Virtual reality tours the responsible way to show houses during COVID-19 pandemic

Showhouses should be cancelled until end of the COVID-19 epidemic and replaced with virtual reality (VR) tours to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.

This is the view of Debbie Robertson, general manager of Virtuality-360 (V-360), a company providing developers, agents, buyers and sellers the ability to create VR tours of their homes.

“The truth is, that buying and selling will continue despite the current health crisis,” she said. A March 9 and 10 flash survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors in the US on of more than 70 000 residential members, confirms this, with  78% of respondents saying the situation had not changed homebuyer interest in their markets.

“That being the case, estate agents, buyers, and sellers alike should urgently realise that they will have to exercise extreme caution when it comes to the sale of a residential property in order to avoid contracting or spreading the new coronavirus,” she notes.

Risks to all parties

Experts worldwide recommend social distancing as the most effective way to combat the spread of the virus.  “But how do you do this when traditionally, estate agents have to take any number of potential buyers into a home?” asks Robertson.

“The reality is that if they don’t make a sale, they don’t have an income.  So unless there is an alternative, they will carry on taking people into the private space of the homeowner.”

The virus takes between two to 14 days to incubate and can transmit even while the carrier is asymptomatic.  This means if the agent is unaware that he or she is infected, there is a high risk of passing on the virus either directly, through coughing near the homeowner or a member of his family, or through contaminating surfaces in the home.

Conversely, the agent may inadvertently be infected by a seller.

Robertson continues: “Buyers are equally at risk.  Traditionally, they need to go into any number of homes where any number of inhabitants may be infected, to personally assess whether the home may be suitable for them to buy.”

VR tours the obvious solution

VR tours offer the obvious solution to this conundrum, she says.  “V-360 has set in place a system whereby we can dramatically reduce the risk of infection to all those involved in the buying and selling process.

“We have invested in preventative training and protective supplies to ensure that our videographer taking the images and videos does so in the most sterile and hygienic way.  Our videographer will enter the property at an agreed time, kitted with single-use, medical-grade gloves and face mask, and will remain a safe distance away from the seller.

“He will take note of various special features and augment the stills or videos with any special detail, so sellers will be able to see an exact replication of the actual home, inside and out.  Once the work is completed, he or she will disinfect surfaces he or she has touched, leave the house and supply the link to the agent.”

Agents can limit their risk by bringing only pre-approved buyers to view homes.  These buyers will have viewed the VR tour, which dramatically reduces unnecessary interaction between either the agents, sellers and potential buyers.

Opportunity for industry to change

“The real estate industry has been operating in the same way for decades,” says Robertson.  “This may be the opportunity for it to modernise, to operate in a more clever way, be more productive, do more business and protect their agents, sellers and buyers.

“Until now, security has been limited to the risks posed by criminals.  Today, we have a much more insidious threat to deal with – but deal with it, we must.”

She believes it may well be sellers themselves who end up galvanising change in the industry.  “Given these precarious times, I believe it is only a matter of time before sellers will start insisting that agents use VR tours to market their homes, rather than open their homes to large volumes of people who might contaminate their space.

“If agents are unwilling to pay for the VR tour, sellers may even start paying for it themselves, reasoning that R1500 is small price to pay for the safety of your family.

“However, I believe the real success stories will be those companies that show their concern for the safety of their agents, buyers and sellers and include VR tours as a part of their running expenses,” she concludes.

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