Broadband's growing dominance is giving builders more options for demonstrating their products to online audiences.
According to Internet media analyst Nielsen//NetRatings, the number of in-home broadband users increased 36% in 2004 and now accounts for 55.5% of the total U.S. in-home users as of January 2005. Factor in workplace use and consumers with broadband access may be approaching 85%.
Does this mean builders should put up flash introductions to their Web sites and enhance every page with music? No, but they should consider how video and virtual reality can help demonstrate and sell their products.
With increases in speed and capabilities, introducing video and virtual reality may become more of a reality for builders.
Video and virtual reality allow customers to view a site, a plan or even a community without having to step foot outside of the current home.
One of the most innovative and effective ways a builder can use virtual reality on its site is with master planned communities. With the master planned community, selling the lifestyle makes video and virtual reality a winner.
For those builders planning future communities, video can be an integral part of selling future releases. Video — also called video streaming — can be used to show a particular the community, its attributes and testimonials.
For some production builders, virtual reality and video has become a mainstay of demonstrating communities and plans. Two builders that have used video and virtual reality to bring their communities to life online include Estridge Homes in Indianapolis for its use of virtual reality to demonstrate homes and D.R. Horton in Dallas/Fort Worth for its use of video to demonstrate communities.
Estridge Homes is now building virtual walk-through animations for every plan it builds with the help of Aareas Interactive.
Paul Estridge, president of Estridge Homes, believes that the way homes are sold leaves much to be desired from a consumer perspective. "We build hundreds of different styles and plans, but we only show people one or two of the homes. Who else [but home builders] would try to show product and only show two items?" said Estridge.
How far have we come with virtual reality? "It's an incredibly realistic experience. Until virtual reality, people really could not experience the product," said Estridge who sees this as really changing the process of selling homes. "Instead of driving traffic to our models, we can drive our models to our traffic."
Virtual reality can be a significant investment, but Estridge sees it as being well worth the investment. "If I sell five more homes next year, I have paid for it. It just doesn't make sense not to do it."
Dallas/Fort Worth GIANT D.R. Horton (NYSE: DHI) has made a similar commitment to video to demonstrate its communities. The company has filmed nearly all of its 62 communities in Dallas/Fort Worth. D.R. Horton then makes these videos available online as well as through the HotOn! Homes Web site.
According to Todd Horton, division president, DFW West Division, "This market is tough. We think video and the use of our new systems have been central to giving us an edge in the market."
Is video and virtual reality the new standard for builders? Not yet, but it is coming.
Television and video are also proving to be effective traffic drivers for builders.
Pulte Homes' Houston division is a good example of a builder that has used television and video to improve its traffic. Not only is the Houston division [in the process of] filming all of its communities, but it is also filming in both English and in Spanish. These programs can be found on the HotOn Houston Website and are being broadcast on HotOn Houston and Mi Casa TV.