A former real estate agent is the brainchild of software that lets agents create custom VR tours of homes for clients. FEATURE
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A former real estate agent is the brainchild of software that lets agents create custom VR tours of homes for clients.

Anyone who has ever bought a home can attest to the hours spent looking at homes online only to discover that they look drastically different from the marketing photos.

Virtual tours help bring a more realistic view of a home to buyers. But a San Diego, Calif.-based startup is hoping to further simplify the house hunting process by bringing a new Virtual Reality (VR) technology to the mix.

Savvy Homes Portal Founder and former Realtor Lauren Taylor said one of the main differences between the technology she helped develop and virtual tours lies first in the price point.

"Traditional VR tours are created by listing agents to feature a property in the hopes of selling a home," Taylor said. "There's a certain price point associated with it, and it can be very expensive and time-consuming for agents."

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Savvy Homes instead trains agents to go into homes and create their own live 360 videos of a property. They provide their clients with goggles to view those homes on their own time. Average virtual reality tours costs $300 apiece, according to Taylor.  The Savvy Homes platform costs an agent about $100 per month with the ability to store up to 25 virtual reality tours in their database. They have the ability to upgrade to more storage, or delete videos, as needed.

Taylor estimates that since she launched the portal last year in beta mode, home buyers are finding properties in 85 percent less time.

"It's incredibly inefficient for both an agent and a home buyer to go look at 12 properties in person," she said. "It can eat up nights and weekends for all parties."

Another difference, according to Taylor, is the Savvy Homes platform allows an agent to customize a tour for the specific buyer. If a client has questions about certain areas of a home, for example, an agent can focus his/her time on that section of the house. The agent also can set up the filming when convenient for him/her rather than having to coordinate between the client's schedule as well.

"Typically, buyers watch the videos and can very quickly throw out properties based on factors such as traffic, noise, floor plan and condition," she said. "They don't usually get such a realistic view via photos or traditional virtual reality tours."

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Taylor came up with the idea for the portal, and found a developer to create the software, after being frustrated with the other options available to her as an agent. She's funded the entire endeavor out of pocket so far.

"I'd been video house hunting with clients for a couple of months," she said. "But there were so many limitations on what we could do, and none of it allowed for virtual reality."

Besides making the process easier for home buyers, Taylor believes her portal can help alleviate Realtor burnout.

"With our portal, they are working significantly less weekends, which is a huge hurdle our industry has never been able to overcome," she said.

Realtor Dan Rascon currently offers Savvy Homes' VR house hunting in Los Angeles out of the Douglas Ellman office.

He is especially impressed with the technology because it was developed by an agent for other agents.

His favorite aspect of the portal is its timesaving characteristics.

"In Los Angeles, time is everything," he said. "It's such a fast moving and competitive market."

Since clients can't always be readily available for an open house or an in-person tour, Rascon said he loves having the option to show properties through virtual reality.

"Four showings can take all day in L.A. when you account for traffic and having to drive to different areas of the city," he said. "This technology cuts our time in half."

The first of his clients to use the Savvy Homes platform was an NFL player and his wife. Prior to using the technology, the player's wife was spending money on flights and hotels to look at as many properties as possible in a given weekend – sometimes as many as 20.

"It got very frustrating for all of us," Rascon said. "There were times she'd walk in and immediately not like the home. With all that planning, we were feeling like so much time was wasted. But with this technology, I've eliminated that waste of time."

He now sends the same client 20 new properties that have hit the market. She highlights the ones she wants to see using the VR technology and they then decides which ones are actually worth seeing in person.

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"We looked at over 70 properties, set foot in four of them and now we're in escrow on one," Rascon said. "They loved being able to watch the videos I created from wherever they were as if I were there with them."

With so much time saved, Rascon said he's able to take on more clients.

One of those clients is Johnny Schillero. He is moving to Los Angeles from Barcelona, Spain, and has been using the Savvy Homes portal to view potential homes.

"It's much more convenient," Schillero said. "Dan sent me 20 homes. I VRed 14 of them and then personally saw three or four last time I was in town. That freed up more time for me to do business while I was there."

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Focus: Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

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About Mary Ann Azevedo

Mary Ann Azevedo is an award-winning journalist based in Austin, Texas.