Realtors, developers eye virtual reality as a tool for attracting foreign buyers

TORONTO -- Overseas investors looking to park their money in Canadian real estate could soon be donning headsets and touring upcoming condo developments in virtual reality, according to the founder of a Toronto-based technology firm.

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Invent Dev turns floor plans of new developments into 3D, immersive mockups that can be experienced in virtual reality, such as through the Occulus Rift system, or via he Samsung Gear VR headset.

David Payne, the company's founder and CEO, says he's been getting tremendous interest from the Chinese community.

"They are very excited about the potential," he said, noting that in the past week alone he has received three media inquiries from Chinese news outlets.

The technology could help Canadian developers tap into global markets by allowing prospective buyers to tour a space without ever having to board a plane, he said.

"They can now, from the comfort of their own home, view any floor plan that they want, with the finishes they want, and feel like they're actually inside that home," says Payne.

The technology can benefit developers in other ways as well, says Payne.

Rather than building model suites, Lifestyle Custom Homes employed Invent Dev's technology to create virtual reality mockups of its upcoming development in Toronto's Leslieville neighbourhood -- a significant cost saving for the company, says Payne.

While full-blown virtual reality -- the kind that's experienced through a headset -- is relatively new in the Canadian real estate industry, a number of agents have been using other technologies to create immersive experiences of homes.

Cameras such as the Matterport Pro 3D can scan an existing home and create a three-dimensional rendering of it that can be viewed through a simple web browser. A number of Toronto-based brokers with Sotheby's International Realty Canada, which works with a large proportion of overseas buyers, started using the technology earlier this year.

"Our clients love the fact that they're able to experience an immersive model that they're able to control and where they're able to walk through a space in its entirety," says Elaine Hung, the company's vice-president of marketing.

"It's a huge benefit for us, and for overseas buyers."

Ara Mamourian says his brokerage, SpringRealty.ca, has been using online virtual tours for all of its listings since 2013. One of the things that prompted Mamourian to start offering the service was a high number of calls from overseas buyers.

Mamourian says some foreign investors are willing to purchase properties such as condos without visiting them in person first.

"They love this technology because they can essentially walk through the house and actually feel how big the rooms are, or how small the rooms are, without being fooled by that wide-angle lens," he says.

While the appeal of immersive tours for foreign buyers is obvious, realtors note that the technology has benefits for local home buyers, as well. For example, it can help a home-hunter narrow down his or her list of options, ultimately cutting down on the amount of time spent driving around town touring homes, says Hung.

"We have a new generation of home buyers ... who expect and deserve to experience a product before they invest their time in walking through," says Hung.

As virtual reality technology becomes more affordable and more widely adopted by consumers, its popularity in the real estate industry is likely to grow, she adds.

"Real estate is one of the leading industries to pioneer and adopt this technology in a significant way."



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