Vir­tual yet real estate

Us­ing vir­tual and aug­mented re­al­ity, PHNX Dig­i­tal is set to change prop­erty mar­ket­ing in South Africa.

Finweek English Edition - - THE WEEK - Editorial@fin­week.co.za

it is a great irony of the prop­erty mar­ket that the pur­chase of a prop­erty or build­ing, likely the largest cap­i­tal out­lay one will make in a life­time, is fre­quently un­der­taken sight un­seen. Be it for rea­sons of ge­og­ra­phy, ex­pe­di­ency or that the prop­erty is sold off-plan – that is be­fore it is built and with only the plans avail­able for in­spec­tion – to com­mit such a sub­stan­tial sum to a plot of earth that one has yet to lay eyes on car­ries with it sub­stan­tial risk.

It is this in­her­ent risk that dig­i­tal agency PHNX Dig­i­tal hopes to avert with the de­vel­op­ment of a vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) and aug­mented re­al­ity (AR) prop­erty app for niche prop­erty com­pany Har­courts Plat­inum.

PHNX Dig­i­tal founder and MD Greg Jooste de­scribes the app, which is the first of its kind to be de­vel­oped in Africa for the prop­erty mar­ket, as a dis­rup­tive dig­i­tal bench­mark that is set to change prop­erty mar­ket­ing in South Africa and else­where on the con­ti­nent.

Bring­ing printed ad­verts to life us­ing AR, the app al­lows users to take a vir­tual walk through a prop­erty us­ing their smart­phones. It also makes use of lo­ca­tion map­ping, which shows the build­ing’s ex­act lo­ca­tion, while drone pho­tog­ra­phy is used to cap­ture a clear image of the area from a high van­tage point.

Hov­er­ing over the in­ter­ac­tive hotspots on the map pro­vides im­me­di­ate street views, ad­dresses and con­tact de­tails. These hotspots are marked and cat­e­gorised us­ing Google Maps tech­nol­ogy.

“VR is a pow­er­ful tool in prop­erty, es­pe­cially when sell­ing off-plan. It de­picts a photo-re­al­is­tic vi­sion of a fur­nished prop­erty and al­lows prospec­tive buy­ers to en­vis­age their ideal life­style in a home that is still to be built, as well as cre­at­ing a com­pletely im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence for for­eign in­vestors,” com­ments Jooste.

“Whether it’s view­ing an AR 3D build­ing through in­ter­ac­tive print or vir­tu­ally stand­ing in­side a fu­ture home, the app will trans­form the way real estate pro­fes­sion­als build and sell prop­er­ties.”

The app also al­lows users to re­ceive push no­ti­fi­ca­tions on new list­ings and al­lows them to make an en­quiry from their phones, di­rectly to the agent.

Af­ter a po­ten­tial cus­tomer has down­loaded the app, an ad­di­tional channel of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween them­selves and the com­pany is thus cre­ated.

“In ad­di­tion to the cur­rent use of email and SMS com­mu­ni­ca­tion, marketers can now send push no­ti­fi­ca­tions straight to the con­sumer’s mo­bile. The added bonus is the an­a­lyt­ics dash­board – which pro­vides in-depth de­tail of ex­actly what the con­sumer is look­ing at, how long they have spent on the app and where they are sit­u­ated in the world,” he adds.

Upon com­ple­tion of the app, PHNX Dig­i­tal ap­proached Har­courts, for which it had pre­vi­ously pro­vided mar­ket­ing ser­vices for their res­i­den­tial and new de­vel­op­ments.

“When we pre­sented it, they were blown away,” Jooste tells fin­week.

Har­courts Plat­inum prin­ci­pal Steve CaradocDavies be­lieves the app will change the way cus­tomers view and buy real estate.

“Real estate mar­ket­ing has changed lit­tle in the last decade. In some cases a pur­chaser can find out more in­for­ma­tion about a R1 000 cam­era than a R5m prop­erty. By en­hanc­ing the view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence buy­ers will be able to en­gage with a prop­erty even with­out view­ing it – thus re­duc­ing time wasted on un­suit­able prop­er­ties and spar­ing both them­selves and other sell­ers the wasted time and in­con­ve­nience,” he notes.

Since the of­fi­cial launch of the app, sev­eral prop­erty com­pa­nies have ex­pressed in­ter­est, Jooste says, adding that the im­mer­sive tech­nol­ogy could also find ap­pli­ca­tion in other mar­kets, such as hospi­tal­ity.

Planned ex­ten­sions for the app, which is adapt­able and cus­tomis­able, in­clude VR video, AR floor­plans and in­ter­ac­tive video.

“There will al­ways be a need for print, but in to­day’s dig­i­tally fo­cused world, there needs to be a way to com­bine the two. And that is what AR does; it takes a mo­tion­less print ad­vert and dig­i­tally brings it to life with a sim­ple scan. AR has an ex­cit­ing roadmap ahead, with the ad­vanc­ing tech­nol­ogy and on­go­ing push for more in­ter­ac­tiv­ity from the con­sumer,” he says.

PHNX Dig­i­tal was founded by Jooste in 2009 af­ter the 3D animation-trained de­signer re­alised that he wanted to pur­sue a ca­reer with a more cus­tomer-cen­tric ap­proach.

“I re­alised that sit­ting in a dark room mak­ing a char­ac­ter’s hand wave on a screen isn’t what I wanted to do; I wanted more cus­tomer in­ter­ac­tion. I ba­si­cally taught my­self [how to de­sign apps],” he says of his mo­ti­va­tion to es­tab­lish the agency.

Now with 20 em­ploy­ees, PHNX Dig­i­tal has of­fices in Cape Town, Jo­han­nes­burg and Bris­bane, and will soon es­tab­lish bases in Dur­ban, Syd­ney and Mel­bourne.

The app al­lows users to take a vir­tual walk through a prop­erty us­ing their smart­phones.

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