AR is in its “pre-iPhone-moment” phase, as this technology’s practical value is under fire. However, recent advances in AR capabilities have made the medium a practical tool for training and communication. In the same way that VR startups like InsiteVR and GeoPogo have found thriving uses in architecture, engineering, and construction, AR is poised to create new opportunities for real estate companies. I’ve interviewed real estate experts who discuss previous tech shifts in their industry and how AR is poised to be equally disruptive.
Data visualization leads the way
Modern real estate tech companies like Zillow and Trulia were born from the capability to aggregate and present data about homes and neighborhoods to home buyers in a dynamic visual format. This enabled prospective homeowners to do their own research and changed how we do real estate transactions.
Tim Correia, the general manager and senior vice president at Trulia, explains that “in the earlier days of the internet, there was no source for buyers to obtain reliable information on their own. Public information about cities has long been available, but it wasn’t organized in a way that provided a compelling experience for home buyers. The key innovation that led to real estate’s first wave of disruption was aggregating and communicating that data in an intuitive and interactive way.”
The rise of elite ‘full stack’ brokerage teams
Platforms like Trulia have forced a shift for real estate brokerages. The field is becoming a winner-take-all space, where it’s increasingly difficult for solo agents to succeed on their own. As such, the industry is seeing a rise in elite “full stack” brokerage teams that can handle the entire range of tech-savvy skills needed to deliver for clients — as well as identify and deploy frontier technologies.
Tim McMullen, the founder of CondoWeekly and a realtor at Gueco Real Estate Group, explains that “in an industry as competitive as real estate, it’s crucial to be constantly identifying and leveraging new technologies to gain an edge. Our team at Gueco Real Estate Group has been using augmented reality to seamlessly communicate and train each other about how to best work within specific properties.
“AR persistence capabilities let us record training videos on our iPhones, which we can then ‘pin’ at specific locations in a house. Our teammates can later find this content, at the precise time and place where they need to access it, and be rapidly trained on how to most effectively tour the property.”
Disrupting the selling process
In addition to buyers and brokers, data-centric real estate tech companies have affected property sellers. Daryl Fairweather, the chief economist at Redfin, explains that “in the traditional model, a buyer and seller would have to interact directly to close a property transaction. However, iBuyers like Redfin have gotten into the business of purchasing homes themselves and directly selling them to buyers, reducing the time to sale and building liquidity into the marketplace.”
Fairweather asserts that “Redfin is taking the stance that people want choice. Sellers can take the iBuyer offer or go through agents in the Redfin network. In addition to this, Redfin offers a concierge product for a 2% fee that allows sellers to outsource time-consuming renovation work, such as landscaping, often required to make a home sellable.”
AR for cost and time savings in the selling process
Currently, iBuyers are using data aggregation to inject speed and liquidity into the sellers market, but there remain logistical obstacles that can cause delays in a sale.
Mia Simon, Director of Sell-Side Strategy for Real Estate Operations at Redfin, explains that “AR can be an effective time-saving tool for remote communication between one seller who might be on a work trip or unable to make it in person, which happens all the time as clients are busy.”
Simon continues, “a specific use case for AR in the selling process could be a couple that wants to sell their home where one spouse has a schedule that includes a lot of travel, or they are on vacation. The agent could come by, have discussions with one spouse, and then ‘pin’ video content around the property with key talking points. One party could then watch this remotely, or the couple could watch these videos later and privately reflect on what was discussed. Eliminating the need for the clients to physically be at the property, while also communicating effectively about the selling process, can result in efficiency gains and convenience for our clients.”
Seamless staging and renovation
AR communication can be useful beyond the transactional elements of real estate deals. In preparing a property to be sold, stakeholders must endure an expensive, time-consuming, and labor intensive process of staging and renovation.
Kevin Knight, the GM of Compass for Northern California, explains that, “buying a home is a big decision, often fraught with anxiety. As such, agents can hold buyers’ hands through the process and help them bring a space to life. This can be done with digital staging, in which AR is used to virtually furnish a property in different ways. In a digitally staged property, the living room could feature a modern spread, while the kitchen could be presented in a more traditional layout.
“Moreover, with AR capabilities to ‘pin’ digital content in the real world, it’s possible to digitally stage a room an infinite number of times with different layouts, and periodically review and change those layouts. In this sense, we can apply A/B testing principles to real world spaces, which saves time and money, and helps buyers make better decisions.”
A visual narrative for home buyers
Explaining a property’s objective details, like square footage, is easy. The tricky aspect of real estate deals, which separates average realtors from stellar realtors, is the ability to communicate the subjective. That is: what will the buyer’s life be like in a house?
Butch Haze and Rick Teed are founding agents of Compass in San Francisco, who have sold over $1.6 billion in properties. Teed explains that, “although tech has made it easier to know how to buy or sell a home, a personal touch will always be needed to communicate why to buy or sell a home. A house is a physical structure, but a home is a collection of human experiences with your loved ones, in the spaces you share together. This is why Compass created ‘Collections’, to let people share these kinds of stories and experiences.”
Haze continues, “AR could play a key role in communicating these human experiences, whether as an evolution of Compass Collections or more generally. Buyers often have difficulty imagining what their life could be like when touring an empty property. If a seller and agent use AR to ‘pin’ videos and pictures of cherished moments around a property, in the specific places where those moments occurred, then buyers can vicariously experience how that house can become their home.”
Michael Park is the CEO and founder of Spatial Canvas, a platform that lets you build, explore, and share augmented realities.