Strict lockdown measures in dozens of countries have put paid to real-life property viewings and sent the real estate sector into a tailspin. Instead, virtual viewings, which until now have been a useful but frivolous add-on to most online property listings, are now taking centrestage.
Germany’s largest property portal, Immobilienscout24, currently has 16,000 property listings that feature virtual tours. The site’s parent company, Scout24, said that the visual tools currently give sellers an average 40% increase in interest from potential buyers. Its British equivalent, Rightmove, has more than 100,000 properties with the online tour option.
During these unprecedented economic times, real estate agents are now advising sellers to go one step further, by creating 3D walkthroughs of their property using technology from startups like Matterport. The US firm has created a digital spatial data platform that it says can digitise all the world’s physical assets and create a virtual twin.
The technology has been available for several years, but its 3D virtual property tours are a huge game-changer for the real estate sector at a time when a third of the world’s population is in hibernation. “The 3D camera captures elements from every possible angle of a property, so a buyer can walk around as if they are actually there,” James Morris-Manuel, Matterport’s CEO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) said.
He said 3D viewings allow prospective buyers to judge the size, space, and dimensions of each room, move around any obstacles such as furniture, and judge a property from any position. The 360-degree viewings can be seen on smartphones as well as computers and other devices.
Matterport noticed a sudden spike in demand for its 3D virtual viewings once it became clear that Europe and North America were going to implement similar coronavirus lockdowns to those seen in China. “There was a big rush to have properties captured so that people could have business continuity,” Morris-Manuel said. Since then, several governments, including the UK, have advised the public against moving house and that sellers should halt property viewings during the restrictive measures.
That has prompted more agents and owners to buy or lease 3D cameras or virtual reality headsets to capture the data, which is then uploaded to Matterport’s artificial intelligence (AI) engine. The firm then guarantees virtual viewings will be ready within 24 hours and can be easily embedded in property listings. “People have still been capturing the 3D data during the lockdown. Some photographers are considered key workers and can still operate. A lot of commercial property has never been empty before, so now is a good time to go in and capture it,” Morris-Manuel said. Although virtual walkthroughs sound like the preserve of the most luxurious properties, it costs up to 250 pounds to have a property 3D captured.
“With luxury properties, the appeal is often to target overseas buyers, but with entry-level or mid-market properties, 3D viewings sometimes offer a bigger return on investment as fewer real-time viewings are necessary,” Morris-Manuel said. He added that virtual viewings are “helping keep a lot of (real estate) companies going during what are unprecedented trading conditions.”