When clients meet with Paul Gaiser, director of architecture for Landis Architects/Builders in Washington, D.C., they get more than a blueprint or a rendering.
“We use virtual reality for every project for every client,” Gaiser says. “It’s very important because while architects can understand drawings, buyers don’t always have the ability to see what a space will look like.”
Buyers can look up, down and around their future home through Google virtual reality glasses and experience a high level of detail, says Gaiser.
“Clients can really see what they’ll get and understand the space, the windows, the trim and the colors of the finishes,” he says. “They can quickly see what the kitchen will look like with black granite or with white marble.”
Virtual reality headsets have been around for decades, but in the last few years more people have become accustomed to interacting with 3D games and looking at 3D images of products online.
“Virtual reality can be intimidating to people,” explains Simon Booker, vice president of sales & marketing at 3DVIA, a division of Dassault Systemes that developed the HomeByMe website. “People think it’s expensive and hard to use, which isn’t the case as much today. You don’t have to just use the high-end, completely immersive virtual reality with a professional headset; you can look at it in a non-immersive way or use Google cardboard glasses.”
The HomeByMe website which is free to consumers, can be used to plan a space, build walls, add furniture and generate a 3D rendering within minutes. “Architects and interior designers can use this as a tool for their initial discussions about projects,” Booker adds. “The images can be used to accelerate the conversation and have more valuable discussions about what could work and what the client hopes to achieve.”
Seeing is Believing
Gaiser says virtual reality makes it easier for people to have a better understanding of room dimensions and ceiling heights.
“Buyers can’t always visualize what a room will look like with furniture in it, which is why staging companies are so successful,” says Santiago Arana, co-founder of The Agency real estate brokerage in Los Angeles. “If they can’t tell what something will look like in a finished home, there’s no way they’ll be able to visualize something that hasn’t even been built yet.”
Arana recently worked with an architect who spent $15,000 for a virtual reality tour to assist buyers in visualizing a 10,000-square-foot oceanfront custom home in Los Angeles.
“You could see the trees and the landscaping and virtually walk out the back of the house to see the grass, the pool and the ocean,” he says. “You could tour every room and see the details from the tile floor to the fireplace and mantel.”
However, Arana says, virtual reality tours for single-family custom homes are rare because they can be expensive to produce. He says they’re more common for condominium developments or larger communities with multiple homes to sell.
For example, Dennis Ciani, marketing manager for Pacesetter Homes in Austin, spent about $14,000 for a virtual reality tour of a new home design. Ciani was in a bind because the model for a brand new style of home wouldn’t be ready in time for a grand opening event where fully furnished models were already open from five other builders.
“We had a framed house and put furniture in a couple of rooms and then did a virtual reality tour of what the house will look like when it’s finished,” Ciani says. “This house is what we call a ‘quad’ — which is semi-detached with a side courtyard — so it’s hard to explain and hard for people to visualize.”
The virtual reality tour helped visitors understand the layout for the house and for an optional apartment above the garage, Ciani says.
“An empty room actually looks smaller to most people, but with virtual reality they can see how a queen or king-sized bed looks in a space,” he adds.
Buyer Benefits of Virtual Reality
The biggest benefit for consumers is that virtual reality can help people choose their floor plan, features and finishes when they have a better idea of what they will look like and how they will work together.
“We often start the design process with pictures from Houzz or other photos that customers bring us of what they like,” Gaiser says. “Then we can create a virtual reality tour of their house based on the collaborative ideas of the customer and our team. This makes the process more exciting.”
Using virtual reality can reduce or even eliminate change orders, which add time and money to the custom home building process, he says.
“When we use virtual reality from the beginning, we can figure out what the most affordable yet desirable options are before we’ve spent any money,” Gaiser says. “It’s less painful if you have a handle on costs and can make changes to your design early in the process.”
The end results, says Gaiser, include fewer mistakes and happier customers. “Virtual reality eliminates most misunderstandings about what the client wants and expects from their home.”
While some custom home builders have already embraced virtual reality, the expectation is that as the technology becomes more accessible, nearly every custom home will be built with the help of this powerful visual aid.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.