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CGI in Real Estate

Since time immemorial, real estate- from the humblest houses to giant pyramids have been more than places to live, or even rest in death. They were statements- of power, imagination, personality. Think of the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramid, both tombs to house their masters in death, or think of the Palace of Versailles and Las Vegas- both bold statements of celebrating living. We may not build pyramids of stone anymore, but Real Estate is still one of the most important possessions any of us aspires for. One’s own home is at once a necessity, and at once a realization of one’s ambition. For a business an office and/or a factory are central to its existence.

From the earliest days of computerization, there were attempts to digitize one or more aspects of the real estate industry’s lifecycle. In the late 1980s architecture and engineering adopted the first widespread computer aided design methods, but planning, marketing and publicity continued to use photographs or artists’ illustrations and at best, cardboard miniature models for visualization of complete structures. However, it wouldn’t be till the 2000s that realistic 3D modelling would start to offer an alternative. Today, powerful computers and equally powerful software programs exist to create and visualize real estate spaces with a very high degree of realism. See Figure 1 below to notice the progression in realism of not just the architectural elements, but of the trees, sky, shadows, and by 2019, realistic rendering of water in a pool.Figure 1: State of the art residential 3D renders by year (clockwise, from top left): 2002, 2008, 2015, 2019

Figure 2: Photorealistic render of real estate interior

Benefits of Real Estate CGI

Photographs can only capture what is real. Post processing can add elements here and there, but the basics do not change. 3D rendering changes that. Entire properties can be visualized, or unfinished rooms can be shown as if already real to use. Especially with photorealistic renders, the marketing aspect of real estate sales is benefited immensely. One might say that if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a 3D photorealistic render of a future-ready property is the picture that can replace the thousand words of convincing that a pre-seller might need to use to convince a potential buyer!  Also obviously a 3D render can be  used to market the property a lot further away than the immediate neighborhood. As we become more “online” in our lives, the day is not far when houses, especially the ones in demand will be sold purely through online inspection.

A second benefit of a photorealistic render is the degree of detail that can be created. As a result, a potential buyer can go into finer detail, such as the material used for the kitchen top, the flooring, the size of the windows, etc. and can hold the seller accountable if the finished property does not match the render (assuming exact recreation was promised in the first place). On the seller side, the 3D render can showcase any lighting, any season and can therefore be setup to showcase the property at its best. Maybe the trees in that neighbourhood have spectacular fall colors, but it is already winter. No problem! Time is not a constraint with 3D renders.

The last benefit is about emotions. Nothing beats actually seeing one’s future home. If the potential buyer can see themselves living, growing, entertaining, and thriving in that home, the pull of the home is irresistible. A prospective parent starts imagining their children growing up in that house, walking down the street, climbing that tree in the backyard, and so on. Once the emotional appeal is strong, the sale is halfway done! With a visualized house also comes a possibility of being able to ask a bigger price than a potential buyer might have been willing to pay, but if the seller is willing to commit that the house will be like the one visualized, a premium might be coming their way!

Types of 3D CGI for Real Estate

Real Estate CGI falls into five main categories. These are:

  • Exterior renders– When most people think of 3D renders of Real Estate this is what they are thinking of. Figure 1 above also features all properties’ external look only in the render. These still images are generally used to visualize the overall look and feel of the outside of the house, as well as the neighbourhood streets, houses, schools, any special features like rivers, mountains, forests etc. to create a context. The point of view is generally of a person in a car driving up to the house. Do they like what they see? Wouldn’t they want to see this every day?
  • Interior renders– Interior renders recreate the inside of the house, room by room to a fine level of detail, down to the wrinkles on the bedsheets. The idea is to give the viewer a sense of closeness, and to show off the potential of the house/room- what is it capable of looking like? Another great interior render feature is, ironically, the outdoors. Especially for high rises or houses overlooking spectacular views, an interior render can show off the spectacular view from the window or balcony, eliciting wows from potential buyers. This is also a great conversation starter about the tasteful decoration, fixtures etc. to deepen the connect with the buyer.
  • Panoramas– 3D photography is here, and is well established in the real estate industry. Panoramas can be 2D photos stitched into a panorama, true spherical 3D photos viewable on a headset in immersive 3D, or can also be purely CGI created panoramic views, accessible both on normal 2D screens as well as headsets. Panoramas are a step beyond regular 2d interior or exterior renders and offer immersive experiences to the buyers. Especially if the showcased scene is a powerful, compelling one, it can hugely influence the buyer decision. However these can be expensive to create, especially in pure CGI. These real time renders are also quite resource heavy, so have to be showcased properly, especially if they are used to make presentations to investors or buyers.
  • Animation– Just as CGI can be used to create stills, it can also be used to create elements which are used in a video. This video can be a live action film shot with green/blue screen with CGI elements “inserted” later. This is an expensive proposition, but has been used very successfully in the past to market ultrapremium properties. This will get cheaper steadily, with movie-quality shooting possible with just a good smartphone and a tripod, and ever-cheaper software resources for CGI rendering becoming possible. One just needs the talent to execute it.
  • Virtual Tours– Virtual Tours of properties, or “walkthroughs” as they are called, are one of the most popular applications of CGI. Whereas once upon a time these were stitched sequences of actual photographs, today these can also be pure CGI, especially if the property is unfinished, under renovation etc. In this case, a sequence is created around the 3D model render. The tour organizer, or narrator plays the tour like a film rather than a true video-game like interactivity, which would add unnecessary complexity.

The future of CGI in Real Estate

The role of CGi is set to only increase. As devices get cheaper and more powerful and faster internet standards like 5G become available, the desire to make and view evermore realistic renders will only increase. We see CGI soon either replacing photographs in some cases or at least being accepted as an important part of the home buying/selling process. New emerging technologies like VR and AR promise to push the limits of reality and immersive experience once again. As those technologies go online, real estate- or rather CGI in real estate will follow close behind.