Unreal Engine’s real-time tech powers the sales suites of the future for luxury real estate. Source: Unreal
The real estate industry is moving away from using traditional 2D renders as sales tools and embracing the power of real-time technology. Developers of luxury residential projects rely heavily on advance sales to recoup their investment, but it’s not always easy for future buyers to visualize what their new space will look like.
We’ve already seen how home builders are helping potential buyers of smaller residential homes to visualize properties by creating online tools with Unreal Engine’s real-time technology. However, developers in the high-end luxury real estate world have a much bigger challenge to contend with. With high-value properties, the pool of potential buyers is much smaller, and conversations can be more challenging.
To ensure that their investment on these large-scale luxury projects translates to sales, developers are having to think outside the box to help their off-the-plan developments stand out when engaging with wider audiences. As a result, developers and their marketing teams are exploring real-time technologies, creating interactive sales suites that showcase their future properties like never before. These immersive experiences include everything from interactive 3D models and VR walkthroughs to digital recreations of entire cities.
One company that is already pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with real-time visualizations in real estate sales is New Zealand-based Buildmedia. The company creates immersive experiences across a range of industries though its roots are firmly set in archviz and real estate. Previously, Buildmedia created a digital twin for Wellington City Council to give it an overview of its city-wide assets. The interactive Wellington Digital Twin uses real-time data to report transportation statistics, air traffic visualizations, cycle sensor data, and parking lot availability. The aim is to help decision-makers visualize future buildings and city infrastructure.
Realspace: presenting interactive virtual homes
A key focus for Buildmedia is creating interactive platforms to help sell unbuilt property. To achieve this, the company developed Realspace, a fully immersive digital sales tool that offers a variety of experiences. Realspace can be accessed using a simple touch interface on a mobile phone, tablet, or computer, or even via a fully immersive experience on a VR headset. It enables sales agents to present interactive virtual homes to anyone, anywhere with a web browser. Interactive features include integrated videos and animations of the view from any room or level, and a virtual camera for instantly sending high-resolution renders to potential buyers. Customers can walk through any future environment while swapping architectural finishes and even adjusting the lighting.
Properties marketed using Realspace spend 43% fewer days on the market, according to Buildmedia. What’s more, the platform ensures that the right buyers are reached, with 38% more qualified leads obtained. The end result is that buyer satisfaction has increased by 82%.
Buildmedia has brought this forward-thinking approach to many projects, including the recent Victoria & Albert development from Iris Capital and real estate firm Colliers. The oceanside mixed-use development is located in Broadbeach, on Australia’s Gold Coast, and includes two residential towers with more than 330 apartments.
The clients wanted an interactive tool to drive a four-meter wide LED video wall display for a display suite to market and sell the development. Powered by Unreal Engine, Realspace was used to create an interactive exterior model along with three apartment interiors.
Creating an Unreal customer experience
“For this project, we wanted to try something new with the interactive exterior,” says Tim Johnson, Technical Director at Buildmedia. “Rather than build a fully interactive model, we decided to fix the camera path and utilize the path-tracing capabilities of Unreal Engine.
“We wanted to develop a new workflow that would allow us to push the visuals further. While we are sacrificing some interactivity, the results give us a much cleaner and higher image quality. This workflow also allows us to create interactive exteriors that incorporate drone video, which provides greater context for property development.”
The bespoke interactive tool that Buildmedia created for Iris Capital and Colliers received a very positive response from sales teams and buyers. “We know that people are buying because they can actually see the quality representation—the honesty and truthfulness of exactly what they are getting,” says David Higgins, Director at Colliers Residential Australia. “Moving on from renders to Realspace really does give your buyers comfort and a greater understanding of what the real offering is.”
Another example of a company transforming the sales suite experience with real-time technology is Imerza. The Florida-based firm specializes in transformative experiential technology with a focus on sales and marketing for real estate. The Imerza platform evolved from in-house design tools at the company’s architecture firm, Hoyt Architects. The practice initially began developing design tools in Unreal Engine to enable better client communication and presentations.
“Those tools were so powerful in conveying a future project that our real estate developer clients started bringing their sales agents and potential buyers into our office asking for design presentations of the project,” says Dorian Vee, Co-founder and CTO at Imerza. “After witnessing several multi-million dollar deals get closed based on these presentations, we realized something was clearly working for the sales and marketing side as well. This is when we decided to deep-dive into the sales process, and ultimately launch Imerza as its own company.”
For Imerza, one of the key challenges of the sales process is the fact that no two real estate projects are identical. Presentations need to be seamless and intuitive, which means that they always require bespoke features on top of the core platform. Fortunately, Unreal Engine is very flexible in that regard, with complete access to the entire source code, a robust C++ API, and a visual scripting language called Blueprint.
“These challenges require us to be constantly developing new features and user experiences,” says Dorian. “Additionally, real estate projects always have very tight schedules, which means we have to do this at Mach speed. Unreal Engine’s Blueprints allow our artists and developers to quickly iterate and test ideas in the field, and the open source code base allows our engineers to make any changes necessary to deliver the best-in-class experience our customers demand.”
The wide range of immersive experiences offered by Imerza includes photorealistic hi-res animations, interactive 3D real-time site models, live floor plans, walkthroughs, customized digital buyer brochures, and flythroughs, along with adjustable time of day and year simulations, VR and AR experiences, and mobile apps. These tools help sales agents to close deals faster and obtain a higher price per square foot.
Driving the real-time real estate revolution
One of Imerza’s long-time customers, Two Roads Development, has been working with real-time technology for some years. In fact, the company’s Elysee was the first project in Miami to use real-time visualizations and VR during the sales process, setting the bar for what was possible. One of the follow-up projects, Forté, enabled buyers to customize the floor plan of their future home and instantly experience a real-time walkthrough of their chosen options.
To achieve this, the interior model was generated using algorithms, based on user input. This enabled the sales team to show every possible option within every single residence in the development. This ability changed how they would typically approach a pre-sales project, enabling them to show the property as if it was already built.
Two Roads and Imerza have completed seven successful projects together so far and are now working on their next development using Unreal Engine.
“With the Imerza platform, with our buyers, we’re able to shorten the closing period because they understand exactly what they’re getting,” says Taylor Collins, Managing Partner at Two Roads Development. “Moving forward, I would use Imerza for all of my projects, especially when it comes to sales. With this tool, I’m able to close almost everyone that walks in the door that’s a real buyer.”
Also helping to push the luxury real estate sales suite to the next level is digital twin technology provider 51WORLD. Over the years, the company has gradually applied the technology to more verticals such as smart cities and transportation, smart parks, and smart ports. In particular, the real estate industry is one of the key sectors in which 51WORLD has applied digital twin technology overseas. A typical use case is the immersive sales experience that 51WORLD created for developer Geocon, to showcase residential developments in Canberra, Australia’s capital city.
The 3D interactive tool enables potential buyers to explore their future living environment and how it fits in with the surrounding area. The project required 51WOLRD to model a large scene of the city, which focuses on its various housing developments. Thanks to the Digital Canberra project, Geocon agents can show potential buyers up to 5 km of the surrounding area of selected developments.
“Geocon is building Canberra physically while 51WORLD is building Canberra digitally and virtually,” says Michael Tang, Global Sales Director at 51WORLD. “We created a digital replica of a physical entity between which we exchange data streams to enable the digital replica to reflect the real-time status of the physical entity.”
The project brought several challenges, such as implementing a fly-through view for users switching between developments. The original plan had been to use a loading screen while switching between areas, to ensure smooth running. Instead, Unreal Engine enabled fly-through views without slowing down the system by lowering resource consumption. This was achieved by temporally removing objects from distanced areas while the user is focusing on a specific area.
For the interior walkthrough feature, 51WORLD chose to keep the loading screen to enable the team to employ various methods to improve visual quality of the interior areas. “We worked closely with Unreal Engine and we have perfectly integrated the performance of Unreal Engine Blueprint into our own products,” says Michael.
As a result, 51WORLD was able to deliver a project that exceeded client expectations. Geocon uses the interactive tool to give buyers a bird’s-eye view of what the development will look like in the context of the surrounding location. “It actually brings a project to life—it makes it more tangible for the client,” says Matthew Rastar, Senior Sales Executive at Geocon. “It wows the client and allows us to close at a higher rate than the conventional way of showing just a display suite. That’s really been a game changer for us.”
These are just a few examples of how Unreal Engine’s real-time technology is helping high-end real estate developers to build the sales suites of the future, making it easier for potential buyers to visualize their future homes and for sales teams to close vital advance sales.1