Vir­tual view­ing

With the ad­vent of drone pho­tog­ra­phy and vir­tual-real­ity head­sets, dig­i­tal de­vel­op­ments are af­fect­ing the way we buy and sell coun­try houses. Carla Passino ad­mires the re­sults

Country Life Every Week - - Property News -

IT ’ S a sunny morn­ing and light floods the el­e­gant Hol­ly­wood prop­erty I’m view­ing. I walk past the de­signer kitchen to­wards the vast, con­tem­po­rary liv­ing room, where one wall is taken up by slid­ing glass doors. As I go out onto the ter­race, Los An­ge­les stretches at my feet. Ex­cept that I’m not in Hol­ly­wood. I’m at Strutt & Parker’s Hill Street Lon­don of­fices and my tour of this rather grand Cal­i­for­nian man­sion comes courtesy of a Vir­tual Real­ity (VR) head­set that Kevin Pow­ell, who heads up the firm’s dig­i­tal de­part­ment, has just lent me.

Strutt & Parker have re­cently be­gun us­ing VR to bring their prop­er­ties to buy­ers across the world. Their 360-de­gree mod­els not only show you what a house looks like, but also give you a sense of the space and flow of rooms. ‘The head­sets al­low peo­ple to view a prop­erty without hav­ing to get on a plane,’ says Mr Pow­ell. ‘Our agents are cur­rently in Dubai with head­sets loaded with the show flats of the new de­vel­op­ment at the for­mer BBC Tele­vi­sion Cen­tre and we’ll have other agents go­ing to Amer­ica in a short while.’

The re­sponse has been over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive, says Mr Pow­ell, and not just among buy­ers: ‘When we demon­strate it, ven­dors are re­ally pos­i­tive. We’re cur­rently work­ing with clients who are pri­vately sell­ing a £30 mil­lion house in the coun­try and they have been very en­thu­si­as­tic. Of course, we al­ways work in full con­sul­ta­tion with them to re­spect their pri­vacy and se­cu­rity by, for ex­am­ple, tak­ing sig­nif­i­cant art­work off the walls or stor­ing valu­ables be­fore film­ing.’

VR is per­haps the most cut­ting-edge ex­am­ple of how tech­nol­ogy is rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the way es­tate agents show­case prop­er­ties, but it’s by no means the only one. It plays into the grow­ing de­sire among buy­ers to ac­quire as much in­for­ma­tion about a prop­erty as pos­si­ble be­fore a view­ing. ‘They do their own re­search, but the more you can give them, the hap­pier they are,’ says James Cle­land, head of Knight Frank’s As­cot of­fice.

Last year, Strutt & Parker rolled out 3D mod­els of top-end prop­er­ties, which they then loaded onto a ded­i­cated brochure web­site com­plete with a video and a high-res­o­lu­tion photo gallery. This al­lowed prospec­tive buy­ers to take a vir­tual tour of a house, tak­ing in de­tails such as door han­dles, bath­room fit­tings, ceil­ing heights and room vol­umes, which don’t al­ways emerge clearly through pho­tographs.

Sim­i­larly, Sav­ills cre­ates in­di­vid­ual web­sites for top coun­try houses where even the type­face is specif­i­cally picked ‘so that peo­ple can re­ally vi­su­alise the prop­erty’, ac­cord­ing to Crispin Hol­borow, Coun­try Di­rec­tor of the com­pany’s Pri­vate Of­fice. They pro­vide an ef­fec­tive way to present houses that are only avail­able on a pri­vate and con­fi­den­tial ba­sis. ‘It has been very suc­cess­ful—we’ve sold a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of prop­er­ties in the past two-and-a-half years.’

The cen­tre­piece in th­ese web­sites is often a gallery of high-res­o­lu­tion images and a video shot by a drone. In­deed, drones may have been the sin­gle most im­por­tant tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ment to prop­erty mar­ket­ing in the past few years. For starters, they have made it eas­ier to take pic­tures in dif­fi­cult con­texts. ‘A coun­try house in an el­e­vated po­si­tion can be hard to pho­to­graph,’ notes Mr Hol­borow. ‘Pho­tog­ra­phers need to get their cam­era on a very long pole, but even that some­times doesn’t work. Drones solve this be­cause they can go higher.’

A drone can also cap­ture a prop­erty’s wow fac­tor in a way a nor­mal pic­ture doesn’t. ‘Be­ing able to have an aerial view and show­case in a mov­ing im­age the set­ting of a house—or how the kitchen gar­den re­lates to the coach house—just brings a prop­erty to life.’

Drones are so suc­cess­ful that they are in­creas­ingly be­com­ing part of the reg­u­lar mar­ket­ing pack­age. ‘I bet that if you flick through the pages of an edi­tion of COUN­TRY LIFE from five years ago and one from this year, the qual­ity of the pho­tog­ra­phy now is much bet­ter,’ says Mr Cle­land. To prove his point, he goes through the prop­erty ad­ver­tise­ments in an is­sue from last Au­gust: ‘I reckon that at least half of them— if not most of them—are drone pic­tures.’

Ul­ti­mately, the fu­ture of prop­erty mar­ket­ing lies in tools that re­flect a prop­erty as re­al­is­ti­cally as pos­si­ble, ben­e­fit­ing both buy­ers and ven­dors. ‘You want a sit­u­a­tion where buy­ers can see on screen what they would see in real life,’ adds Mr Cle­land. ‘We’re not there yet, but we’re head­ing in that di­rec­tion.’

Flight of fancy: this six-bed­room Grade Ii*-listed manor house in Shalden, near Al­ton, Hamp­shire, stands in 18.58 acres and comes with a swim­ming pool, a ten­nis court and out­build­ings. £3.5 mil­lion through Knight Frank (01256 350600)

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