A Realty Firm Is Sold on Virtual RealityBy Samuel Greengard
In recent years, as digital technology has advanced, virtual reality (VR) and immersive environments have evolved. One organization embracing this space is the Creig Northrop Team of Long & Foster Real Estate in Rockville, Md.
"Photos and existing virtual tours only go so far," says Creig Northrop, president and CEO of the Northrop Team. "They don't offer an ultra-realistic experience."
About two years ago, Northrop began exploring ways to take virtual house tours to the next level. "We wanted to show home buyers what a property looks like without having to actually be there," he explains. Northrop eventually came across a solution from Matterport, which builds cameras and software for immersive environments. The system generates high-definition 3-D imagery using a specialized camera that scans spaces and captures all the details.
The firm began using the photography system in 2016. "You feel like you are actually there," Northrop says. "When you walk in a kitchen, for example, you see everything there—the cooktop, the refrigerator, the countertop, the hardwood floors, even a cookbook sitting on a counter."
Users navigate through rooms and even to outside decks and patios, zooming in and out, and spinning the view to replicate what an actual walk-through would look like. "You see the entire house in 3-D," he says. "You can go anywhere and view it from any angle."
The 3-D high dynamic range (HDR) camera automatically collects accurate visual and spatial data to map an area within minutes. A built-in smart rotation feature captures interiors automatically, without the need for specialized lighting or staging.
The final virtual tour runs atop the Java platform, and it will display properly on any computer, tablet or smartphone, as well as with VR goggles from Matterport. The tour adapts to the device automatically.
A Boon to Both Agents and Buyers
So far, the company has sold dozens of houses without the buyer setting foot on the property. This includes a few overseas buyers. "People are able to view multiple properties from their device without actually driving around and visiting all of them," Northrop says. "It has been an enormous boon to agents and buyers."
The biggest challenge, Northrop says, was training a person to operate the camera. Filming a house originally took about 12 hours. Not surprisingly, that presented problems for homeowners, and it was too slow for the real estate firm. However, the camera operator can now tackle the task in about three hours.
An ongoing challenge is ensuring that the house is adequately prepared for the scanning process. "Anything and everything shows up in the final showcase," Northrop points out.
The next step is to add a feature that allows the real estate firm to virtually stage an empty house by dragging and dropping items in place. "It would eliminate the cost and time—usually a few thousand dollars per month and couple of days to set things up," Northrop says. In addition, a person could snap photos of his or her existing furniture and see what it looks like in the new house.
"The technology is changing the real estate business," Northrop states. "It offers a great way to show houses and to shop for houses."