Virtual reality helping provide glimpses of Denver’s real estate future

Picture this: You’re interested in buying a new condo but the building is still being built. The drywall isn’t even hung yet. Before you sign on the dotted line and commit to a major investment, you want to see more. What will the countertops look like? How’s the view?

Forget two-dimensional renderings and floor plans. Just pick up a tablet or strap on a pair of virtual reality goggles and get a complete 3-D look around the condo that could be yours. Switch between floor plans and finishes to get a sense of what you’re getting down to the digital inch.

That process is playing out every week in the sales office for the forthcoming Lakehouse condo building at 4202 W. 17th Ave. in Denver.

The first condos in the 196-unit building from Denver-based NAVA Real Estate Development won’t be move-in ready until the second half of 2019, but, thanks to the Lakehouse’s specially developed virtual reality tech, 3-D tours have been available in the sales office and online for months.

“We started our presales very early with several years to go before move ins,” Sarah Stone, NAVA’s director of marketing, said. “We just felt like we needed something else to give people a sense of what it will be like to be in the space. They’re used to touching and feeling something.”

Scale model of the Lakehouse Denver. Oct. 17, 2018. The Lakehouse Denver won’t be ready for move in until summer 2019, but the sales team at the condo development is taking a unique approach in the meantime: Using VR googles to give would-be buyers tours of not yet existing condos.

The tech wasn’t cheap. Before debuting it at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival this summer, NAVA invested $30,000 in developing its virtual reality program, working with design consultant Charles Hellwig from Cinearc Creative to create something different from off-the-shelf products.

The program provides 360-degree tours of the three types of units. Users can toggle between each of the four color pallets picked out for the kitchens and bathrooms. Tours of the lobby, second-floor lounge and fitness area are also available. The tours can be accessed via the Lakehouse website — lakehouse17.com — making them a valuable marketing tool when appealing to potential buyers in far-off places.

The Lakehouse isn’t cheap either. Units in the 12-story building overlooking Sloan’s Lake from the site of the former St. Anthony Hospital campus start in the low $500,000s and go up $3.3 million for a three-bedroom penthouse. Kevin Garrett and Matt McNeill, half of the Kentwood City Properties broker team tasked with selling the building, say the 3-D tours have been a valuable tool when working with the luxury real estate buyers.

“To buy a high-end condo and not be able to select your options is tough,” McNeil said. “People know what they like.”

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Enter adaptable virtual reality.

Sarah Stone of NAVA Real Estate Development shows how to use the VR goggles for the tour of not yet existing condos. Oct. 17, 2018.

“We got to show a woman this week what her backsplash would look like,” Garrett said in October. “People say, ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ and then you show them what something will look like and they go, ‘Oh, OK.’ ”

The tool also provides additional transparency. The virtual reality gives buyers a clear idea where the building’s support columns are in each unit, and offers a look at other less exciting design elements such as soffits that cover duct work in places.

NAVA isn’t the only real estate company using virtual reality to paint a more vivid picture of what is yet to be.

In September, Revesco Properties president and CEO Rhys Duggan used 360-degree VR images to give people at a Downtown Denver Partnership forum an idea just how much his company’s River Mile project could change the area now occupied by Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park and a sea of surrounding parking lots. The project could result in up to 15 million square feet of new development over the next 25 years, eventually displacing Denver’s urban amusement park.

International shared-office space office provider WeWork uses a VR program that gives prospective clients a 3-D look at spaces before they’re finished.

“It’s been coming for a little while,” University of Colorado Denver assistant professor of architecture Kevin Hirth said of the use of virtual reality in real estate. “I think VR has always seemed like an obvious kind of outlet, especially for the younger generation that grew up playing video games and things like that. To be able to move through a space and be able to see it dynamically, I think, is very appealing.”

The rise of hyper-realistic digital renderings has actually caused somewhat of a divide in architecture circles. Some firms are fully committed to creating and using such images, while others have moved away from them entirely in favor of more traditional or even conceptual drawings of projects, Hirth said. For commercial work, though, he anticipated that photo-realistic virtual reality is going to be increasingly popular.

“When the purpose is delivering capital and investment, this delivery method is going to be very pervasive,” Hirth said. “They are demonstrating to potential buyers that they have figured this thing out right down to the tile that’s going to be in the kitchen.”

People involved in the Lakehouse project say the VR has provided benefits outside the sales office. Don Larsen, NAVA’s vice president and construction manager, said the program helped the Lakehouse team make some design choices, particularly in the common areas. It also provides a guide for contractors building the project.

“It really helps them visualize what to do,” Larsen said.

Of course, NAVA isn’t relying on a single tool sell a project such as Lakehouse. Drones have been used to photograph the building during construction and to provide an idea what views will look like from each of its 12 stories.

Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to toss some old school in with the new. The Lakehouse sales office contains a scale model of the building, complete with tiny people, model trees and toy cars. You know, just for good measure.

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