DISRUPTING real estate

Millions have been pumped into new technologies for real estate, hence it’s conceivable that even this conservative sector will eventually be over-run by these nifty things which are getting more user-friendly by the day.

By Paul Neil

fea1The real estate and construction industry has in many ways been slow in the adoption of new technologies. However, several key exponential technologies are currently reshaping the industry: 3D Printing, Robotics, Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence.

The immense worldwide demand for new housing units, up to 600 million over the next 15 years has fuelled the search for new construction techniques in the last few years. Several start-ups across the globe have positioned themselves in the nascent 3D printing market for houses. Chinese company WinSun made headlines last year by printing a five-story apartment block.

Speed of construction is just one of the advantages of the new process. Yaron Schwarcz, CEO and founder of Tridom, an Israel-based start-up that works on autonomous building machines which can be retrofitted onto existing building machinery, explains: “We estimate we can build a four-storey, 16-apartment building within one week rather than the current assumed four months. That would yield significant labour cost savings and building cost reduction of up to 60%. The process will also allow for more complexity, completely new architectural designs and lower error rates.” Another beneficial factor is the significant lower waste generation throughout the construction process. Construction waste currently accounts for almost 30% of global waste and the majority of waste in urban areas.


A big question mark is still raised by the appropriate building material. Several start-ups are working on new solutions, like sand and polymer composites used by Italian company D-Shape and plastic by Dutch company Canalhouse. While significant regulatory questions remain, especially in respect to building strength, the start-ups are driving innovation with the existing format of construction and building design using 3D printing.

New construction techniques are also finding their way into city planning concepts—simulation and design softwares like UrbanSim allow city planners to plan simultaneously on multiple work streams integrating different parts of government departments and design streams into the project. Already this new design method is finding its applications across the globe – from San Francisco to Paris. Anielle Guedes, CEO of URBAN3D, an urban engineering start-up from São Paolo: “City planning is becoming totally democratised. Citizens can participate and give their input at an early stage of urban planning and also influence on daily management issues. It will be like SimCity meets Virtual Reality and direct democracy.”


But new technologies are not only fundamentally reshaping the process of city planning and building, it will also reshape the way we buy and sell real estate, creating new opportunities. Progress in 360-degree video capture has given ample input for virtual reality platforms—a booming market in which Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others are currently pumping billion of dollars. The real estate shopping process of the future will be done from the comfort of the living room, in virtual reality, wearing next-generation virtual headgear. Visits can be done at anytime, anywhere. Multiple start-ups like Studio 216, Vieweet, Arch Virtual, ArX Solutions, Rubicon Media, and others are developing virtual reality applications specifically for real estate. They are capturing and rendering models and images/videos of properties for clients and investors to view and explore.

Soon virtual agents will be able to tell you about the house, its history and features. Virtual reality will also allow you to tweak and overlay different views—how would the bathroom I am viewing look with different tiles or the living room with a different carpet? Virtual Reality programs can adapt the image and show the modifications instantly. In similar ways, the software can adapt the apartment or house to different furniture, decoration and garden landscaping. A virtual pool in the backyard will be possible in real time.

According to Peter Diamandis, founder of the X-Prize foundation and of Singularity University: “Virtual Reality real estate platforms will allow you to explore any home for sale, do the remodel, and determine if it truly is the house of your dreams. You can even get an estimated bid and delivery time from a contractor to implement your vision. After you leave, an Artificial Intelligence can help you write your bid, contact your bank and make your offer on the spot.”

Should a buyer permit, a machine learning algorithm will be tracking movements, learning likes and dislikes, and intelligently recommending other homes to visit. Already these algorithms are widespread at Netscape, Amazon and the likes. Real estate portals like Zillow, Trulia, Move, Redfin, ZipRealty and many others are investing millions in machine learning applications to make search, valuation, consulting and property management easier, faster and better.

There is significant disruption coming to the real estate sector: The near future will see immense changes in the way we build houses, the way we buy them and in the way we live in them. Builders, real estate agents, architects—beware!

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