When I first got into property marketing some 20 years or so ago, I visited a luxury development within a large Victorian building being refurbished near Notting Hill. I was struck by the exquisite interior design and finishing within the marketing suite. The dimensions of the rooms, height of the ceilings and attention to detail was clear to see. For me, the one thing that detracted from the overall experience in the marketing suite was the building site you could clearly see from the windows. I was struck by the fact that, for all the work that had gone into creating beautifully finished room sets, you still missed much of what was so crucial for the buyers – the gardens and views if you actually lived there.
I pitched a concept to the developer that used lenticular windows – essentially the same technology you found on school rulers in the 1980s showing a dinosaur that changes into its skeleton when tilted slightly. Still letting in natural light, at first you’d see the building site but, as you took a step forward, the view from the marketing suite window would change to an artist’s rendering of that space showing the fully completed gardens and views from each window. Simple and hardly cutting-edge, but effective.
These days, technology has evolved to allow developers to create an immersive experience for buyers without ever needing to visit a marketing suite. The exponential growth of virtual reality will mean, once the technology becomes commonplace, buyers will simply put on a headset and suddenly exist within a fully rendered apartment with the sounds and views fully intact. Why build expensive models of a development or resort when buyers can fly around and into it from the comfort of their own home? Virtual reality already allows you to walk around an apartment or public spaces to better understand a space, the growth in personal VR headsets will make investment in this technology an essential.
There will be many that say you need a physical space, particularly within the ultra-prime market. You need to be able to feel the brush of a suede sofa on your fingertips, the smell of a leather headboard in the bedroom. For me, while there is an argument for property sales to be a tactile experience, it should be remembered exactly the same thing was said when supermarkets first introduced online grocery shopping. For so many now, the experience of going to a supermarket on a hot afternoon, queuing to pay for your groceries and then loading them into the back of your car is long gone.
If the marketing suite becomes a virtual environment, what might the impact be on the all-important personal one-to-one sales approach used currently? Some might say, you need to sit down with someone to identify their perfect apartment or villa. But, wasn’t that how we used to feel about visiting a travel agent or even, dare I say it, an estate agent? Who would walk into an estate agent in 2016 to discuss their property needs without first having fully researched their options online?
Another benefit of this technology for the traditional marketing suites is the ability to instantly change the decoration, fixtures and fittings. You want to see the kitchen with a different marble worktop? That can be done in the click of a button. Giving buyers the ability to specify a property and then see and even experience the results so instantly is something that’s with us now and will only grow as virtual reality becomes more of a feature in the average person’s home.
What if you take this one step further by introducing properties that find you? Like it or not, our lifestyles and interests are fully profiled online already – how else is it you see so many ads for things you’ve been looking for on completely different websites? To a certain degree, Google already knows what you’re interested in, the likelihood you have a family, where you hang out and where your friends live. What if this information was used to automatically profile property tailored to what you look for in a new home? You’re thinking about a second home? Well, we know you like your sailing and need to be near a good primary school – how about this development? This might feel a step too far but it’s the way data on the internet is moving and will almost certainly start filtering into property sales in due course.
Of course it’s possible a physical space will always be required to show off a new development or resort, particularly within the ultra-prime market as mentioned. What will be interesting in the coming years is the impact of technology on the market in general. The way property is found has changed rapidly over the last 15 years so, if this rate of change continues, it’s worth considering how much marketing budget might be saved by adopting new technology in this way. In the future, property will virtually sell itself!