The Future of Property: Selling Real Estate Through Virtual Reality

Martina Said - 12th May 2018

“Using VR in real estate sales is a new concept locally, and has only been available to the global market for the past 12 months or so," says Benjamin Tabone Grech, E&V Sara Grech’s Managing Director.

Engel & Völkers Sara Grech is the first real estate agency in Malta to introduce the use of virtual reality for the sale of exclusive properties; that is properties which are listed solely with Engel & Völkers Sara Grech. The move will help raise the standard across the board in the local real estate industry, according to Benjamin Tabone Grech, E&V Sara Grech’s Managing Director.

“Using VR in real estate sales is a new concept locally, and has only been available to the global market for the past 12 months or so. The big question is whether people will catch on. If you’ve had 200 views on one property it translates into 200 full viewings because people have gone in, seen the property and explored it,” said Mr Tabone Grech. “By getting a virtual tour, prospective clients get a very good and detailed look at the property, so if they ask to see it in person, a vendor or agent is one step closer to selling and the buyer is one step closer to buying, because the client has already had a good look around, and just wants to confirm what they’ve seen and potentially buy it. It certainly speeds up the process for buyers saving precious time.”

The agency uses specialised Matterport cameras to take 360-degree images of a property at intervals, which are then merged together using dedicated software to create a virtual reality tour. “The equipment is expensive but the process of taking the images is quite straightforward,” he explained. The camera is hooked to an iPad and using a push-button through the app, images are taken every two and a half metres until the whole property is scanned. The final result is the recreation of a property in three different digital viewing formats: a 3D floor plan, a doll house visual, and a photorealistic walkthrough.

The service of a VR tour is offered for exclusive listings only – which are then viewable through the Exclusive Properties section on the agency’s website – adding an extra level of commitment between the agency and the vendor, he said. “For the VR tour, we are targeting properties of over €500,000, but if there’s something really special about a property that’s valued at €300,000, we won’t exclude it. Today, information travels very quickly, therefore transparency is extremely important. Using VR in real estate sales is an additional way to keep things transparent and open, enabling people to see the property for what it is and as it is.”

Before establishing an exclusive contract, the agency does the necessary background checks to ensure that all information about the property is clear, although the ultimate determinant for signing a contract of exclusivity is the price. “If the property was valuated at €1 million and the vendor wants to place his property on the market for €2 million, we cannot take that property exclusively,” said Mr Tabone Grech. “The client will go to other agencies, ask for that amount and it will end up sitting there; either until the market reaches that value, or until the vendor decides to reduce the price. We do not take on overpriced properties, which is an assurance to our buyers that we are doing our job right.”

Benjamin Tabone Grech, Managing Director, Engel & Völkers Sara Grech. Photo: Alan Carville.

Left: A hi-res property photo. Centre and right: Different angles of the same room, viewed in VR.

Mr Tabone Grech believes that the worst thing one can do when selling their house is give it to lots of different agencies. “Data and information about your property are of utmost importance, and the more you give out that information, the more chance there is of error. We see it very often when a property is listed with multiple agencies – prices, square metres and even the number of rooms can vary significantly,” he asserted. “Working exclusively means that there is one set of information, and that is what’s being presented to the market. When you have one agency representing the property, the vendor is giving the agent the space to focus to achieve the sale. On the other hand, if it’s a general listing, it’s a free for all, so the motives for the agency aren’t 100 per cent.”

Working exclusively also guarantees a greater degree of control over the sales process, especially for those selling their house which is more often than not, their most important investment. “Clients want to deal with people who they know they can trust information with and who will give them feedback. If there was a viewing at your property yesterday, we would know about it, whereas if it’s listed with multiple agencies, we wouldn’t know there was a viewing, what the feedback was and why the client didn’t like it,” he maintained. “Personally, if I’m given exclusivity from a seller, I’d treat it with utmost importance, as the vendor is believing in the agency to deliver the job in a period of time. If the price is wrong, it will be apparent within two months.”

He added that exclusivity would be the best way to work going forward. “I would rather have 1,000 listings that are all exclusive, where I am able to provide the best possible service to every vendor and sell the 1,000 properties, as opposed to having 10,000 listings and selling only a fraction of them. Trying to provide a great service to every vendor when you have thousands of listings is simply impossible unless you have the number of agents to match that.”

With ever-changing developments in the tech world, the Managing Director anticipates that the next bit of tech to hit the local real estate market will be aimed at making public data more transparent, including information pertaining to home owners, agents, architects, notaries, lawyers and developers. “The data is there, and it can be used specifically to make the whole process of the transfer of title more transparent,” he said. “Another development I hope to see is better collaboration among agencies, and with an increasing number of exclusive properties, better attitudes in the industry which could lead to greater opportunities.”

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The Future of Property: Selling Real Estate Through Virtual Reality