Looking for the perfect home can be a frustrating process, one that comes with long home tours with chatty real estate agents and difficult decision-making along the way.
One homebuilder in Gainesville is trying to make the process of finding the right home easier and more efficient.
Barry Rutenberg and Associates, a Gainesville-based builder of Arthur Rutenberg Homes, is now offering virtual-reality tours to give prospective buyers an immersive experience for home shopping.
The idea is that homebuyers can try on the virtual reality goggles to view up to 50 Arthur Rutenberg model homes across the United States, while walking around or even sitting in a model home in Gainesville.
“(Homebuyers) can tour a home in North Carolina and if they like it, even if it doesn’t meet Florida code, we can build it similarly while meeting Florida building code,” said sales associate Staci Biondini.
Barry Rutenberg and Associates has built at least 1,000 homes in Alachua County over 45 years, according to Brenda Banks, vice president of sales and marketing . It builds homes from 2,200 square feet to about 7,000 square feet, often starting at $450,000 and topping out at about $2 million, Banks said.
A reporter tried on a pair of the homebuilder’s virtual reality goggles. The virtual reality home on display was a 4,486-square-foot home in Asheville, North Carolina.
Quickly after putting on the goggles, potential buyers could forget they’re inside a home in Gainesville.
Walking from one room to the next in Gainesville, such virtual-world shoppers can stroll out onto the Asheville home’s back patio and gaze at its extensive property line, cozy outdoor setup and grilling station.
Want to go to a different room in the virtual home? The tour requires that you stare at a blue orb, which the goggles use to move around inside of the house, much like a mouse would be used to guide someone through a computer tour.
Using the goggles, the potential buyer could then virtually walk into the Asheville home’s kitchen and look up to see the dining room's chandelier.
Take off the goggles and one is back in Gainesville, possibly feeling a little out of whack because of the how real the experience seemed.
Banks said the homebuilder started offering the virtual tours because it has the potential to eliminate driving time for buyers.
“It isn’t unusual for our buyers to drive to Naples, Sarasota or even the Carolinas to tour our homes. Now, they don’t need to travel any further than our model in Gainesville,” Banks said. “When looking for what model home you want built in Gainesville, you start to think, ‘Do I really want to make the three-hour drive to Sarasota?’ This helps cut out the drive, or at least helps you decide if you want to make it.”
Homebuilders have also been using drones to help people survey properties before buying, Banks said.
Despite making the decision process a little easier, Banks and Biondini agreed that virtual reality tours won’t replace the real thing.
“People still like to look and feel,” Banks said.
In the future, Banks said it could be possible for potential buyers to request a customized virtual tour before having a homebuilder make them a custom-built home.
“That’s two, maybe three years away,” she said.