In the past two years, virtual reality has evolved from novelty gaming technology to a sweeping change in how tech allows us to view and interact with subjects. Early opinions that VR was not as impactful as it was supposed to be have proven wrong, and at this point it’s fair to say it’s one of the most important and revolutionary technologies of the current decade, even if it isn’t strictly anything new. The history of VR is actually one of a weird rise in the ‘80s, an industry collapse in the ‘90s, and a recent rebirth. But what we have now is far more impressive and far more ubiquitous already than anything that came before.
Virtual reality today is entering many aspects of our lives, and even if you aren’t using it as an individual, it’s becoming part of the industries you interact with in a way that may be irreversible. For instance, virtual reality is starting to be applied in retail fitting rooms and even in online retail, allowing people to effectively window shop without actually moving. It’s changing the way games are designed, and it’s challenging those behind cinematic content to come up with new and exciting ways for us to interact. And in a way that’s perhaps most closely related to the commercial real estate applications we’ll discuss below, it’s even offering us new ways to engage with sports. Consider the upcoming Melbourne Cup as an example. The race tends to reach around 650 million people through its television broadcast, with some 100,000 at the actual racecourse. What if all 650 million of those viewers could watch and feel as if they were actually there? Through VR, this is becoming possible.
And when you think of virtual reality that way - as a technology that cannot just show you something neat in a 3D rendering, but which can be used to make you feel like you’re someplace you aren’t - the implications for real estate start to become clear. Just as millions of racing fans could look around the racecourse, experience the action in person, and get something akin to a traveling experience through VR in the comfort of their own homes, untold numbers of people can now explore different properties, as if in person, through the same technology.
Here, more specifically, are some of the radical ways in which VR can change this industry.
Tours From Afar
This is the part we already touched on above, but it pays to think about it more specifically with regard to commercial real estate. To put it fairly bluntly, touring property is a pain. Whether someone is looking for a new apartment in a new city, considering renting office space, or even looking into buying a whole building for commercial use, it’s a hassle to show up in person and go through the tour. It’s also limiting, in that it takes up so much time it makes it difficult for people to spend time looking into other options. Through VR, potential buyers and renters are free to explore properties in an incredibly realistic way, not simply scrolling through photos but actually getting a feel for space, size, and layout. And they can do it in a matter of minutes without ever getting up from their own desks. This won’t eliminate the need for in-person visits, which are still best before closing a deal - but it does make the early stages of exploration far more convenient, and it likely means broader potential client bases for real estate providers.
Planning New Sites
VR isn’t just about giving people the chance to look at properties once they’re completed. It will also help commercial real estate companies to plan new sites before they’re even built. This is because, while we’ve mostly discussed VR as a means of viewing an existing reality from a distance, the technology can also be used to twist reality or show something that doesn’t exist yet. In this context that may mean something as simple yet important as being able to view a city block with a 3D rendering of a tower that hasn’t been built. It may also mean similar practices at a smaller scale, such that VR effectively creates an advanced modeling option. Altogether the technology has real potential to change how commercial properties are conceived, designed, and ultimately built.
This may not be quite as exciting to read about, and it’s less specific to real estate. However, one piece on how VR affects commercial real estate was wise to point to various changes in company practice, such as virtual conference rooms, or altered office layouts, or even easier company expansion. Again, this isn’t necessarily specific to commercial real estate, but VR has potential to drastically change what the modern office looks like and how it functions. And an industry that already has other uses for VR may be among the quicker ones to adopt VR in the office as well.