New tool helps home buyers get a glimpse of the future

"Think of it as a first-person-shooter video game, only instead of killing monsters, you use the technology to help design your new home."

multimedia home tour 88 248 (photo credit: Ron Friedman)
multimedia home tour 88 248
(photo credit: Ron Friedman)
Construction on Gindi Investment's new luxury apartment complex in Ramat Aviv is only scheduled to be completed in 2012, but with the aid of a first of its kind three-dimensional interactive imaging system, interested buyers can already see, walk through and make alterations to their potential home. "Think of it as a first-person-shooter video game, only instead of killing zombies and monsters, you use the technology to help visualize and design, your new home," says Asaf Engel, owner and CEO of 3-Dig marketing technologies, the company that designed the first interactive simulator for the real estate industry. Gindi's sales center in Ramat Aviv features a coffee bar, chandeliers and water fountains, but the most eye catching feature, is the state of the art screening room, where sales executives give potential buyers virtual tours of the apartments, lofts and penthouse suites that are currently for sale. The multimedia room is dark and cool. A large screen that takes up a whole wall dominates the room. When senior project manager, Mordi Shabat, starts up the program, the room becomes illuminated by images of the yet to be constructed luxury towers projected on the screen. After a brief virtual elevator ride to the proper floor, the door opens to a life-sized three-dimensional simulation of the apartment. Shabat reaches for a joystick sitting on the table. As he pushes it forward, on the screen, it appears as if you've walked a few steps forward. "We call it the interactive simulator, it's been running for the last three weeks," said Shabat. The images are crystal clear. As you "walk" through the room, light reflections on the floor and surfaces changes accordingly. With the aid of the easy to use joystick, potential buyers can move about the rooms, view the apartments from any angle they choose and even make alterations to the design. By pressing a button on the controller the operator can switch between different flooring patterns, change the colors of the doors and doorframes or lower or raise the height of the ceiling. Another button shows you an overhead floor plan, indicating the user's location within the room. Shabat said that Gindi prefers the use of the interactive simulator over sample apartments, as is common in most other projects, because it offers more flexibility and variety. "With a real apartment you only get to see one version, with this program, we can show people many different types of units and modify the look of the apartment according to the client's tastes. Also, with a virtual apartment, there's no wear and tear." The current system is a pilot project and shows only three of the 17 available apartment options. Customers get to take a compact disk with a movie of their virtual tour home with them. Though the disk doesn't include all the interactive features, clients can show the video to family and friends and get a real feeling for where they plan to live. "In this project we limited the program to suit the client's requirements, but theoretically there is no limit to the possibilities this tool can provide," said Engel. "Here we made it possible to alter the floors and ceilings, but using our services, you can change everything from the kitchen design to the paint on the walls to the view outside the window." "What this program gives you is the chance to turn the viewing into an active process. Instead of passively sitting and watching a video, you get to control where you go and what you look at and you can always go back and look again if you want to. We find that this grabs the potential buyer's attention to longer periods of time. A movie will hold your interest for a minute or two, but with this, they can play for hours," said Engel. According to Engel, the program used to design and operate the interactive simulator is a novel marriage of two worlds, a graphic engine from the world of computer games and the architectural spaces of the real estate world. The process of programming the interactive simulator took 3-Dig three months to complete, starting from when they received the naked architectural designs from the architects. Slowly, programmers started adding the design elements like furniture, artwork, textures and lighting, all of which change depending on your location in the apartment. This work is done by a group of talented programmers who combine special computer skills with artistic creativity and an eye for detail. In later stages the interactive elements are added as well as sounds and the whole thing goes through a three-day rendering process on powerful computers. Engel, who opened his company four years ago, said that the use of three-dimensional imaging in the real estate sector has changed dramatically over the last few years. From a tool used mainly by a handful of innovative architects to help them visualize a structure before it's built only half a decade ago, until nowadays when no company goes without high-resolution three-dimensional photos and videos of their properties, to show off to their potential clients. For him, the interactive element is the natural next step. "We pitched this idea to real estate companies two years ago, only now the market is responding," said Engel. "As far as we can tell, this project is the first in the world to combine gaming technology with real estate marketing. We believe the potential is huge." Engel said that since completing the project for Gindi, he has received requests for similar programs from other real-estate companies both in Israel and abroad. "Something like this is too good to keep quiet for long. I'm guessing, you'll start seeing more and more of this in the future."