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PropTech Innovation: How XR Changed the Future of Real Estate & Talent Demand

According to a recent press release, 2024 kicked off the emergence of PropTech XR capabilities - equally important to the innovation itself is the new hiring demands at top commercial real estate firms, where executives are suddenly debating how to effectively scale new tech skills like digital twin engineers, AR designers, and VR developers.
Drew Cano

Premiering January 10, 2024, a new program takes students on a virtual field trip to Edge at Hudson Yards, a 1,100-foot observation deck and weather observation station popular with tourists. Students will explore new horizons in community building as they journey 1,131 ft into the air to Edge, the highest outdoor skydeck in the Western hemisphere, for an unparalleled 360° view of the city and a behind-the-scenes look at amazing innovations of architecture and engineering. Such features also included in the VR simulation is a drone flight weaving and bobbing around the city’s skyscrapers. All the while, the remote online VR experience is available for free as part of Edge’s Reach for the Sky initiative, which aims to encourage an early interest in STEM fields among K-12 students.

While the intersection of education and VR offers enticing opportunities for the future of public and private works projects, none of these exhibits in the PropTech space would be achievable without the continued investment in the Metaverse – hiring demand was already high for these skills, as market leaders in retail/ecommerce, tech, entertainment and gaming already find themselves scrambling for talent.

Digital Twins: Creating the XR Experience

A July 2022 report by McKinsey states that the metaverse will be worth $5 trillion globally by 2030, defining the amorphous, all-encompassing term as simply “the internet in 3D.” As consumer habits and preferences keep changing in line with technology advances, it’s clear that the user experience that businesses offer is what sets them apart. The top consulting firm also reported that 80% of customers agreed that the user experience is just as important as the product.

The advent of XR and investment in its technologies has flooded PropTech in recent years.

This heightened interest and investment in extended reality (XR) prompted Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center to interview hundreds of technology experts to capture their insights on the topic. In all, 624 technology innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers, and activists provided open-ended responses to a question seeking their predictions about the trajectory and impact of the metaverse by 2040.

The results of this canvassing: 54% of these experts stated that they expect by 2040 the metaverse will be a much more refined and fully-immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for a half billion or more people globally.

The use of VR, AR, and XR technologies in real estate is growing rapidly, faster than most firms thought possible. According to a report by Goldman Sachs, the VR and AR market in real estate is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2025, with the XR market expected to grow even faster. This growth is being driven by a range of factors, including the increasing availability and affordability of VR and AR devices as well as the growing demand for more immersive and interactive experiences.

While the average consumer still associates the VR/AR experience, and the Metaverse, with a headset or even a set of Apple Vision Pro goggles, the PropTech world has grown consistently more reliant on a host of AR features, specifically the development of digital twins.  A digital twin is an immersive 3D, 360 degree model of a physical space, thereby allowing renters and buyers alike to traverse and explore a space from the comfort of their own laptops and cell phones. Across residential and commercial real estate, teams are making the most of easy-to-use digital twin features to streamline lead generation, collaborate smoothly, and work more efficiently.

All-in-one platforms like the high-end service Matterport have made it easier than ever to get started creating your own state of the art digital twins for property marketing. Browse through any real estate agency’s page for only a few minutes and you’re likely to find inside each listing a digital recreation or image generated tour guiding the viewer through a potential home, apartment, or commercial space.

Digital Twin Technology in the Commercial Space

Touting its success, Matterport has proven to be a vital tool modernizing long standing companies across various markets. Globally headquartered in Monheim, Germany, with South African headquarters in Isando, Gauteng, Crop Science is the first legally independent subsidiary of the pharmaceutical and biotech conglomerate Bayer with its global reach presenting communication challenges for the coordination and construction of large scale plants and facilities.

Bayer is currently ranked 206th on the Fortune Global 500 list with over 100,000 employees. Founded in 1863, updating pharmaceutical and biotech clients for the 21st century is a massive undertaking, and Matterport’s digital twin technology has reduced project planning costs by 75% across site visits, scanning, and sketching for the large project planning.

Tasked with overseeing interdisciplinary engineering teams that design processing facilities to produce various seeds in Africa for global dissemination, Crop Science has one of the most significant research budgets in the business and a powerful mandate: to develop new integrated solutions to help farmers and communities feed and protect our planet. The Row Crop Seeds organization in South Africa utilized Matterport’s digital twin when a project needed expert 3D point-cloud scanning.

Prior to using Matterport’s digital twin platform, Crop Science’s engineering teams often had a myriad of site information to combine, or worse, sometimes had to hire a consulting architect or mechanical designer to manually build physical models. That entailed traveling on-site, drawing up site plans, building and equipment sketches, or conducting existing condition surveys, then creating the digital footprint which could take the best part of one to two weeks.

As Jaco van der Westhuizen, the team lead for the capital project expansions in Africa, stated his concerns prior to Matterport’s digital twin technology integration, “The moment you are back at home [from an overseas trip to the Africa based facility], you realize that you didn’t capture a specific brace element or something that is impacting the design. Or sometimes we only found that out during the construction phase.”

Using Matterport, Jaco van der Westhuizen’s engineering team was able to easily streamline the processes workflows from remote locations, obtaining multiple file types to use in their design, including 2D floor plans, a photorealistic 3D model, and BIM assets delivered from their Matterport digital twin’s point cloud data directly in a LOD (level of detail) 200 Revit file.

Matterport simultaneously enabled Bayer to create the same digital quality for their legacy systems to interface together in the larger design phase. A complex project could touch about 50 cross-functional people, including leadership, an internal customer team, the engineering team, cost engineers, and the discipline leads. Possessing a digital tool that can integrate with building information modeling software to make complicated 3D conditions easily understandable by all–regardless of level of technical expertise–is absolutely valuable. Viewing a facility’s construction from a bird’s eye view to granular detail cuts across all the resources and users in that space.

The improved, digitized project workflows and communication come at a whopping savings to Bayer’s Crop Science division – around $80,000 per year. The mandate to develop new integrated solutions that help farmers and communities feed and protect our planet reverberates through their use of Matterport’s digital twin technology and powerful SaaS functionality.

Zillow & Apple: Digital Twin Technology in the Residential Market

Digital twin technology has found a natural home in the real estate industry. Residential agents are using virtual models to promote listings and more easily find motivated buyers, utilizing not only a smooth UX for prospective buyers; but Matterport tour allow for 3D “Doll House” models of listed properties and automatic 2D renderings of home and apartment schematics. Buyers are shown to be 300% more engaged with a Matterport 3D virtual tour than they are with 2D imagery or photos. Virtual tours can help real estate brokers construct better experiences, improve client satisfaction, and generate more revenue.

However, these digital twin listings won’t be found on the Seattle based real estate technology company Zillow. Instead, the company has chosen to keep its digital twin listings in-house by developing a bespoke virtual 3D tour and corresponding App for constructing and viewing home renderings. According the real estate listing giant along with data collected from October 2022 to March 2023 for Top 50 MSAs by listing volume, the inclusion of a Zillow 3D Interactive Floor Plan into an online listing provides an unequivocal advantage:

  • 69% of home buyers agreed a dynamic floor plan that shows what part of the home each photo depicts would help them determine if the home is right for them.
  • Listings on Zillow with an Interactive Floor Plan received 60% more views than listings without an Interactive Floor Plan.
  • Homes on Zillow with an Interactive Floor Plan were saved 79% more than homes without an Interactive Floor Plan.
  • Not to mention, listings with Interactive Floor Plans receive priority positioning on the Zillow website and app.

Zillow is betting that Apple is pioneering the next platform for proptech by introducing Immerse, its fully realized virtual reality home tour solution. Apple’s Vision Pro was released on February 2 in the United States.

In the wake of the launch, Zillow Immerse is the latest in a series of software releases from the home search leader as it moves toward an agent services model, collectively referred to as its Super App. One of the key features of Zillow Immerse is the AI-powered interactive floor plan, which helps users better understand the layout and flow of a home. Zillow’s survey shows that more than half of prospective buyers regret wasting time visiting properties they would have skipped if they had access to the floor plan beforehand. The Super App company is now also offering advanced listing marketing, nationwide photography services, showing management, 3D tour creation and even a CRM, after the November 23 acquisition of Follow Up Boss – an automated system that doesn’t rely on manual data entry. It allows users to send in leads from their existing marketing and websites via email.

According to Zillow’s latest Consumer Housing Trends Report, 74% of prospective buyers agree that 3D tours help them to get a better feel for a home’s space than static photos, and 70% wish that more listings had 3D tours available. As a result of digital twin popularity and the newfound accessibility of in-home VR, Zillow will automatically make all Listing Showcase properties eligible for viewing within Immerse.

Listing Showcase is Zillow’s elevated marketing offering that features highlighted map icons linking directly to stand-alone property websites with motion-graphic hero images, prominent listing agent information, categorized room imagery, interactive floor plans and a home tour scheduling widget. For the time being, the service is limited to select agents in each market. Zillow said users will be able to “stroll” hallways, examine ceilings and peer into closets.

Key hires for transformative PropTechs

In order to cultivate PropTech’s growing XR demand, as VR and AR digital twins become more commonplace in residential home buying, commercial SaaS, education, and immersive digital experiences, commercial real estate companies and PropTech scale-ups will need to either collaborate with existing studios or hire a full set of creators like:

  • Digital Twin Engineers: Imagining and building the next generation of connected systems, crafting digital replicas of physical systems, transforming data into decisions.
  • Product Managers: Balancing user needs and business goals, aligning diverse teams while anticipating user needs and marketplace trends.
  • Data Visualization Engineers: Blending math with art, creating cohesive visual narratives that bridge the gap between raw data and human understanding.
  • Augmented Reality (AR) Designers & Developers: Combining hardware, software, and design expertise to create immersive experiences that feel seamless and intuitive.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) Designers & Developers: Constructing immersive digital universes with meticulous detail, transporting users into new realities.
  • User Experience (UX) Designers: Shaping user journeys, optimizing via user testing, and uncovering user insights that guide the work of developers, product managers, and others.

In addition to the top skilled players above, firms will also need project managers, UX pros, and other (more readily available) supporting team members. Already entrenched in these fields, Worky provides deep support and invaluable insight for companies seeking top flight talent. Using our cultivated relationships, Worky will scope, curate, and pair skilled talent with the right employers in the growing PropTech field based upon your company’s needs. We can help find the right individuals, build out teams, or fully manage these services. We offer hiring managers a free consultation here.

Augmented Reality
Real Estate