Multi-Family Housing and The Metaverse: Opportunities Await in the Virtual World

Conversations with leaders in the multi-family real estate industry led us to consider ways the Metaverse could act as a supplemental layer or extra dimension of multi-family housing and real estate marketing in the future.
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Bergmeyer Senior Interior Designer Kate Francis explains why the multi-family housing market should plug into the Metaverse in part three of our series:

It is only natural for designers of tactile experiences and physical spaces to fight the possibility of our world becoming digital. We have committed our careers to studying human-environment relationships, designing in natural environments, and creating physical experiences. However, virtual worlds challenge our foundational experiences in today’s digital age. So we, as designers, need to imagine a digital universe that complements our physical one and discover ways to leverage that reality to our advantage.

Metaverse MFH 2023 Pool

The Metaverse appears to be mainly penetrating the fashion and retail worlds at the moment, but its impact on the multi-family sector is fast approaching. While there is some speculation about real estate companies beginning to buy and sell properties in the Metaverse, like Earth 2, we believe the Metaverse and virtual world will, first and foremost, become a game-changing marketing tool for leasing properties.

3D virtual tours (linked 360-degree photos of an existing physical space that make it feel 3D) became a prominent leasing strategy during the pandemic as they allowed potential residents the ability to see amenity spaces and available apartments in a 360 format without leaving the safety of their existing space. As John Piedrahita, Chief Marketing Officer of Amherst, noted, “It can be hard to get people to sign a lease if they aren’t able to touch, feel, and experience things,” which is a barrier to entirely replacing in-person leasing tours with Metaverse tours.

Architecture is designed in conjunction with natural elements like wind, sun, and geography, of which the Metaverse is not able to capture and present in the subconscious way that the world is constantly providing us through spatial cues. When considering Metaverse multi-family buildings and experiences, Mark Shraiberg, Vice President of Development Management at Trammell Crow Company, observed that “in the Metaverse, you are only ever experiencing with two of your senses. The metaverse takes the humanness of the equation out.”

Cameo Pool 1

Many real estate companies have integrated 3D virtual tours into their leasing programs, such as the virtual tour for Cameo (featured above). Yet there is still one obvious downside to that practice: the space must be designed physically – meaning items need to be purchased, shipped, installed, hung, fluffed, and then photographed. If a model apartment was solely showcased digitally, it could theoretically be designed by a design firm and then digitally created without purchasing physical furniture or art. This would eliminate lead times, the cost of furniture, and décor for staging and allow for more flexibility in style and the ability to update model apartments with annual trends without much additional effort or cost. This would be most useful while a building is being built and could then be used as a layer to a physical leasing tour to help residents visualize their furniture in the new space.

"When I worked in multifamily, one of the things we looked at was potentially providing a virtual reality experience on how someone could outfit a space," says Piedrahita. "A perfect example is studios – people often have a hard time imagining how they can live in that space. In theory, using this technology, you can select a floor plan and furnish it so someone can put on VR goggles and experience it in a way that allows them to understand, "this is how it would work. That's a queen size bed, that's a desk and a dresser,' and see how they can maximize the space."

Metaverse MFH 2023 04 25 Photo Selection

A “digital twin” is a digital representation of a physical object – in multi-family housing, this could be a building itself, its amenities, and/or its surrounding neighborhood. When used to supplement a physical leasing tour, a digital twin of a multi-family building in the Metaverse would make a potential resident's Metaverse tour experience more personal and organic when assessing the viability of a new community.

A Metaverse tour would allow the potential resident to see the restaurant and retail options near their future home, imagine their weekend strolls, or experience a semblance of the building’s amenities in digital form. Shraiberg was toying with the idea of being able to experience a tour on your own in the Metaverse without a leasing agent on hand, further sharing, “[imagine that] you can sit somewhere [in the digital twin] and read a book. If you could record real sounds from the space and play those while someone is experiencing a courtyard, for example, that would be a big benefit to a potential resident.”

From Piedrahita’s perspective, he challenges us to go beyond the building, adding, “It would be interesting to think about someone’s experience walking down a sidewalk in the neighborhood, with all of the activations in a single-family neighborhood like the kids, the birds, the dogs, etc., and I think that would go a long way toward people signing the dotted line.”

One final idea that we have been considering is digital amenities, such as a location in a virtual world that only building residents can experience, essentially creating a virtual escape or a community-building tool. Mark Shraiberg believes that a Metaverse amenity option “could support community engagement in different ways, which is always a good thing. People tend to take care of their environment when they are engaged with the community that inhabits it.

The Takeaway

The time is now to start plugging architectural models into the Metaverse and offering Metaverse tours and amenities for new properties. As Gen Z becomes a more significant part of the rental population every year, what better way to connect with the digitally savvy, next-gen renters than with a personalized multi-family Metaverse experience? Simply put, multi-family developers must master the Metaverse experiences before it makes its way to the mainstream masses. The only question that remains is how will we, as an industry, start to connect with the digital world?

As designers, we need to prepare for the moment we’re tasked with creating in (and creating for) this virtually undiscovered virtual world. And who knows, maybe we can even help shape its future purpose in the process.

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