Rather than blindly buying off the plan, Australians can now take a virtual walk through their new homes while they're still on the drawing board.
Virtual reality is bringing yet-to-be-built housing developments to life in several display suites around Melbourne, including the Pace Development Group's luxury apartment block in the suburb of Carnegie. Potential buyers can don an HTC Vive VR headset and walk through a virtual apartment, as well as explore the proposed communal outdoor area on the roof, complete with an infinity pool.
The VR mechanics cover three square metres in the Carnegie showroom, with users able to walk around to explore a virtual two-bedroom apartment rather than merely standing still and looking from side to side. The headset's video cable hangs from the ceiling to keep it out of the way, while a floating barrier appears in the virtual world to warn people when they're approaching a real-world wall.
Bystanders in the showroom can watch the view from the headset via a 65-inch television hanging on the wall. This tends to draw in the crowds, says co-founder of digital production studio Kasa Digital, Dexter Eugenio. The company partnered with architectural visualisation group 4dstudio to develop the VR walk-throughs for the property developers.
For many people it's the first time they've experienced immersive VR, Eugenio says, but they soon get past the novelty value and forget about the technology as they explore the apartment.
"People adapt to this kind of VR surprisingly quickly because, unlike a flashy computer game, you're not rushing around and our virtual worlds are designed to look real – right down to the sunlight coming in the windows," he said.
"The sense of depth is amazing as you move through the apartment, and it really gives people a much better sense of what their home will feel like than simply looking at mock-up photos and studying floor plans."
Handheld controllers add to the sense of immersion by letting users interact with virtual objects, such as turning on lights and appliances. They can also use a virtual laser point to easily teleport around the apartment, to overcome the fact that the virtual space is much larger the showroom's dedicated VR area.
Other VR experiences developed by Kasa Digital and 4dstudio offer potential home-buyers a bird's eye view of new housing estates. They can rotate the area in their hands, drop down to ground level and then stroll through the streets before walking into a virtual home.
Today virtual reality's hardest challenge is getting past preconceived notions of clunky VR experiences and convincing property developers to agree to a meeting, Eugenio says. Pace Development Group's Natasha Tannourji concedes they were apprehensive at first.
"To be honest we weren't sure whether the technology was ready and we didn't want to bring it into our display suites if it wasn't going to do our apartments justice," she said.. "Once we saw it for ourselves we realised how far VR has come, that it's ready for the public and isn't just a gimmick. In the past developers selling off the plan have been selling the dream, but now we can actually sell the reality."