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Futuristic Realtors Use Drones, Google Glass and Virtual Headsets

By Amy Zimmer | June 25, 2014 7:29am | Updated on June 27, 2014 5:07pm
 Real estate firms are exploring ways that high-tech gadgets can change how they do business.
Real Estate Getting High-Tech
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MANHATTAN — What does the future of New York City's real estate industry look like? 

Will we see drones hovering around to take marketing photos for shiny new condos? Will brokers conduct apartment showings wearing Google Glass or using virtual reality headsets?

It's already happening.

Some firms are employing these forms of cutting-edge technology, while others are exploring how gadgets can help them transform the way business is done.

Here's a glimpse of what futuristic realtors are doing:

Google Glass
Aleksandra Scepanovic, managing director of Brooklyn's Ideal Properties Group, recently launched a pilot program using Google Glass's video-taking option to give management a glimpse into what new hires or struggling staffers are doing, seeing and saying while in the field showing properties to potential clients.

So far, two new hires have used Google Glass as part of their training with the firm.

"The materials are giving us a very clear insight into how the actual showing process unfolds," said Scepanovic, who recently reviewed about an hour's worth of recordings.

"It was very exciting to be able to witness first-hand the dynamics of another salesperson's showing, to detect the highs, the flats and the lows of the interaction [and] possibly missed closing opportunities," he said.

Ideal Properties Group also hopes to use the technology to allow agents in the field to communicate with trainers in the office. "Down the road," the firm plans to explore the possibility of using Google Glass to show out-of-town clients apartments through their brokers' eyes, she added.

Ideal Properties — which has 110 agents and another eight staring soon — purchased four basic models of the glasses at around $1,600 each, Scepanovic said.

Brokers wearing Google Glass need clients to agree to the recordings, so the firm's legal department devised a release form. Still, it might also be awkward for brokers to feel their every move being watched.

"I'm sure [agents] would feel self conscious," Scepanovic acknowledged, "but at the same time they would know when it's happening. So I'm sure they would be on best behavior."

Prospective buyers of 50 West — a 64-story glass tower rising in Lower Manhattan — walk into a sales gallery that's outfitted with a curved projection wall featuring a 180-degree panorama of the would-be building's impressive and expansive New York Harbor view, along with other city views taken by drones.

Many developers of new high-end developments are using the small, unmanned helicopters to snap the potential views from their future buildings to better show house hunters what they'll likely see when they look out of their window.

"We knew we were going to have great views, but when you see this, you see it's spectacular," explained Ethan Coleman, asset manager with 50 West's developer Time Equities Inc.

House hunters can opt to see views from different apartments by swiping a large interactive touch-screen in the sales gallery.

This kind of browsing helps the buyer understand, for example, the difference between the views from the four-bedroom apartment on the 51st floor versus the one 15 stories lower on the 36th floor.

Developers have been turning to drones in the last several years since there are limitations on how low a manned helicopter can fly for photo shoots. As technology has improved, their presentations have become more sophisticated, explained Keith Bomely, chief creative officer at DBOX, the agency behind 50 West's sleek presentation.

"Years ago developers would sell off a floor plan," he said. "I think buyers' expectations are just higher now in terms of what one sees in a new development presentation. Before something is built or exists, the presentation is the most powerful tool one has."

Oculus Rift
The virtual reality headset may be more popular as a 3D gaming device, but the Oculus Rift — which was purchased by Facebook for $2 billion in March — might become the next big thing in real estate.

Realtors are eyeing the devices for virtual tours of existing properties and those yet to be developed.

The Wisconsin-based company Arch Virtual, for instance, has been developing tour simulations for the Rift before construction even starts and Oculus is promoting the virtual reality technology as something that's wearable and affordable, at $300 each.

"The Oculus is poised to become an integral part of luxury real estate," said Danielle Garofalo, director of digital marketing at the Manhattan-based Town residential real estate firm.

"We had the opportunity to explore the possibilities with an Oculus partner and experience its potential," she said, and though she declined to disclose details on how the firm might use the device, it recently tweeted a picture of agents testing it out.