Luxury Condo Buyers Take Digital Home Tours

MIAMI – Albert Prada was interested in buying a home in LOFTY Brickell, a new 44-story luxury condo building along the Miami River near the city’s financial district. He was on the fence, though, because he wanted a view of Brickell Bay to ensure his place would lure plenty of short-term renters.

Through virtual reality technology, Prada was able to take a “virtual” walk-through of the unit, while the high-rise was under construction, see the modern interior – and sure enough see a clear look at the bay. Feeling like he visited and inspected a finished condo, he bought the pricey unit.

Using a virtual reality headset or a laptop, Miami company Yupix has made a big tech play in the real estate market that enables potential homebuyers like Prada to immerse themselves inside a property without actually physically being there, and before the building is finished. As Miami continues drawing foreign and domestic buyers, there’s a growing desire by developers and property managers to offer people 3D realistic “virtual” views of what condos and homes will look like to help entice them to buy sight unseen.

“I got an idea of how the apartment would look,” said Prada, a Coral Springs business owner, about his trendy new Brickell digs. “I was uncertain about how you would see the apartment from the outside. I didn’t want the nearby train station to obstruct the view from the apartment. I saw I would have a view of Brickell Bay.”

Patricio Navarro, CEO of Yupix, said the virtual experiences offered to Prada and others are “meta reality,” a blend of the physical world around you with a digital environment.

“You have three different levels. Your surface level is rational and one level below is your emotions. Your third level is the deepest when you find your instincts,” Navarro said.

What it’s like for buyers

At first glance, neither of the large, empty rooms at the downtown Miami Waldorf Astoria Hotel & Residences sales gallery nor the Yupix office in Wynwood seem like gateways into the “meta” universe. That changes when you put on a virtual reality headset the company made.

The rising 100-story, $426 million Waldorf Astoria is the first supertall high-rise under construction in downtown Miami. To tour it, visitors and potential buyers wear the headsets to visualize how the building is designed floor by floor as it reaches for the sky at 1,049 feet above ground level on Biscayne Boulevard.

Visitors observe what the property will look like in all directions around them, as if they were walking through in real life when it’s completed by 2027. The feeling is surreal. Although you are not physically walking, your brain is telling you otherwise.

“Renderings can only do so much,” said Ryan Shear, managing partner for Waldorf Astoria developer Property Markets Group (PMG). “You’re trying to explain what a 1,000-foot square building is. It’s hard to explain what that building feels like and this bridges that gap, so that you can feel it.”

Shear is a Coconut Grove native and considers the Waldorf Astoria project to be the biggest of his real estate career. It’s not only the hulking high-rise, but building the skyscraper worthy of the famous name. After all, the Waldorf Astoria built in Manhattan in the late 1890s was the first hotel in America with electricity and in-room telephones. It quickly became favorite lodging of the rich and famous.

Since watching Yupix test early iterations of its virtual reality technology, PMG gave the tech company feedback how it could better serve real estate companies.

Technology has come a long way

Back in 1990, Navarro began working in architectural visualization, creating 3D renderings of properties, and started the first North American firm in that field. He found that while many real estate agents wanted a digital way of viewing properties, the technology was not there yet.

Then after several years in real estate, Navarro started Yupix in 2019 to give real estate companies a visual advantage to sell properties. He now has 50 employees around the globe.

This month, the Miami company will be fully operational in Bogota, Colombia, and plans to open offices in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Sao Paolo, Brazil by end of the year. There are also plans for a London office.

Using virtual reality to market properties is just one way technology is changing the future of real estate sales. Take Bella Virtual Staging, a British Columbia firm with customers in Miami. Business development manager JD Lloyd works in virtual staging designing furniture for visual depictions of properties.

“It started in the early 2000s but no one cared for it because it wasn’t effective,” Lloyd said. “Because in-person showings weren’t available during the pandemic, people stuck with it. Virtual staging is taking photos to edit, adjust or move furniture to make it look like a furnished home. It’s a net zero waste process.”

And the costs of virtual staging are $29 for a photo of a room compared to the $500 to $600 to furnish a room in real life. Total costs for virtual staging, Lloyd said, are 10% of the $4,000 to $10,000 to furnish an entire property.

Meanwhile, Navarro of Yupix has found that people taking “virtual” tours of large properties selling multimillion-dollar condos have been more likely to buy there. Indeed, pricey high-end developments, such as the Waldorf Astoria and E11EVEN Hotel & Residences Miami, using the firm’s virtual reality technology have had higher sales conversion rates.

Likely expansion as Apple enters the market

While the technology is not yet helping real estate agents sell market-rate housing, Navarro thinks that will be possible in the next few years. Ten years ago at a virtual reality conference, he was asked to give his predictions on the way technology would connect the real estate industry to the future. He thinks tech giants like Apple entering the virtual reality arena will be the difference maker.

“It’s a very well-known brand and the largest brand in the world,” he said. “If Apple is moving into an industry, you can project that in four to six generations of Apple products, those products may be affected by VR. I believe with Apple in the game, it’s going to be about how well developers and apps are adapting.”

As Yupix continues to expand its use of virtual reality technology, a recent experience showing a retired real estate agent a “virtual” property tour inspired Navarro.

“The older the person is, the more exciting the experience,” he said. “A lady who was a Realtor for 65 years, and is 93 years old, said it was absolutely magical. She said that she always believed this was the future, but never in her life did she believe she’d see the experience herself.”

And Prada, the new Brickell condo owner looking for more Miami properties to acquire for short-term rentals, might as well be an unofficial spokesman for the tech connection to the future of real estate.

“If I’m a buyer with many options and I see this with the virtual reality headset, it helps me have a better knowledge of what I’m buying,” he said.

© 2023 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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