The Rise of Augmented Reality in Real Estate and Interior Design
Curious about augmented reality in real estate and interior design? If so, you’ll find answers to some of your questions in this article.
However amazing augmented reality is, it is still mostly associated with games and entertainment. But this technology can have much more practical applications. Such industries as automotive, healthcare, retail, manufacturing and more are already benefiting from AR capabilities. The property sector isn’t too far behind, as augmented reality developers are exercising their skills to create a diverse range of real estate apps, some of which we’ll explore soon.
Plenty of uses exist for augmented reality in interior design too, as evidenced by the apps emerging from major home furnishing and hardware retailers like IKEA and Lowes. So to compensate for the industry’s lack of visibility on adoption charts, we’re going to highlight how augmented reality is taking off, how AR apps are being used, and how the technology is adding value on both supply and demand sides of the real estate vertical.
The Value of Augmented Reality in Real Estate Construction
Let’s begin with a look at the earliest stages of the real-estate lifecycle. That’s the point at which you might typically think about the involvement of architects, who are already making use of augmented reality in their design activities.
It is in these early days that architects face one of their biggest challenges, according to Greg Lynn, who has used AR in his own commercial building designs. The challenge is in getting a structure off the drawing board and into the real-world environment, and AR appears to be a viable solution to the issue.
The value of AR technology in architecture is in the ability to generate pop-up 3D models of projected structures, enrich them with additional digital content, and to overlay them with animated simulations to analyze how people and equipment will eventually flow through and around them.
When projects move from the prototyping to the construction phase, augmented reality can be used to enhance, or perhaps even replace digital drawings used by fabricators and engineers. Lynn believes that ultimately, AR will help to reduce errors and omissions in real estate projects, and thus save time and money for construction and development companies.
AR in Real Estate Marketing, Sales, and Interior Design
Of course, enhanced plans and drawings are helpful in the marketing and sale of real estate, as well as in design and development. Augmented reality could be particularly useful for marketing real estate developments before they are completed, as it enables realistic visualizations of how imagined or partially developed projects will look once ready for occupation.
At some point during the real estate lifecycle, attention must turn from form and function to more aesthetically oriented design aspects, like the look and feel of a building’s interior. Here too, augmented reality can be put to good use, not only by architects, designers, and marketers but also by those on the demand side.
Whether engaging professional interior designers or taking the do-it-yourself approach, home or commercial-property buyers can use AR applications to experiment with design elements and define how finished rooms will look, before committing to choices in floor and wall coverings, furnishing, and fixtures.
Augmented Reality in Real Estate: Supply-side Benefits
In terms of identifying hard benefits for property developers, designers, sellers, and buyers, the AR jury is still out in some quarters. For example, when interviewed, architect Greg Lynn refused to be drawn on the specific future benefits of augmented reality for members of his profession, despite his own positive experiences with augmented reality.
However, the picture is clearer in the business of marketing and selling real estate, where the AR technology is already seeing increased adoption.
On the supply side, some augmented reality apps allow buyers to take virtual tours of buildings, just by pointing their smartphones at a brochure image. This can decrease the need for realtors to engage in expensive and time-consuming property staging. The same applications can extend marketers’ reach, since they make it more practical for faraway buyers to make informed purchase decisions.
The benefits noted above extend to the demand side of real estate marketing too. Perhaps surprisingly, buyers don’t always feel the need to visit a prospective purchase. One in three real estate purchases is currently made on a property-unseen basis, according to research by real estate brokerage Redfin.
However, when 3D virtual walkthroughs are possible with just a brochure and a mobile device, unvisited no longer needs to mean unseen, so purchasers can make faster, more confident choices as they navigate the real estate customer journey.
The same holds true for prospective buyers in local markets, because although they may be able to conduct physical viewings, they can save time and expense by completing highly realistic, AR-driven virtual property inspections, during which they can change the viewing aspect and move around the visualization at will. This is already possible to some degree on real estate websites offering 3D virtual tours, but augmented reality makes the process more authentic—and accessible.
AR also makes it easier for buyers to share their visualizations with friends, family, or colleagues. After all, what could be easier than laying a real estate photo down on a flat surface and handing others your phone for a quick 3D tour?
Early AR Adopters Seem Confident in ROI
While the potential benefits of augmented reality in interior design and real estate may still be somewhat speculative at this time, there is no denying the interest and investment it is receiving. Take the case of Turner Construction. Turner is a leading international real estate company that readily embraces new industry technology, including augmented reality.
Turner claims it is receiving a 10:1 ROI ratio on the $50,000 it spent on AR models for a particular construction project. The company told real estate news site The Real Deal that this is because the client has early visibility of what the completed project will look like, and hence will not need to request changes during later stages of the construction.
AR Apps for the Interior Design Sector: Some Examples
While the very mention of AR tends to conjure images of complex 3D digital animations springing up from the kitchen table, one of the most professional interior design AR apps currently available performs a far less grand, yet nonetheless vital function.
TapMeasure: Aimed at design professionals, TapMeasure is an AR app that enables measuring and mapping of interior spaces (in readiness for CAD design) with just a few taps of a smartphone screen.
While TapMeasure uses a low level of AR sophistication, other interior design apps stretch the technology’s capabilities somewhat further. If you’ve read our last two or three articles on augmented reality, you’ll be aware of our enthusiasm for Place, the interior furnishing app from IKEA, which uses AR to allow users to virtually place 3D models of furniture items in their homes.
IKEA Place: The Place app shares some characteristics with TapMeasure, in that it uses AR to actually measure and map the space in which the furniture is placed. This allows the 3D furniture to be scaled according to room dimensions, meaning that when you squeeze that virtual easy chair into that alcove and find that it fits, the same will be true of the real chair when you take delivery of it.
According to an article by Wired, IKEA claims that the Place app, developed using Apple’s ARKit SDK, renders scaled-down furniture at an accuracy of 98%. In other words, rather than being simply an app that makes you want IKEA furniture in your home, it really helps to solve practical problems of room design.
Hutch: At the most sophisticated end of the AR interior design spectrum, Hutch is effectively a complete interior design service in an app. The app allows users to take a photo of a room, try out different looks using style filters, and then submit the finished image for virtual design. The finished design—complete with white-label furniture and products that can be bought via the app—is returned to the user within an hour.
Real Estate AR App Examples: Architecture and Marketing
Of course, designing a room can be complicated, so whatever can be done with augmented reality will be warmly welcomed by DIY fans and professional designers alike, but the challenges of interior design pale in comparison to those encountered when creating or restoring an entire structure.
Therefore, as our first example of a real estate AR app, we’ll take one that is successfully easing the mental workload for architects and real estate development professionals.
ARki for Architects
ARki is an architect’s AR app that brings conventional 2D blueprints to life, both by overlaying them with accurate-scale 3D models and by adding extra layers of interactivity and animation. For example, ARki can be used to see how a construction will look with different types of building material, to analyze shadows, and to demonstrate wind circulation around a structure.
Floor plans and elevations are too flat, and 3D models only tell a part of the story. AR fills in many of the missing pieces of the puzzle, enabling architects, at last, to interact meaningfully with prototypes of their proposed creations.
Street Peek for Real Estate Buyers
We have already mentioned the benefits of augmented property brochures for realtors and property buyers. But what about people who like to do it the old-fashioned way? There is a certain sense of adventure to be had from just cruising around a locality, looking at properties with “for sale” or “for rent” signs—or even peeking at those which don’t appear to be on the market.
Trusted homebuyers’ resource firm Realtor.com might just have the AR answer to those who enjoy the physical side of house hunting. The company is improving its app for homebuyers by adding a couple of augmented reality features, one of which is called Street Peek.
With the app installed on a mobile device, a house hunter can simply point the camera at a property on the street, and immediately see whatever information is held about it on databases:
- Listing or rental prices
- Estimated property value
- Number of bedrooms
- Number of bathrooms
By simply tilting the camera, the user can see a map of the immediate area, showing what schools, facilities, and other features are nearby. For those who don’t want to sit at home and look at 3D models, as enthralling as they may be, Street Peek would seem to be just the right app to take on a house-hunting expedition.
Current Technology Limitations
It is clear that augmented reality holds a lot of promise in the interior design and real estate sectors, but it would be naïve to think there’s not some way to go before it delivers to its full potential. Right now, some existing limitations might turn off users who are not consummate AR enthusiasts.
Realism: While 3D building-models have the accuracy of scale and detail to aid architects, they don’t necessarily look that realistic to the nonprofessional property browser. When using AR, potential buyers want the same bright shiny impression offered by print brochures, but in full, interactive, 3D effect. As one expert said in an interview with The New York Times, even the latest AR real estate tech is not ready to make models indistinguishable from the real thing.
Depth of Data: Homebuyers’ apps for use out in the field also have room to improve, but the issue here is more to do with data availability than the visual experience offered. Oftentimes a property is all-but-sold before it even shows up in realtors’ listings, so it’s entirely possible to point one’s phone at a beautiful looking home and be impressed by the data that’s revealed, only to be told by the agent that it’s already under contract.
With technology moving at the pace it does, however, solutions to issues like these are probably just around the corner, and certainly, AR technology has enough going for it to outweigh current technological constraints. In fact, before closing, it’s worth taking a quick look at how future AR developments might influence real estate and interior design in the not-too-distant future.
What’s Next for AR in Real Estate?
It could actually be that the biggest constraint to the success of augmented reality, in real estate, interior design and many other industries, is the hardware. No matter how powerful smartphone processors become, or how well they can render graphics, the big problem with AR on these devices is the lack of true immersion.
The beautifully clean lines of an ultra-modern kitchen, displayed on a phone screen, may not be quite so convincing with the real mismatched cabinets and cracked floor tiles visible in the viewer’s peripheral vision. AR headsets or glasses may almost certainly solve this type of issue, once viable designs make their way to market and people overcome their reluctance to wear them.
As the image above suggests, such hardware is close to becoming a reality. Its arrival may be the catalyst for AR to become an essential tool for real estate and interior design professionals, property buyers, and DIY home design enthusiasts.
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Perhaps the future will bring improvements to services like Hutch too, combining AR technology with the human touch to deliver customized interior design and perhaps even architectural services. Hutch actually started out that way but has since graduated to an almost fully automated solution.
Naturally, in a technological field that is continually evolving, we should also expect the unexpected, and the use of AR may take some surprising new directions in the fullness of time. In any case, it seems that right now, augmented reality has found a good home in the real estate realm and is enjoying a warm welcome from builders, sellers, designers, and buyers alike.
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