Along with artificial intelligence, virtual reality has been one of the hot tech tickets within the property industry for several years now.
Property developers have jumped at the chance to show off their product online with 3D tours, and agents have been toying with them as an alternative to expensive and time-consuming traditional property viewings.
They also have an appeal for buyers and renters – why traipse around dozens of houses or flats when the whittling can be done online, leaving just the best to be viewed in the flesh?
And they’re even more useful both for people looking to share a property and students trying to find accommodation remotely, both kinds of which, often, can’t attend physical viewings.
Nevertheless, virtual viewings have yet to go mainstream even though some of the platforms enable agents and prospective tenants to meet up on a smart-phone and complete a ‘virtual viewing’ together.
But virtual viewings now has their chance to shine. A clutch of national lettings portals have launched recently with large inventories that are perfect for virtual viewings.
One such is Resooma.com. It started out life as University Cribs, successfully building a specialist national portal via which both institutional and private student rental property suppliers can list their units.
Late last year the company changed its name and became Resooma, ostensibly to widen the business and hopefully extend its market into post-graduate property rentals.
“We didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a student brand for ever but we want to target a 18 to 30 year-old demographic by retaining our users after they graduate,” says co-founder Jack Dawkins.
The Cardiff-based business is everything you’d expect of a proptech firm. The team are young, dressed-down and techy. But like many of its wannabe rivals, Resooma has considerable turnover and, according to Dawkins is now profitable two and a half years after it launched.
He says the business is currently looking for investors to ‘take it to the next stage’ and fund expansion.
And the business is clearly investor-friendly. Dawkins claims it has been largely bootstrapped until now with just a little seed capital.
It has proved its concept with a presence in over 25 cities around the UK and with the potential for even greater scale, something the company is hoping to achieve over the next year.
Resooma also wants to move from a listings model that offers agents leads to one which, still working with the lettings industry, moves its model back a bit and does ‘more of the work’ as Dawkins puts it. This will include ultimately tenants being able to book property directly on the platform.
“We don’t want to be an online agent, we don’t want to be a portal and instead we want to be a booking platform,” he says.
“I understand why traditional, physical viewings take place, but I do think there is a very big opportunity especially in the rental market for viewings to become a thing of the past.” – Jack Dawins, Resooma
His big idea is that tenants book a property and then view it online via a virtual viewing and then line-up the utilities, all during the same session.
Virtual viewings are a major plank in this strategy, therefore, and Resooma is already offering virtual tours and planning to eventually conduct live, real-time viewings, alongside other products and services including guarantees and referencing.
“The idea is that in a shared house each tenant will make a payment every month that will include all the shared facilities within it including utilities plus Sky and broadband,” says Dawkins.
All this is due to take place over the next six months, although approximately 500 properties have already been included in its VR venture, approximately 4% of its 11,000-strong inventory. Some have been completed for third party websites including hotels, though.
“I understand why traditional, physical viewings take place, but I do think there is a very big opportunity especially in the rental market for viewings to become a thing of the past, although I realise that in the sales market that is less likely,” says Dawkins.
“The work on the VR is done but it’s taking a little time to integrate into the agent market because they can be apprehensive about change, but the feedback we’ve had from our agent clients is that their tenants think it’s amazing, and therefore so do they.
“The biggest problem that we’ve found letting agents have is that many prospective tenants who’ve completed a first viewing can’t remember what the place looks like, although we’ve found it’s invaluable as both a pre-sales and a post-sales tool.
“The way we see it is that agents’ margins are being squeezed and they will increasingly need to make themselves more efficient; one way to do that is to reduce the number of viewings they need to attend to rent out a property.”
Resooma claims its VR capability is part of an ongoing ‘instant gratification’ trend created by Uber and Deliveroo, because tenants will be able to ‘order’ a new home and view it all from their mobile phone in a few minutes.
VR also has a benefit that only SEO geeks will understand. Google increasingly ranks sites not just by their content but also by how long people spend on them and engage, and VR can play a huge role in stopping people from bouncing off a website like
Resooma’s, and generate more organic traffic.
If all Resooma’s plans come to fruition, and it can eventually push out from its student base into the wider lettings market, a new kind of virtual-viewings enabled hybrid platform for renters could be born.