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Is virtual reality staging the future of real estate?

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What if you could view prospective new homes without leaving home? Virtual reality is making it possible to do that?

Virtual Reality has made significant inroads into the gaming and entertainment industry, but could it do the same for the real estate business?

In an increasingly competitive market realtors are constantly looking for creative ways to attract home buyers. Home staging can add appeal to a vacant property, but it can be costly. Virtual staging software already allows realtors to turn digital photographs of vacant properties into beautifully staged homes at a fraction of the cost of traditional staging, but it can be static and doesn’t give a complete picture of the property. Could virtual reality take virtual staging to the next level?

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“Most people associate virtual reality with gaming,” Tim Smith, a spokesperson for Matterport, a California based company that specializes in developing the 3D cameras used to create the digital images used in staging, said in a phone interview. “It’s surprising how people are using it in creative ways.”

One of those creative ways hopes to revolutionize the home buying experience by giving home buyers the option to view 3D recreations of fully furnished and fully realized models of prospective homes and developments and provide a more interactive experience.

In order to create the 3D images used in virtual reality staging a 360 degree camera is placed on a tripod which then spins around capturing the whole room.  The images are then uploaded onto an I-pad.

“You’ll see a quick and dirty version on your I-pad and then a far more robust model is created.” Tim Smith says. “It overlaps one cameras view with another cameras view and stitches everything together.” Once the 3D property is created home buyers can enter the models using virtual reality headsets and hand held controls. All without ever leaving the comfort of their home, office or even country.

“The Realtor and the property owner can highlight features within the model,” Smith said. Virtual reality staging allows prospective buyers to get a sense of a property’s space, assess how furniture will fit and look in the various rooms and address any potential issues before they even set foot on the property. And property developers don’t even need to have broken ground to be able to show potential investors what the completed construction will look like.

Virtual reality staging is still something of a novelty in the industry, but real estate companies are already beginning to utilize virtual reality staging to attract home buyers and investors. In 2016 Sage Realty Corporation used virtual reality to show prospective buyers their Sky Lounge located on the 15<sup>th</sup> floor of their 40-story office building at 437 Madison Avenue while it was still in construction. Prospective investors were able to visualize the completed property including greenery, conference rooms and fiberglass shade even before the development had finished work.

And companies like Matterport, iStaging and VR Global have taken on the challenge to take home staging to the next technological plane.

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“Right now the only limitation to our VR models being viewed is people’s ability to have hardware readily available. The more pervasive the VR hardware becomes the simpler it will be for people to start experiencing Matterport VR,” says Tim Smith.

“We’re always adding features to it.” This includes text and audio and even video. “Right now we’re focusing on adoption and execution. And hoping to move into other markets.”

But debate is still raging on whether virtual reality could make realtors obsolete or whether it’s just another valuable tool in a realtor’s arsenal.

“This is the future of technology and soon buyers will be able to look at properties in New York while they’re sitting at dinner in France,” Ryan Serhant, of Nest Seekers International, said in a May 2016 interview with CNBC’s “Power Lunch”, but Sam Debianchi, founder of DeBianchi Real Estate, had a more measured attitude to the future of virtual reality staging in the real estate business in that same interview.

“I think virtual reality staging is a great tool, but I think that’s where it stops,” DeBianchi said to “Power Lunch”. “You still need to have that agent explain it. It’s virtual, it’s not reality.”

Etta Badoe

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