For Madeline Ward, CEO of Memphis, Tenn.–based virtual reality development company The Danse, the impetus to bring the world of virtual reality to home building was largely personal: inspiration struck after she and her husband (the company's head animator and creative director) built a new home without first touring that model.
"We built the house and thought, ‘This isn't quite what we were looking for.' It was still beautiful and we were still happy with it, but it was a slightly surprising thing for us," Ward explains.
In speaking with the builder, the Wards learned that their experience was far from unique—and now, they're working with that company, Memphis-based Magnolia Homes, to virtualize floor plans for potential buyers to tour using Oculus Rift.
"Being in that environment, you're looking 360 degrees in every direction and you're seeing what your house is going to look like. You're feeling and experiencing the distance that you're going to have to walk to get from your kitchen to your bedroom," Ward says.
Oculus Rift also is being used by Vallejo, Calif.–based Blu Homes as part of the company's principal goal to use technology to make the home building process easier and more efficient for the customer, says co-founder Maura McCarthy.
"Buying a house is the biggest capital purchase of people's lives and it's the most stressful and the least fun," she says. "There's a lot of technology that can improve that."
That technology includes digital tools like Blu's online 3D configurator and drives the firm's high-end design centers, where buyers can see both physical and Oculus Rift models, interact with sales staff, and begin the purchasing process.
The high-tech yet streamlined approach is resonating with buyers—of all demographics. "A lot of our older customers ... who aren't necessarily as digitally savvy, they actually get a lot more bang for the buck when they're using the Oculus Rift than a younger person," McCarthy says.
Creating these high-fidelity simulations is becoming increasingly common in the multifamily and commercial realms of construction, where higher budgets can absorb the price tag, but the cost of investment can be prohibitive for many builders, says Paul Cardis, founder and CEO of Madison, Wis.–based Avid Ratings. For those firms, tools that draw on their existing physical properties often are more practical.
"Most single-family builders are still in the mode of building models and having something to show at that piece of land," he says. "They are building a physical project, but they'll use digital tools to virtualize it, put it online, and enable an online experience."
Using GoTour by Avid Ratings, builders can virtualize existing homes and allow potential buyers to take interactive video tours online, with details about individual rooms' options. GoTour also can be used on site, with radio devices placed throughout a model home to provide buyers with location-based information.
"We use what's called beacon technology," Cardis says. "Radio devices signal to our application that [buyers] are standing in the kitchen or they're standing in the master bedroom. That enables us to serve information relevant to that room."