Award-winning architectural visualization firm, Focus 360, debuts “The Next Generation of Virtual Model Homes” at premier home building conference
Homebuilders have been marketing and selling homes the same way for 50 years
How do you help potential buyers visualize their future home before turning over the first shovel of dirt? Prior to the recession, most builders answered that question with a model home. But with the convergence of high definition video, a growing 3D consumer television market and a smaller builder pool with reduced marketing budgets, the model home as we know it may eventually be replaced by the virtual model home.
That’s where Focus 360, an award-winning architectural visualization firm based in Laguna Niguel, Calif., enters the scene.
On June 22, 2011, Focus 360 unveiled its immersive 3D TV technology at the 2011 Pacific Coast Builder’s Conference (PCBC) in San Francisco. Focus 360 gave three-minute demonstrations of both interiors and exterior immersive tours from various communities throughout California, using the new Samsung 55-inch LED 1080P High Definition screen and Bluetooth-enabled 3D glasses. The demo on YouTube’s 3D Channel can be seen below, but viewers will need 3D glasses.
Unlike the last generation of “3D” home tours, which were typically shown on 2D platforms, Focus 360’s immersive 3D TV technology uses the latest in 3D television equipment, giving prospective homebuyers the opportunity to see kitchen islands and bathroom fixtures leap off the screen for a true “virtual reality” experience. With the help of 3D glasses that separate right and left images, they can move through each room, getting a sense of the actual width and height of doorways, or feel as though they are actually brushing against a kitchen countertop.
“As display technology became more affordable and the technology finally caught up with the idea of ‘immersing yourself in a computer generated world,’ we saw an opportunity to take our virtual model tours to the next step,” said Steve Ormonde, co-founder of Focus 360. “When you enter a virtual model home today, it’s almost indistinguishable from the real thing. It’s easily mistaken for real video of the product.”
How It Works
The immersive tours are 100% computer generated, created by Focus 360’s talented team of artists, architects, animators and programmers. They often start with CAD floorplans and material specifications, but can take something as simple as a napkin sketch and transform it into 3D. The process begins when the information is converted into a basic 3D model. The client sees their design for the first time in what is called an “animatic.” This preview assures the final video is covering all areas that are important and can frequently point out shortcomings in the architectural design. From there, the 3D model is embellished with finish materials, interior design elements and special effects. Once completed, the 3D model becomes the basis for the immersive 3D tours as well as renderings and web content.
Virtual Model Home Tours in Action: Signal Hill, Brea, Santa Barbara
Santa Ana-based City Ventures is the first developer to exclusively use the immersive 3D TV technology instead of model homes. Currently, the company is using it at three Southern California neighborhoods, including Long Beach’s Signal Hill, Brea Downtown Collection and Santa Barbara’s East Beach Collection. A typical tour experience at Signal Hill, for example, begins as the prospective buyer steps through a choreographed interactive sales presentation. It starts in 2D with an animated video of the community. From there, it progresses to a review of floor plans and options offered. At this stage, the salesperson can choose to give the buyer a tour of the home, either in the traditional animated 2D video or in the new immersive 3D video.
Herb Gardner, president of City Ventures’ Homebuilding Group, says they were primarily motivated by two factors: innovation and cost savings. “When we created City Ventures, we knew we wanted to be innovative and different,” said Gardner. “Homebuilders have been marketing and selling homes the same way for 50 years, but technology has gotten us to a point where we don’t have to see the house in reality anymore. And because home prices are down 50%, we also had to look at how we could get our costs down. When you start factoring in the cost of maintaining and operating a model home over the life of a project, it can be very expensive.”
Joe McEachern, who bought a two-bedroom condo at East Beach Collection in Santa Barbara, says the look of City Ventures’ virtual tour was instrumental in his decision to buy. In fact, the virtual tour was so real that when it came time to choose his upgrades, he wanted the kitchen cabinetry and bathroom shower to match the same features shown in the virtual tour.
“I wanted that same color and that same look I saw in the virtual tour,” said McEachern, a 40-something data administrator who is not shy when it comes to technology. “When all you have is dirt at a construction site, it’s almost impossible to buy a home that you can’t see or touch. But the virtual tour is very comprehensive. I must have looked at the video a thousand times. I even turned it into a screen saver and put it on my computer’s rotating wallpaper.”
Now that McEachern has been watching his home being constructed (move-in isn’t expected until September), he believes the virtual tour was “an accurate portrayal of the home” he bought.
“There’s an agreement between the virtual tour and the reality of the construction as it’s unfolding,” he said.
The technology has been so successful with tech-savvy buyers like McEachern that City Ventures plans to add seven more communities across California in the next six months.
Virtual model home tours not only mean cost savings for the developer, but also for the buyer. A typical 3D TV immersive tour costs between $8,000 and $10,000 per floorplan (a typical community has three or four floorplans). Construction, merchandising and maintenance of a full-scale model home can cost as much as $500,000, over the life of a project–a cost that’s typically factored into the price of the homes. On a project of 50 units, that’s $10,000 a unit.
Interest and excitement about this new technology is high. As the new home market regains strength and momentum, immersive 3D will likely become the industry standard for how forward thinking homebuilders market their new neighborhoods and home designs.
“As we are emerging from the recession, the builders we are working with no longer have the luxury of large marketing budgets and model homes for every floorplan,” said Ormonde. “But there is still that fundamental disconnect between a builder selling a home without a model and the consumer’s ability to understand floorplans. Our immersive 3D TV technology bridges that gap.” Added McEachern: “For new construction, I can’t see it going any other way. 3D virtual tours are the new standard.”