VR is latest presence-evoking tech to let luxury house hunters preview purchases

[In the market for a luxury home but no time to visit candidate properties? Just ‘go there’ via VR! The concluding quote in this story from L.A. Biz provides nice perspective: we’ve moved from “grainy black and white photo[s]” to color photos, video, drones, and now virtual reality. See coverage in The Los Angeles Times for a video. -Matthew]

Matthew Hood using VR at Sothebys

[Image: Real-estate agent Matthew Hood has brought VR to Sotheby’s International Realty […] to market luxury homes. Credit: Annlee Ellingson]

Virtual reality makes house hunters feel at home

Aug 12, 2015
Annlee Ellingson, Staff Writer L.A. Biz

I’m standing in front of a luxurious Tuscan-style mansion overlooking Zuma Beach in Malibu. A tiered stone fountain splashes before me as alder wood doors open to reveal a palatial two-story foyer with twin winding staircases, a wrought-iron chandelier and French limestone floors.

As I explore the 10,000-square-foot home, I tour a lavish living room with a cozy fireplace and ocean views; a warm wine cellar; a spacious kitchen; a plush bedroom; and a sunny outdoor patio overlooking a turquoise infinity pool, lush verdant yard and the Pacific Ocean.

But I’m not on Sea Star Drive. I’m not even in Malibu. I’m 24 miles away, in a strip mall on the Westside, sitting in a nondescript conference room, wearing a virtual-reality headset.

Intrigued by demonstrations of the technology he had seen around town, real-estate agent Matthew Hood has brought VR to Sotheby’s International Realty, where he uses the Samsung Gear VR, powered by Oculus, to market luxury homes like the Malibu property I toured.

“What drew me to it was the potential to introduce a very high-end home to somebody quickly and easily,” Hood told me.

Much of the luxury real estate in Los Angeles is purchased by clients who live abroad — Hood used VR to show the Malibu home to a Saudi family in France, for example — and even local executives don’t always have time to drive out to the coast for a first look at a house. On the seller side, celebrities appreciate having fewer visitors tromping through their homes.

The company’s use of the technology is still in an experimental phase, with Sotheby’s New York and San Francisco offices also playing around with VR.

“VR technology is still in ‘early adopter’ phase until headsets are more widely available to consumers,” said Joe Cilic, senior vice president and branch manager of the company’s Brentwood office. “In our opinion, the technology will be particularly helpful for showcasing property internationally, and we plan to use VR technology this fall during a ‘road show’ of special events in Asia.”

But Hood is bullish on VR and envisions a day when he could customize the experience — film a bachelor pad with a party going on, for example, or a family home with kids in the pool.

“Part of the idea of real-estate sales is helping people envision their life in that house,” he said. “With this, you can kind of turbo-charge and assist that envisioning.”

He could incorporate a tour guide and audio that describes the attributes of the property — right now, the video consists of static shots and muzak. Or “imagine if the interior was not to your liking, and I could switch that out on the fly,” he added.

“Sotheby’s International Realty has a legacy of marketing innovation, and we commend Matthew’s commitment to exploring ways to ‘raise the bar’ in real-estate marketing,” Cilic said.

The latest version of the Gear VR costs a couple hundred dollars but requires a Samsung phone that snaps into the headset. Hood uses a 10-camera rig and then stitches the video together in post-production. He estimates that the productions cost $3,000 to $4,000.

With robust media and technology industries, Los Angeles is a particularly fertile market in which to experiment with VR.

“It definitely sets me apart,” Hood said. “Especially clients that come from the entertainment industry or tech, they see the advantage of it.”

His next VR project is a 3-D scan of a home in Venice, the heart of Silicon Beach. “I think that’s a good candidate for a tech executive in San Francisco that is coming back and forth to L.A.”

Though the technology is still in its infancy, Hood believes VR is the future of real-estate marketing.

“Thirty years ago, you put a classified ad in the paper, maybe a grainy black and white photo,” he said. “Then it moved to color photos being standard, then to video, then to drones. I think [VR] is the next step. … I truly believe that it’s going to be a paradigm changer.”


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