Video Chats, Apps And Lasers: Tools For Remote Home Design And Sales Work

Real Estate

There was a time, not so long ago, that measuring was the time-consuming element of design work. In these Corona virus-sensitive days, it is a fraught part of the process. 

Thanks to improved technology, architects can now measure a building’s spaces more accurately and quickly, with less time spent inside the rooms.

“The technology is not new, but we are now able to use it on all types of structures,” says Chris Brown, Principal of b Architecture Studio, a custom home design studio with offices in Winchester and Osterville, Massachusetts. “The technology has progressed so that the formulation is better. The time and the cost used to be prohibitive for smaller structures.”

A 3-D scanner, the device used by Brown and other real estate and design professionals, throws a laser beam 360 degrees to capture all aspects of a room.

“The technician has to leave the room while it is scanning,” Brown explains. “It can measure a typical home in a half day, a larger one in one day. This is much quicker than doing it by hand, so the intrusion is less.

“In the future, maybe a robot or a drone can do it,” he adds.

Accuracy is a great advantage of 3-D laser scanning, Brown says.

“For complicated crown moldings, the technology is excellent and does this very well. It does have some limitations. For example, be careful if the room has mirrors: they deflect the laser.”

He finds the cost of a 3-D laser scanner competitive with the cost of human measuring, and its advantages to homeowners who want to limit traffic in their homes are enormous. The brands Brown uses are Leica and FARO. FARO’s entry-level Focus M70 scanner retails for just under $25,000.

Real estate agents have been grappling with the challenge of showing houses to prospective clients while trying to minimize interaction with them, as well as time spent touring homes. Although BoomTown has been in business since 2006, providing concierge services to real estate professionals, the new social isolation rules have been a boon to the company. With 41,000 users of the service all over the United States and Canada, BoomTown has seen a 41% increase in membership since March. Monthly subscriptions cost $1,750.

“People are still searching for homes; in fact, more than ever,” says Stacey Finnegan, Director of Product Marketing. Headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina, with offices in San Francisco, Atlanta and San Diego, BoomTown’s real estate products and services are geared to the residential market.

“While we’ve been shooting 3D tours for years, we took these to another level recently by utilizing a 3D tour system that adds on-demand video chat. Homebuyers like to virtually tour homes anytime, but they love being able to click a button where they can video chat with one of our agents to ask their questions. In today’s day and age, providing on-demand answers is crucial. The combo of the 3D tour coupled with on-demand video chat has been a game-changer for us.”

“For the past ten years, video and photos of a property have very important,” says Owen Tyler, partner and realtor at the Cassina Group in Charleston, SC. “A huge percentage of people look on line before they decide whether to walk through. Now, this new technology takes it a step further. BoomTown powers our web site, and consumers can text us directly from the website.”

He thinks that the technology is timely.

“Prior to January, 2020, a few homes per year were sold without the buyer setting foot inside. Now, I see a lot more contracts that were signed remotely, without people actually seeing the property.”

He believes that the new norm will have homebuyers signing purchase and sales agreements as a way of locking down a property until they can visit it in person.

For homeowners who want to sell their properties but are reluctant to allow an appraiser into the home, ServiceLink offers a new product that does away with the in-person service entirely. EXOS Inspect, one of the suite of products of EXOSValuations, a division of ServiceLink, makes the home inspector redundant.

“EXOS Inspect replicates what an appraiser would see, but it is entirely in the hands of the homeowner,” says Phil King, Vice President and Principal Product Manager for EXOS Valuations. 

“The app can be used with an I phone or an Android smart phone. It uses video, geo-fencing and AI capability, and it gives step-by-step, real time feedback. It asks about the type of heating, improvements you’ve made, and it tells you how to hold the camera. If it wasn’t done right, it tells you to do it again.”

EXOS Inspect is made available to home owners by appraisal companies and lenders; there is no cost to the consumer. The geo-fencing aspect of the app makes it impossible to use anywhere but at the home being inspected.

“You can’t use it at your neighbor’s house,” King says. “However, it protects privacy. If it captures family pictures or religious icons, the AI feature blocks them out.”

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