Are the Days of Shuffling to a Million House Listings Over?

How Silicon Valley’s newest toy is shaking up Philly’s real estate scene.

Illustration by Melissa McFeeters

It’s a pleasant Saturday afternoon in August, and I’m touring a newly rehabbed rowhome in Kingsessing. It’s a fine-looking job; the main floor is the expected open plan, but the developer managed to keep a few original design elements. Really, the most interesting part of the tour is that I’m not actually there. I’m in Rittenhouse Square, three and a half miles away, standing on the showroom floor of the BoConcept store. On my head: a pair of virtual reality goggles that make me look like something out of Star Trek but let me “walk” through a house that’s on the market across town. I’m here at the invitation of real estate agent Cherise Wynne of Coldwell Banker Preferred, who’s showing off the technology to both prospective buyers and future sellers.

In the past year or so, agents in Philly have begun to view VR as another tool to get sellers to sign on the dotted line. Wynne is an early local adopter. She says the technology is helpful for one group of buyers in particular — the out-of-towners: “This is more efficient for those who are relocating and can’t come to town for a showing.” But convenience is increasingly important even to local buyers, and VR could be a key tool for moving homes faster. A survey conducted last spring by online brokerage site Redfin found that one third of buyers made an offer on a home without even visiting it, up from 19 percent in 2016.

Northern Liberties-based HomeJab, a company that makes dynamic videos for sellers marketing their properties, has seen its 3-D services boom. “I’ve been following the technology for several years, but it wasn’t until last year that I felt it was really starting to gain momentum in the industry,” says founder and CEO Joe Jesuele. “Video is still our most popular service, but demand for 3-D and VR has been growing rapidly.” HomeJab has produced 3-D video tours for about 150 agents nationwide, with packages starting at $400 for an average home.

For now, Wynne plans to show only her most videogenic properties using VR because of its cost. But as the medium becomes more popular, she expects the price to drop. So someday soon, when you contact an agent about checking out a house you found online, you’ll get an app and pair of glasses instead of a key-box code. Seeing your new house from the comfort of your old one? Sold.

Published as “Walk This Way” in the November 2017 issue of Philadelphia magazine.