Virtual reality takes the footwork out of viewing properties
OKAY.com now has the technology and production know-how in place to enable homebuyers and renters to view homes in 3D over the internet, saving clients time and opening up new possibilities for landlords and sellers
Torbjörn Dimblad is chief technology officer of OKAY.com, an estate agent that provides online rental and sale listings. The company has introduced virtual reality (VR) to enable homebuyers and renters to view homes in 3D.
Can you explain how your VR home viewing works and how it benefits landlords and potential buyers?
We use a Matterport camera, a 3D camera that has multiple cameras, as well as distance metres designed to scan the interior of homes. It rotates on top of a tripod and is placed in locations around the property. Once the photos are taken, the data is uploaded to cloud storage where it is stitched together to create a virtual 3D environment. This saves clients time and enables them to get a sense of a place before they go to view it. It also gives landlords the opportunity to show their property.
How much have you invested in the hardware and software? What resources are required for the job? How much time is needed for production?
Matterport is a service provider – they sell the equipment and the software. We have partnered with a local service provider whose team works with us to shoot the property and process the photos. The cost is competitive with hiring a professional photographer. Shooting and postprocessing time depends on the property itself – how big it is as well as the layout. We are usually done in 45 minutes to an hour, then it takes a few more hours to edit and sign-off on the final deliverable. We always show the landlord the outcome before it is placed on the OKAY.com website.
Will the landlord retain the copyright to the photography? What measures do you take to ensure privacy?
So far, OKAY.com has chosen to make the investment on behalf of the landlords we work with. Privacy is ensured through quality control – during the shooting, as well as going through the final deliverable and ensuring that things such as personal pictures are covered. We are also working with Matterport to introduce blurring.
VR home viewing has been around in the United States for a while. Is Hong Kong playing catch-up? What are the challenges?
The nature of the Hong Kong property market, where the percentage of sole agencies is very low, compared with markets such as the US. When agents are competing to match clients with landlords, there is less incentive for the out-of-pocket expenses associated with VR and other investments in marketing the property. While I believe that is the primary reason, there are secondary reasons such as the reality that properties are generally a lot smaller in Hong Kong.
What other real estate marketing technologies are you working on that you will roll out soon?
We are looking at drone footage [in lower density neighbourhoods], as well as technologies like Google’s Tango, which uses computer vision to enable mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to detect their position relative to the world around them without using GPS or other signals.
Other major agent chains have also beefed up investment in real estate technology and database. How are you going to compete?
Our business model and operation is entirely different from any other real estate agency in Hong Kong. While our website is very important, it is only one of the things that makes OKAY.com unique. When a client works with one of our agents, they have access to any of the 4,000-plus properties that we are advertising across Hong Kong. We combine that level of choice with high standards of professionalism – and we have very happy clients.