Bring­ing homes to buy­ers with vir­tual re­al­ity

John­son in­cludes a free head­set for clients with con­tract

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By CAROL SMITH csmith@somd­news.com

Real es­tate agent Martha John­son has added vir­tual re­al­ity to her mar­ket­ing tool­kit for buy­ers and sell­ers at EXIT 1 Stop Re­alty based in Dunkirk.

The tech­nol­ogy pro­vides a vir­tual three-di­men­sional tour of a home through a VR head­set equipped with a smart­phone. Clients can look from ceil­ing to floor and wall to wall, as they move vir­tu­ally from room to room.

John­son said she started out in the mort­gage lend­ing in­dus­try in 2002, which pro­gressed to a sec­ond mort­gage un­der­writ­ing po­si­tion.

“As an un­der­writer, I not only needed to know the lend­ing guide­lines, I needed to un­der­stand the real es­tate con­tracts as well to prop­erly do my job,” she said.

John­son made her move into real es­tate sales when she joined with EXIT 1 Stop Re­alty in Jan­uary 2014, serv­ing clients in Southern Mary­land and sur­round­ing ar­eas.

“So ba­si­cally, over 15 to 16 years in the in­dus­try com­bined be­cause the mort­gage lend­ing and real es­tate kind of blend to­gether,” she said.

John­son said she learned of vir­tual re­al­ity as a way to show homes at a mar­ket­ing sem­i­nar in North Carolina, where she met a real es­tate agent who used the tech­nol­ogy to help mem­bers of the mil­i­tary re­lo­cate.

“They get their or­ders and they know ‘OK, well in so much time, a few months, I’ve got to be here,’” John­son said. “But, if they’re half­way across the coun­try, or in Ger­many for that mat­ter, it’s very hard to go look at houses.”

John­son said she also finds the tech­nol­ogy use­ful for busy fam­i­lies and pro­fes­sion­als whose free time may be lim­ited.

“The kids have [things go­ing on], whether it’s soc­cer or foot­ball or what­ever they’re in,” she said. “You don’t have to be a doctor or lawyer to be busy. There’s peo­ple who work up in D.C. and they com­mute. And a lot of times, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, they walk in and they go ‘Well this doesn’t look any­thing like the pic­tures.’”

“This way, they’ve got­ten to see the house and it’s al­most as true of a for­mat as if they’re walk­ing it them­selves, ahead of time,” she said.

John­son said she uses a 360-de­gree camera to record the prop­er­ties, with the list­ing agent’s per­mis­sion, that in­ter­est her buyer-clients, then stores the videos on a pass­word-pro­tected on­line por­tal that only she and her clients have ac­cess to view.

“While they’re at work, I go out with my camera … and I film each one of them,” she said. “Takes me maybe seven min­utes in a house. If you’re out with the client, you’re in the house prob­a­bly for 30 [min­utes].”

John­son will also give her buyer-clients a VR head­set to use with an app on their smart­phone for view­ing a vir­tual home tour.

“They take these lit­tle gog­gles that when they sign to work with me, or hire me, ba­si­cally a buyer-bro­ker agree­ment, they get these for free,” she said. “They have a lit­tle app on the phone for it and then they go in and watch it. If they like that house, then we can sched­ule an ap­point­ment to see it in per­son.”

Con­nie Stom­mel, the bro­ker/ owner of EXIT 1 Stop Re­alty, said John­son is on the “cut­ting edge” with her use of vir­tual tech­nol­ogy to show homes.

“Tech­nol­ogy is chang­ing the way that peo­ple look at prop­er­ties, and to get the ad­van­tage and to at­tract more buy­ers, it’s a wonderful tool,” Stom­mel said. “Es­pe­cially for peo­ple that are over­seas or long dis­tance, they’re com­ing in from a dif­fer­ent state, so it’s def­i­nitely a wonderful tool to be able to of­fer.”

John­son said her over­all fo­cus has al­ways been to pro­vide the high­est level of ser­vice to her clients and looks for vir­tual re­al­ity to bring “some­thing dif­fer­ent, some­thing helpful” to her real es­tate busi­ness.

“What I’m look­ing for is how do I help my clients,” John­son said. “How do I do what’s in their best in­ter­est and help them when they’re search­ing for a home.”

STAFF PHOTO BY CAROL SMITH

Real es­tate agent Martha John­son of EXIT 1 Stop Re­alty in Dunkirk demon­strates the use of a vir­tual re­al­ity head­set equipped with a smart­phone. The tech­nol­ogy en­ables clients to take a vir­tual three-di­men­sional tour of a home.

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