Ellie Wald, an agent at Halstead Property, dons a Samsung Gear headset at the brokerage firm’s Manhattan headquarters.
Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times
moved forward, trying to enter the bathroom. Feeling slightly seasick, I
hit the wall. This was embarrassing. I tried again and smacked into the
“Are you teleporting?” asked Jason Darcy, a data scientist and software engineer who works for Halstead Property.
I’d come to Halstead’s Manhattan
headquarters to test the virtual reality technology that the company is
developing. I’d already perused a 400-square-foot West Village resale
using a Samsung Gear headset.
But the Halstead team was most excited about a four-story building in Astoria, Queens, that did not yet exist. Halstead had hired a company called Virtual Xperience to create a virtual rendering based on the architectural plans. The idea was to have potential buyers wear an Oculus Rift headset
and “walk” around the building. The more realistic the experience, the
more likely a client might be willing to pay the asking price of nearly
$1.98 million for the building before construction crews even broke
ground — at least that was the hope.
A Samsung Gear headset can be used to “walk” around an apartment and check out its view without ever having to set foot inside.
Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times
sell based on emotion and attaching that emotion to a vision,” said
Matthew J. Leone, the senior vice president of digital marketing for
Terra Holdings, the parent company of Halstead. “Imagine a buyer walking
out onto the terrace and thinking: ‘If I bought this home and was
having breakfast here, this is exactly what I’d see.’ That’s incredible.
For a salesman, it’s a dream come true.”
was I teleporting? I kept bumping into virtual walls because the
headset was making me extremely nauseated. The Starship Enterprise this
says it will introduce three-dimensional displays and virtual-reality
headsets to its offices this year, and the brokerage isn’t alone.
Greenland Forest City Partners and Douglas Elliman Real Estate are also
hoping to add virtual-reality technology in the coming months, as are
individual brokers looking for a competitive edge. Digital design firms
charge tens of thousands of dollars to create virtual customizable
spaces for high-end buyers.
technology is expected to transform the real estate industry and, some
say, make house-hunting more efficient. It can help to reduce the stress
of relocating to a new city or buying from abroad and also allow buyers
to visualize properties in development.
Virtual reality videos show the water views that will be available from the Turnberry Ocean Club Residences in Florida.
some cases, the excitement of providing virtual-reality technology to
clients has created an outsize sense of the technology’s importance. One
company was keeping its VR prototype secret, lest a competitor try to
steal it. But whether the technology is ready for widespread use — and
whether consumers really want it — remains an open question.
is now available to consumers and growing more popular is the 3D
walk-through. This is an updated version of the panoramic camera shots
that were all the rage a decade ago. There’s no headset. Users move
their mouse or arrow keys from their computer keyboards and devices to
navigate through rooms and zoom in on apartment features. Halstead has
3D walk-throughs available for 30 listings, including
one on Cornelia Street
in the West Village, but its goal is to get its entire inventory
online. Mr. Leone said that people stay on a page with a 3D walk-through
10 times longer than those without.
The Boerum, a 20-story condominium at 265 State Street in Brooklyn,
won’t be finished until late this year. But at the showroom of the
developer and designer, Flank, brokers pull up renderings of specific
apartments on a large-screen TV, using an iPad to move around. They can
even take potential buyers over to the window to see the exact view,
captured via drone. Buyers will know, for example, if their view might
be blocked by another building.
Some virtual renderings are even more complex. Gonzalo Navarro, a principal of the digital design firm ArX Solutions, creates 3D walk-throughs showcasing specific furniture, artwork and fixtures for multimillion-dollar apartments.
Virtual reality videos show how a development in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, will fit into the surrounding green space.
VUW Studio/Greenland Forest City Partners
that you’re sending a check for $30 million and you have nothing to
see,” Mr. Navarro said. “Our work is the closest you can get without
having to build it. You feel the size. You get the textures.” His drones
don’t just take photos but also capture video. So if there’s a lot of
street noise, “I can’t lie to you,” he said.
virtual apartments created by Mr. Navarro cost nearly $100,000 to make
and take months to build. They can be viewed with an Oculus headset, Mr.
Navarro said, but most clients don’t use this option. When presenting
images of the 54-story
Turnberry Ocean Club Residences in
Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., to the developer, Turnberry Associates, Mr.
Navarro used a giant video wall to let the company’s executives
virtually walk around the building without goggles. “We didn’t want the
guy coming to write a $70 million check to get dizzy on us,” he said.
Hummel, the chief technology officer of Douglas Elliman, said that
while virtual reality has a certain “wow” factor, as with any new
technology, there are lessons to be learned. In his previous career as a
financial services executive, Mr. Hummel gave his programming team
pairs of Google Glass to test. “We had an outbreak of pink eye among all
those people,” he said.
quick fix for this, of course, is the Google cardboard headset, which
typically costs less than $10. Randy Baruh, an associate broker for
Corcoran, ordered a handful of these headsets and is planning to have
them branded with his contact information and the Corcoran logo. He said
he would distribute them at open houses along with his show sheets. (A
quick response code on the sheet will start the VR app.) He has
ProMedia, a New
York-based production company, to create a few VR-capable listings.
“It’s a way to set homes apart in this hypercompetitive environment,” he
To create a three-dimensional effect, several camera angles are seamlessly stitched together in a listing for the Corcoran Group.
Leone of Halstead says virtual reality could eventually eliminate the
need for open houses. “If you can see the homes remotely and be more
educated before you actually make a trip, you’ll make the process
easier,” he said.
Douglas Elliman, Mr. Hummel said it would be better to put large-screen
curved TVs in select offices until the headset technology “comes of
age.” He says the goggles might be better suited to international buyers
so they can evaluate a property “before taking an expensive plane
Forest City Partners says its fully immersive VR is ready to go. Later
this month, buyers who come to the sales office for
a new condo building in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, will be able to don
headsets and take a virtual tour of the eight-acre public park planned
around the development.
for my test at Halstead headquarters, even after I took off the Oculus
headset I was feeling a tad queasy. Meanwhile, Mr. Leone and his team
discussed possible enhancements to the virtual experience. Later this
year, haptic technology, or the science of touch, will let users see
their own hands in the virtual world, allowing them to open closet doors
and feel hot water from the faucet. Mr. Darcy said smells and tastes
were also being developed.
Mr. Leone added, “Freshly cut lemons and baking cookies would create the same experience as you’d have in a real-life home.”