What It's Like to Use VR to Buy Multimillion Dollar Real Estate

A new startup is using VR to help property owners buy luxury real estate.
September 30, 2016, 6:37pm

To own a home in Manhattan, you essentially need to be a millionaire.

New York's total property value soared earlier this year, reaching a record-setting value of around $1 trillion. The median sales price of a Manhattan home was $2 million, and that's not even at the top.

To make it easier for wealthy people to see their options without the legwork, a virtual reality company is applying Oculus Rift technology to real estate. With Virtual Xperience, a startup founded by Jeff Maurer and Stephanie Davis, you can put on a VR headset and take a tour of a potential apartment or building, whether or not it has been built in real life.

While Davis and Maurer hope the technology will eventually reach the entire real estate market, it's currently limited to luxury properties. And it could be especially helpful for foreign buyers, who are more likely to invest in luxury properties without stepping foot in them.

As part of Luxury Week, Motherboard's dive into how the wealthy live, I took a tour of a $7 million apartment in both virtual and actuality reality.

The space that I saw was a five bedroom apartment on Prince Street, in lower Manhattan. On the VR headset I could tell it was ritzy—with high ceilings in the living room, a fireplace and a little lookout balcony on the second floor. There was customized art and detailed fixtures designed by Virtual Xperience around the house, which helped to visualize the possibilities of the apartment.

Learning how to maneuver through the VR with controllers was fairly easy, if not intuitive. But the technology is still nowhere as smooth as our regular vision, and the process of turning around in tiny movements gave me significant nausea.

When I visited the space in real life, I was hit with a different sensation: the fear of climbing through construction site scaffolding in heels. At the actual site on Prince Street it was much harder to imagine what the apartment would look like, since there were no walls, stairs or details. The main benefit was that I got a better sense of the neighborhood, and the size of the space.

As VR continues to ease into different parts of our life, I can see why it would be an asset in the real estate market, where it's otherwise easy to get misled by sneaky angles of tiny rooms online. And it might make it easier to flip through multiple properties, as long as you've got your VR sea legs.

But it won't completely replace seeing a place in real life, unless you're a buyer just looking to accumulate property instead of making it a home.