A picture might be worth a thousand words, but Baton Rouge’s real estate community has gone a step further, banking on virtual staging, 3D renderings and drone photos as ways to attract more 21st century buyers.
Calls for “Insta-worthy” spaces aren’t confined to the retail sector. The buzzword has also entered other areas of real estate as attention-grabbing photos become a critical part of the sales and leasing process.
The trend is perhaps clearest in the residential sphere, where online photos are no longer an additive to real estate marketing, but a necessary component. When it comes to buying or renting properties, nearly every home search begins online, with deals often struck without in-person showings. For proof, look no further than Zillow or Airbnb, which have disrupted the home-buying and -renting markets enough to keep real estate agents on edge.
But visuals are equally as important in the commercial and industrial spaces, where contractors, architects and engineers use various technologies to digitally manipulate warehouses and vacant facilities in an effort to draw companies to Baton Rouge, while also needing them for internal processes.
Technology is changing the way the Capital Region handles real estate—and the only sure prediction is, there’s more to come.
B.R. houses, L.A. effects
Virtual staging is emerging as a much cheaper option than traditional onsite staging—and one that enables sellers to do far more than show what sort of furniture a room can fit.
Not only has its popularity given rise to studios specializing in the craft, such as the Hammond-based ecko360, but it has also forced traditional staging professionals to rethink the way they do business.
Seeing a need to promote her projects via Instagram and other channels, Becky Walker, founder and CEO of The Design Studio—which uses the software program Revit to give clients 3D renderings of interiors, complete with furniture and other options—hired directors for marketing and social marketing.
“The whole objective of real estate is you don’t want it to sit,” Walker says, noting staged homes have a 70% higher chance of selling than non-staged homes. “[Looking good] is almost required now.”
It’s been a good business decision for Walker, who says the 3D renderings also save her staff “a tremendous amount of time.” Rather than waiting out an eight-week shipping process before furniture comes in, they can sit behind their computers for a week and churn out renderings for a few different clients, including residential developers like Level Homes.
“We have an easier time sealing the deal because it gives the potential client more of a realistic visual of what their end result is going to be,” Walker says. “We have to pay for the software, but it doesn’t cost near what staging an actual home would.”
The ethics of virtual staging can be tricky. Many, like Walker, make sure to tell clients their renderings are simply schematic and proposed designs. But since Hollywood-quality, computer-generated imagery has become so cheap and prolific, some home sellers have gone too far—taking out walls, removing ugly paneling and even adding swimming pools, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Because of this, some efforts are underway nationally, from organizations like National Association of Realtors and the Council of Multiple Listing Services, to minimize the potentially damaging effects of digitally altering properties. They’re left wondering where to draw the line with their policies, as many listing services don’t allow images to be watermarked, which makes it difficult to ensure that disclaimers remain attached to augmented photos.
What the residential technologies ultimately yield is a quicker home-buying experience, says Connie Kyle, who manages the Perkins Road office of CJ Brown-Latter & Blum. However, she adds, any digital alterations should always be disclosed to potential buyers.
Agents in her office often deliver virtual tours with scripted voice-overs, says Kyle, an increasingly normal marketing route for them to pursue. If a buyer isn’t interested in the property based on the photos and videos, he or she won’t even visit the space; if they are, they’ll narrow down a few options based on videos and photos alone before visiting any of the homes in person.
“I don’t think virtual staging has as many pitfalls—it’s just letting you see what you can do with a room,” Kyle says. “I don’t know how much it’s helped, but professional photos definitely generate more activity.”
3D footage isn’t the only technological advancement the commercial real estate industry has seen over the past several years, says Karl Landreneau, the New Orleans-based director of commercial sales and leasing for NAI Latter & Blum. Drones, data and analytics as well as video property tours have also tapped into the commercial realm.
Landreneau says he’s personally secured as many as 10 deals over 3D virtual tours through the Matterport program, after which he normally lets potential buyers view properties through an in-house, multiple screen-sharing program.
“It’s not just a walk-through of a building,” he says. “You can spin it, tilt it, cut off the roof, or look at the floor plan from outside from one of our drone photos.”
The site selection process is becoming increasingly data-driven, as well. Landreneau’s team recently finalized a new technology they plan to use for the retail sector in particular, enabling a restaurant or apparel store owner to identify their ideal demographic profile, and the agency then builds a profile and “sensitivity analysis” to narrow down the best statistical location for the business.
On-demand workspaces are also becoming more prevalent, both nationally and in Baton Rouge. Several weeks ago, for example, coworking provider Spaces announced it would open its first Louisiana location in a 18,000-square-foot Perkins Rowe suite.
Technology is also changing the way contractors like MAPP Construction operate for its industrial, commercial and retail clients, says company president Mike Polito. Through building information modeling—often shortened to BIM—MAPP can use the technology’s virtual design and construction capabilities to execute projects in much more time-efficient and, usually, less expensive ways.
He and his team use BIM and the Revit program to generate realistic 3D models of properties that involve all project stakeholders, making information sharing, collaboration and internal documentation easier for space planning purposes. Using 4D simulations, they can run the construction process digitally before breaking ground, making stakeholders feel more comfortable.
There’s also an increasing emphasis on drones, which MAPP has begun using during the marketing phase, says Polito, adding clients are fascinated by their ability to capture an entire environment.
As the local construction industry faces a massive worker shortage, he says the recent advancements are being viewed as something of saviors.
“With this technology, you’re able to eliminate obstacles,” says Polito. “Bit by bit, it’s getting rid of waste in the industry.”