look at rather than passively watching a video. It’s more fun.”
And while the virtual reality may not be used on a large scale for a while, its proponents see huge potential for the future.
Tim Costello says, “Technology is changing rapidly, but we think the use of virtual reality will reshape and transform how new homes are designed, marketed and sold.”