House-Hunting Technology On The Rise

Posted 16 April 2020 by Keith Osborne

Housebuilders are using more and more technology to help the house-hunting process...

If you’re in the middle of a hunt for a brand new home, or keen to start your search, housebuilders are using a range of technology to help you as a substitute for visiting a site at this time of social distancing and self-isolation.

While searching online for a choice of potential new homes is a great start, for the vast majority of buyers, the crucial step is to go to see a development first hand and take their own, or a guided tour of a show home to see for themselves the design and specification they would get. This is also an opportunity to ask questions to the sales team.

‘Virtual viewings’ and ‘live viewings’ have quickly taken off enable house-hunters to take a video tour in the company of the sales team over the phone. We had our own experience of that a couple of weeks ago with developer London Square and we’ve reported on others who have adopted these systems over the last few weeks, such as Galliard Homes, Beauchamp Estates and Weston Homes.

These tours are arranged by booking an appointment online or over the phone/WhatsApp. The sales team sends a link to the tour software and a code to make it ‘live’ when everyone is ready to see and talk about the home together. Every room – and often the exterior – are there in top-quality, 360° photography from many viewing points. Some of these systems even have a measurement function which allows the visitor to check dimensions – very handy to know if furniture will fit, or what size rug might be ideal for a room, for example.

Teddington RiversideTeddington Riverside (click on the image for the full tour)

A spokesperson from the sales team at Teddington Riverside, developed by Dartmouth Capital Advisors, remarks: “We aim to recreate a traditional viewing for buyers as much as possible. One of our sales team will call beforehand and walk them through the property during the virtual tour, answering any questions they may have. The 360° element is particularly effective as buyers can experience the incredible views of the river, large balconies as well as the high spec and finishes. Although not quite as good as the real thing, the virtual tours do give customers much more of a feel for the space than they can get from a brochure.”

Dartmouth Capital Advisors have tours with a 3D VR option at two major developments:

Teddington Riverside, south-west London (31 Carlton House and 33 Carlton House).

100 Sydney Street.

Use of this kind of technology for customers has been spreading. Toby Brown, senior sales manager at House by Urban Splash, says: “We introduced the virtual viewing platform [on] Wednesday 1 April after spending the previous week producing the new video content and working through the ‘experience’ for our customers.

“We wanted to offer customers the same type of experience they have at our show houses and we felt that a more interactive virtual viewing was the best way to do this. We want to retain the connection between the sales consultants and our customers, so that we can really give buyers the detail that sets us apart and they can ask the questions they would in ‘real life.’ As we use modern methods of construction, our product is different to the offerings of many developers, so we want to ensure buyers understand the benefits.”

Nightingale QuarterNightingale Quarter (click on the image for the full tour)

James Dickens, managing director of Wavensmere Homes, said: “On our website we have 360° pano tours and videos that have been curated from our virtual reality experience headsets. It gives customers a feeling of true space. They are able to see, in detail, the fixtures and fittings which are included in our homes, along with having an idea of ceiling heights, furnishing ideas and the external facade of the plot in more detail. Many people do struggle to visualise spaces and read plans, so this is a vital tool for us.”

Even without the virtual tour, offering a tech-based face-to-face connection rather than a standard phone call is also becoming more commonplace.

Linden Homes Midlands sales and marketing director Nicky Chapman says: “It is paramount at this time that we all follow the government guidelines on social distancing and to stay at home – with the health and safety of our customers and our employees our first priority.”

“While technology cannot replace the physical face-to-face meeting, our sales teams are fully briefed on what, at this moment in time, is the next best thing – a virtual meeting.”

She points to a seven customer benefits of virtual visits, using a range of media including Skype, WhatsApp, full video or teleconferencing:

  • No travel time: you can attend from where you are already – most likely the comfort of your own home.
  • No travel costs or traffic issue which could make you late for an appointment.
  • It’s easy for sales staff to share their desktop with customers for on screen demonstrations.
  • Customers can feel connected and see sales staff face to face.
  • They are eco-friendly when it comes to sharing documents - transferring documents via email rather than paper.
  • You can video record a meeting for others to watch if they could not attend.
  • Family-friendly – with the children at home, they can be part of any virtual show home tours and be encouraged to be a part of the journey.

Linden Homes is providing 360° tours of house types at a number of developments:

‘The Mylne’, Plot 22 (£349,995) at Bowlands Place, Sawtry, Cambridgeshire.

‘The Maple’ (£465,000), Graylingwell Park, Chichester, West Sussex.

Chilmington Green'The Elm', Chilmington Green (click on the image for the full tour)

Natalie Perry, sales and marketing director at Barratt Kent, comments: “Of course, the majority of buyers will prefer to physically view the home they are potentially purchasing, but as the industry adapts to a new way of life, so are customers, who are happy to respond to these changes. The response so far has been extremely positive, as potential buyers can view a number of show homes – and even developments – from the comfort of their own home. In some cases, they may even get more out of a virtual viewing as not only can customers view multiple properties in quick succession, but they are more likely to view the properties an unlimited number of times.”

Barratt Homes and David Wilson Homes have fly-through videos for show homes at a number of current developments in Kent:

‘The Ennerdale’ at Perry Court in Faversham.

‘The Elm’ and The Bay’ at Chilmington Green in Ashford.

There are also interactive tours of popular house types such as ‘The Kingsville’ and ‘The Queensville’.

Downsizing to a new home at a development dedicated to people of retirement age is a very big decision, with the search for this life-changing move often taking many months. One of the leading retirement home developers, Audley Group, has embraced video connection. Kevin Shaw, managing director, says: “At Audley Nightingale Place, virtual appointments have been kickstarted for interested homebuyers, involving video tours, external fly arounds, and CGI visuals, all from their own home.

Use of video isn’t just aimed at potential buyers: “We’ve also been virtually inducting our new team ready to run the village, to ensure everything is fully in place and Audley’s usual high standards are maintained when we open the doors to owners within this brand new village.”

Audley has produced a number of video CGIs of Nightingale Place, Clapham, south London:

In addition to the interactive tour, there’s an external development overview, a view of interior features and residents’ amenities and a look at Plot 90.

It’s not just housebuilders adapting to change. Jamie Read, director at Covent Garden-based estate agency Tavistock Bow, says: “The good thing about being a smaller sized business is that we can be agile and adapt very quickly to challenging situations. We do a lot of property videos in any case as a large proportion of our buyers and tenants are from overseas, but we’re stepping this up a level and offering live video viewings too.”

There are already numerous examples of success in embracing this technology. Markus Kendall-Young, head of sales and marketing at Catalyst, says: “We have been quick to respond to buyers who were just starting the search for a new home, or were mid-way through the home buying process. We've launched virtual tours of all our developments, and are now holding appointments seven days a week via video call. Off the back of the launch, we took four reservations via video call at our Shared Ownership development Neon, in Burnt Oak, last week. Impressively, three of these buyers had not previously visited the development, demonstrating the impact of technology. We are gearing up for our first fully digital launch for our newest Shared Ownership homes at Nova at Queensbury Square on Saturday 25 April.”

Greenview CourtGreenview Court (click on the image for the full tour)

Santhosh Gowda, chairman of the Strawberry Star Group: “From pushing out our recent sales videos and virtual 3D walk-throughs of our development show homes at Bronze and Lu2on, we’ve had some hugely positive feedback. We provide a complete online portfolio of products – online videos, virtual tours, market commentary and insights. Two brothers from Hong Kong were so impressed with our project Lu2on that they closed the deal in just two days. Now, some of their friends and relatives are also inquiring about investment options. None of them have visited the site so far, of course, so they’re 100% reliant on our videos, digital marketing and sales information.”

Strawberry Star has recorded its sales agents explaining and touring three of its current developments and show homes:

Lu2on, Bedfordshire: Part One and Part Two.

Bronze, Wandsworth, south London.

Greenview Court, Southall, west London.

At Teddington Riverside, a spokesman said: “We recently secured a sale following one of our virtual tours, the client was very happy to be able to undertake a final viewing through our software and we completed on the apartment shortly afterwards. It shows that virtual tours are useful for buyers to review a property after visiting and we plan to continue using this tool once we reopen again for in-person viewings.”

Toby Brown from House at Urban Splash: “We have been offering elements of this technology even prior to COVID-19, with virtual reality technology being used (in show homes) for our Mansion House project since last year, so viewing the project from your home is no different. Virtual viewings have been a success with customers to date.

“For the future, we are considering virtual reality for our townhouses as we see this a modern and engaging tool to use with our customers. They can really begin to understand and feel the space using this technology, in a way that viewing traditional floorplans simply can’t.”

James Dickens: “Over the last few weeks we have noticed increased traffic to our website for buyers for the Nightingale Quarter site in Derby wanting to get a feel for the properties, from the safety of their own home, and it is a tool we find invaluable. Enquiries are still coming through and we are having some great conversations and booking ‘early bird’ reservations. These are challenging times for us all and we need to think outside the box.”

 

Some examples of ‘live’ virtual viewings and interactive 360° tours

St Edward show home, Hartland Village, Fleet, Hampshire.

Strawberry Star show home, Greenview Court, Southall, west London (from £349,000).

Shanly Homes show apartment, Manor Wood Gate, Cockfosters, north London (from £795,000).

Countryside show home, Dash, Hoxton, east London (from £670,000).

Civic Living show home, The Radmyle Apartments, Alconbury Weald, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire (from £179,950).

Berkeley Homes, Woodhurst Park in Warfield, Berkshire (from £249,900).

Pentland Homes show home at Saxon Fields, Canterbury, Kent.

Go Homes show houses, Oaklands, Dunmow, Essex; Fusiliers Green, Great Bentley, Essex; and Carriage Court, Hertford.

Anchor Hanover show homes, 25 Garnier Drive (£395,000), Bishopstoke Park, Hampshire; 45 Hurst Place (£369,000) and 53 Hurst Place (£262,500), Haywards Heath, West Sussex; and 3 Meadow Court (£285,000), Sarisbury Green, Hampshire.

Meyer Homes virtual show home, Gabriel Square, St Albans, Hertfordshire.

Argent Related, 1 Ashley Road, Tottenham Hale, north London has a ‘live’ virtual tour available on request.

Wavensmere Homes show home, Nightingale Quarter, Derby.

Peabody recently released a whole collection of 360° interactive tours of show homes around Greater London.

Iris CourtIris Court, Peabody (click on the image for the full tour)

 

Some examples of fly-through videos

Vanderbilt Homes: There are two video tours for Gratton Chase in Dunsford, Surrey – the site itself and the show home.You can learn more about ‘The Burchetts’ show house here.

Barratt London has tours of a number of developments and individual house types: At Ridgeway Views, Mill Hill, north London, the five-bedroom detached family house (£2,050,000) and two-bedroom apartment (from £695,000); at Eastman Village in Harrow, north-west London, the site itself and a two-bedroom show apartment; at Hendon Waterside in north London, the two-bedroom show apartment; and at Hayes Village, west London, the site itself and a one-bedroom show apartment.

 

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