At the end of my article a couple of weeks ago, on Foxtons launching a VR platform, I asked whose VR offering we could expect to see next in the real estate industry. Well, the answer is already in. Rightmove has begun testing of its own virtual reality viewing platform, allowing prospective buyers to view properties right from the comfort of their own homes.
Organised through north London estate agency, Martyn Gerrard, trial tours can now be viewed using the Google Cardboard headset, which attaches to most modern smartphones, or via the 360-degree video app, Littlstar.
Using a camera rig with six connected GoPro cameras, the tours are created from the resulting footage stitched together into fully immersive 360-degree video. I wonder whether this is a scalable bit of hardware. This isn’t going to be accessible to most agents. At the PropTech 2016 conference last week I met EyeSpy360 who are trying to crack the resale VR market.
Founder, Andrew Nicholls, states “we have built our system to be truly agnostic across all 360 cameras, an example being the Ricoh Theta S which allows end users to create full 360 images with a simple click of a button whilst stitching on the fly. Put simply, it requires little to no effort from the end user.” I believe agents need an easy way to work with VR and I will be interested in Rightmove’s thoughts here as to how they are going to work this.
In the meantime, Hannes Buhrmann, Rightmove’s Head of Innovation, says “Rightmove is always looking for innovative new ways to make the process of searching for and buying a home even easier … [this development] could make the whole process more time-efficient for buyers, agents and vendors”.
Buhrmann’s words echo those of Ivan Gaine at Ireland’s leading estate agency, Sherry Fitzgerald, who recently sealed a deal with Samsung to bring a VR platform to their new-build properties. Gaine, too, was “hugely excited” to be branching out into virtual reality, emphasising the freedom the technology gives to buyers, allowing them to walk through as-yet unbuilt properties.
However, whilst both Sherry Fitzgerald and, more recently, Foxtons, are using the technology predominantly within the creative setting of new-build developments, Rightmove seem to be going right for the jugular, moving straight out into the residential marketplace.
The early trial tours are limited to one new development in Finchley, and a £2.5 million mansion, and can be viewed directly via Rightmove’s YouTube channel, and are being promoted to prospective buyers at Martyn Gerrard’s Whetstone and Finchley offices.
One aspect of the experience that I noticed was that it seems to be a cross between a video walkthrough and a truly virtual experience. This means that the user isn’t in control of where they are going – incredibly important from my perspective – and are shown the property as if it is a video tour. To me this means it is still an agent-centric rather than user-centric experience and I personally think this is a shame. Part of of the advantage of VR experiences is that the user is in control of where they are navigating. This is just a better video tour.
There are other questions too. However exciting the news, Rightmove’s trialing of VR walkthroughs on existing property, rather than restricting their VR debut to new developments, begs the question: is the market ready and is the solution suggested scalable?
All set, as they seem, for mass deployment, I have to wonder whether Rightmove is prepared for how their entrance to VR will impact their existing online ecosystem. Rightmove has many agents operating on its site, not all of whom may not be quite ready to make the VR leap.
As many will know, the question of cost plays perhaps the most substantial role in this argument. There is no mention of cost from Rightmove yet so I cannot really comment on it but it is the part I find most interesting. Again, I must defer to Eyespy360 to have built a suggested model based on a £3 per property. Andrew Nichols states “we are confident we have built the world’s first mass market 360 Virtual Tour platform” and I must admit he has the price point bang on for the estate agency market.
No doubt, I’ll be finding out sooner rather than later, so stay tuned for further developments regarding some of the questions I have raised here! This is Rightmove’s first suggestion of VR and no doubt it will evolve. They have the lion’s share of the estate agency market so it could be the first step into a rather exciting world. However, cost and deployment are absolutely critical at this early stage.