Replacing In-Person Tours with Virtual Experiences is the New Reality

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ATLANTA, GA—It's all a part of the process when searching for new office space or a new building—you repeatedly jump into a vehicle and tour a seemingly never-ending list of properties that you may or may not like. With the advent of virtual and augmented reality technology, replacing in-person tours with virtual experiences is the new reality.

In the report, “Virtual Reality Technology Nears the Tipping Point to Disrupt Commercial Real Estate,” the author, David Stella, vice president of Consulting at Cresa, defines augmented reality as technology used to supplement and enhance a real-world experience. Looking through special glasses or using the camera function on a hand-held device, for example, the user can view images of the real world with additional digital images or details layered on top. One example of augmented reality includes the Pokemon Go app.

Virtual reality, on the other hand, is an immersive digital experience where users explore wearing goggles. Due to the popularity of virtual reality video games and the military’s usage of VR for training simulations, the market for virtual reality technology has been more widely-adopted than augmented reality. Thus, the costs for creating, distributing or viewing VR content are quickly declining.

In the commercial real estate industry, both AR and VR technology are used to reflect the physicality of the space including photos of the space, a PDF of the floor plan, drone imagery or maybe even a CAD file. Engineers and graphic artists then collaborate to create realistic models of the space where users can change the time of day to illustrate lighting or shadow studies, move walls or change finishes, windows, and furniture, Stella tells

According to Goldman Sachs Research, the VR/AR industry will eventually become an $80 billion dollar marketplace by 2025, with a lot of that amount geared towards real estate purposes. Deloitte’s 2019 survey also found that 45% of surveyed commercial real estate investors felt AR and VR should be a priority for commercial real estate companies.

“Before long, we will all use tablets or goggle-type eyewear to “walk through” office space—whether down the street or around the world,” Stella says. “We will use view interactive images that make it easy to understand and visualize any physical space — without actually needing to be there. Developers and landlords now build in the 3D modeling universe and sell the space to brokers/clients so they won’t have to drive around and tour numerous buildings.”

Looking ahead, the continued growth of AR and VR technology will deliver higher quality and more realistic graphics, all-in-one project management tools that allows architects and tenants to fully design office space, and virtual environments integrated with databases which will enable an individual to virtually approach a building, receive pop-up data about available properties and details and even virtually walk through a downtown area.

“There are tools out now that will take a SketchUp model and translate it into a virtual reality model. I can load that model on a tablet, ship it off to a client across the country, and they can view and give me feedback on the space in real-time as I manipulate it and make changes,” Stella says. “They can even move the model around themselves and view different parts of it. This technology engages the user at a much more intimate level, and it will continue to become easier, smarter, and more affordable. I can see it becoming ubiquitous.”