Reality check: How AR and VR are changing real estate

November 2017


There has been a lot of talk lately about how augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies are impacting the construction and real estate industries today. AR and VR can offer cost benefits through innovation, so what does this mean for your business?

Here‘s what you need to know about the two environments:

Augmented Reality

The AR headset is transparent, almost like a pair of glasses, with an overlay of the environment in front of your eyes. AR is a live, copied view of a real-world environment whose elements are augmented by pre-programmed sensory inputs. So what does this mean to the users and how is this actually applied in real life?

Both real estate and construction professionals can use AR with the ability to display construction blue prints, floor plans, and interior options from a 3-D perspective. While this was done on flat print materials in the past, this allows a user to get a more interactive understanding of what the plan will actually look like. AR uses hand gesture and voice commands to interact with the environment, thus allowing clients to visualize changes to a property by modifying the color of a wall or by adding a piece of furniture from an AR perspective with just a pinch of their fingers.

I viewed the construction plan of a condominium in a live AR demo. I was able to move around the outside of the building as though the building was right in front of me in a small-scale architectural model. I could further look at any unit in the plan by just pinching my fingers together and voila, the full floor plan was right in front of my eyes in full view—not just on a piece of paper. Other examples of AR could be to overlay piping and wiring over real walls, so you no longer need to sift through countless blueprints to find what you are looking for.

Virtual Reality

Unlike the AR, the VR headset is not transparent and essentially immerses the user into the built environment. There are controllers that allow you to interact within the environment by switching views, moving within the space and other programmable features. You can walk through the VR environment as though you are walking though the actual space as the VR environment represents what the final product will look like—taking virtual visits to the next level.

The experience can be made interactive through movements determined by the user. It’s as if the user is inside the actual unit. This can be used to build out demo suites that will allow the user to change colors of furniture, floors, and counter tops with countless possibilities or combinations. This is very useful, as a builder could never build as many demo units as could be built in a VR environment.

Another useful tool that VR could be used for is to provide a view of potential elevations. For example, say city planners are concerned with what the views will be like after you put up a 20-story building. The VR environment can be built to show the sight-lines as though the building is there. Although the cost of such VR environments can be high, it is still much cheaper and faster than building demo suites and homes. This also reduces time and costs as you don’t need to tear down the presentation suites after.

In a recent collaboration between Designstor and Stantec, they were able to build a VR experience for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) that would be more cost effective and timely. In the past CAMH would use a large space to build out mock models of what their future spaces would look like. This time, they let Designstor create a room-scale VR experience of a key space that would allow stakeholders to experience the proposed plan and really understand the implications of the proposed design. The approximate savings were more than half of what it would cost to do the mock build. The CAMH VR experience focused on a series of spaces cantered around a command desk. The goal was to assess these spaces for flow, sight-lines, and patient safety. The experience was built around the HTC Vive in Designstor’s dedicated VR/AR room and hosted project stakeholders for a series of sessions over the course of several weeks. The build was a non-photorealistic VR environment that allowed participants to focus on the issues at hand, rather than be distracted by animations and smooth finishes.

The VR experience was able to showcase how the structural elements impede or provide useful sight lines from key areas and how those elements may be changed to improve visibility, giving the user a real feel of what it would be like to sit behind the proposed command desk. The build was made with a 1:1 room scale, so participants could walk through the space within an area of 15’ x 15’ and could navigate between several areas within the space. Their experience was shared with others in the live environment thus allowing for instant feedback. This collaborative experience resulted in significant change including reduced time and cost with not having to actually build and re-build real life room-scale mockups and provided buy-in and inclusion of stakeholders which enhanced a sense of inclusiveness during the design process.

AR and VR are an exciting step forward for the construction industry, immersing users in models and blueprints at a fraction of the cost. Sometimes augmented and virtual reality might be even better than the real thing.

For more information please contact us and learn more about our real estate services.

Author: Igor Momot