Jason Salter is Head of Real VR, a company recently established to fill the hole in the virtual reality and project marketing landscapes by providing the global launchpad for VR in real estate. Prior to the launch of Real VR, Jason spent two decades in the real estate industry in a variety of roles, including as a business owner.
Q. Take us through your journey of virtual reality – where did you first come across the technology and where has it taken you?
I lead the project marketing team that developed Australia’s first virtual reality property experience for the EDGE 28 development in St Leonards, Sydney. Having the backing of the developer was obviously a welcome advantage. Part of the process involved working with some specialised VR content producers and what they were able to achieve opened my eyes to the possibilities and opportunities for VR in real estate.
It had a genuinely profound impact on me and the experience has actually taken me down a new career path. I’d been in the real estate industry, most recently in the project marketing space, for 20 years.
But I couldn’t ignore what was happening with VR tech and ultimately it led me to establish Real VR. It’s an exciting time for a burgeoning industry and Real VR is here at the outset.
Q. What level of success have you had with new technology compared to ‘traditional’ real estate strategies?
It’s early days but the potential is clear. Encouragingly, we’ve already secured numerous overseas clients for which the production process is underway.
At this stage our focus is communicating the value proposition of VR. There’s always been a disconnect when buying property off-the-plan. No matter how well designed and inviting a display apartment is, until you can provide an immersive experience to potential buyers you’re not showcasing the property in the purest, most complete way. VR fills this gap.
Those who have experienced real VR – not just a 360-degree video on YouTube – are typically overwhelmed by the instantaneous engagement. It puts the buyer not only in the apartment, but in control of the navigation as they move through the property and experience the sights and sounds.
Q. Have there been any issues to overcome?
One of the major challenges is convincing developers that they no longer need to spend money on display apartments. Creating a virtual tour is a fraction of the cost and has far greater reach. With a smartphone and headset you can access an immersive, true-to-life experience of an off-the-plan apartment no matter where you are in the world.
But some developers say that display apartments have worked in the past and there is, among some, a reticence to change. The fact is, the property market has changed too. The boom of recent years is over and while the market for real estate is increasingly global, properties no longer sell themselves.
It’s often the case in the development industry that tier one companies will lead the way and subsequent tiers will follow suit. The widespread adoption of VR as part of the developer’s marketing strategy may follow the same trend, though the wheels are already in motion.
Q. In your opinion, how does the real estate landscape appear to be faring in terms of current practices and new technology? How have things changed since you started?
It’s a generalisation, but from my perspective the real estate industry has welcomed new technology and adapted well to change without necessarily driving that change.
Those in the industry will say it’s dynamic, and they’re right. But there remain some operators that resist change and the opportunities that advancements in technology create.
There’s an education process, not just for those in real estate and associated industries like ourselves, and this process is ongoing. Embracing the idea that there’s always more to learn, that there’s always a place to innovate, can be empowering.
Q. What advice would you give real estate agents and property hunters, given your experience?
Being able to effectively engage with customers is crucial. This is part of the driving force behind the development of VR in real estate. It’s about communicating your value proposition, whether you’re a developer or an agent, to the buyer in the most complete, immersive way possible.
Those in the business of selling real estate to an increasingly discerning buyer market need to embrace change, recognise the opportunities associated with new technology, and put themselves in the buyer’s shoes.
Buying property has always been a very personal experience, particularly for owner-occupiers. Those in the market can analyse an endless stream of figures and statistics – certainly research is a critical part of the process – but they also need to consider their own circumstances, including their own lifestyle and the lifestyle they desire.
The numbers of course matter, but so does the experience and feel of a property, being able to imagine yourself living there. Therefore agents must do all they can to communicate this experience to the buyer.
Q. What do you predict for the future of real estate VR?
VR is a technology on the precipice, not just for real estate but across many industries. I think we’ll look back on 2016 as the year VR really entered the public conscious. The technology already existed of course, but only recently has its potential begun to be explored – not just in an entertainment sense but from a corporate perspective too.
The reason behind the establishment of Real VR is to provide the first clear path for VR technology’s inevitable march into real estate. Ideally, as recognition and familiarity with VR tech grows, we envisage developers, agents, architects and even advertising agencies adopting VR as an integral component of their marketing strategies, to reach a global audience.