• REA launches augmented reality app to take house hunters beyond the listings
One of the great Australian pastimes is checking property listings to browse homes that people have no specific intention to buy. That browsing, however, does eventually shift from curiosity to intent. This presented REA with a challenge: How to provide users with a digital experience that melds together the pleasures associated with casual browsing while affording significant benefit for those looking to buy or rent.
REA, which manages the high-profile realestate.com.au site along with several residential and commercial property websites, has unveiled a new app called Property ViewAR. The app enables users to point their phone’s camera at an image of a house on a printed real estate listing and then receive additional information about the property, including photos. It creates an additional digital layer on top of the traditional experience of browsing a paper property guide.
Nigel Dalton, REA’s chief information officer, explained that their research showed that there were two starting points for property buyers on the journey: “The mobile journey is a lean-forward consumer who is searching quite deliberately and using a search approach. They know an address, a neighbourhood, and what they are looking for systematically.
“Meanwhile the print magazine is a lean-back serendipitous discovery. A café is probably the easiest place to understand it. People have got a coffee, they’re sitting there. It’s a social experience and they’re just looking through the property pages that are printed in many different publications and they just like to flick through them.
“Before we launched Property ViewAR, somebody would see something – it might be the photograph that catches their eye, the view, or the garden or something like that, amidst a number of properties. They would then go to their phone, type in that address, and then find it on realestate.com.au. Now, we’ve shortcut that process considerably. They can see the key things they want to see quickly.”
Research showed REA that if they could quickly inform users of what the entire house looks like and where it is on the street, user satisfaction would increase.
The origin of Property ViewAR was a fortuitous meeting through a hack-day event for the charity Random Hacks of Kindness. The event, which brings together engineers who are volunteering their time working on platforms for charities, introduced REA to the founders of AR platform Plattar.
Dalton explained that the meeting with the founders and the opportunity to work on a new technology experiment for Ray White was fortuitous: “We made a prototype of what we thought an app might look like to link print property listings to all of the assets we have in digital. And it worked. That was in late November. We agreed we would try to make that work for a campaign which, at that time, was quite secret – Ray White’s Raise Your Hand campaign for March 2016.”
The centrepiece of the campaign is the distribution of 1.8 million Ray White magazines that have been released through News Corp publications listing 500 homes Australia-wide that are going to auction.
While REA research has found an interest in using augmented reality and virtual reality apps to explore real estate, the functionality is only being used in the research stage as buyers create shortlists of properties to inspect. “Time is a precious commodity for people seeking properties, whether they’re renting or buying, and for real estate agents,” Dalton explained.
“We’ve honed in on that and that’s how we think of 3D walkthroughs, virtual reality tours of houses, and the use of a tool like Property ViewAR. The logistics of seeing seven or eight open homes is quite difficult, but through these VR tours, people are more than willing to eliminate unsuitable properties. At this stage, I don’t think anybody is going to buy anything sight unseen just yet off a virtual tour. I do think people will be open to renting from walking through virtually.”
This, Dalton believes, is just the beginning of how real estate listings will evolve alongside new technologies. With augmented reality technologies like Microsoft’s HoloLens and Magic Leap both set to radically shift the way we participate in digital experiences, the future of the listing will look and feel very different. “If I think forward to 2020, we’re going to see virtual worlds and augmented worlds. That’s very different to looking at houses on an iPhone,” he said.