Innovations changing the face of real estate


A construction site in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Just what can emerging technologies do for the real estate industry?

While many people believe that Virtual Reality (VR), Mixed Reality (MR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies were specially created for the entertainment industry, a more valuable use has been found within Kenya’s property ecosystem.

The technologies, diaspora investors have attested, are fast influencing how they settle for various properties in Kenya, while based thousands of kilometres away.

The innovation is also helping realtors record higher sales, as potential clients can view both the interior and exterior parts of an apartment before deciding to pay for it.

“It has been a difficult decision to jet to Nairobi from the US just to view a house because the people in Nairobi we send to check property on our behalf are dishonest. With this technology I can choose from several houses where to invest from the comfort of my bedroom,” says Moses Kariuki, a resident of Seattle, US.

Situma Siepete, operations director at Hotlist Group Ltd, which specialises in virtual reality and tours development, says the concepts present a perfect blend for digital marketing for real estate and hotels, among other properties.

Virtual reality, he says, is perhaps the most used compared to the other two due to its cost and versatility.

“Imagine a scenario where before a property developer break ground, you can walk into the completed project designed using 3D, make any minor tweaks, liaise with quantity surveyors to refine cost, structural engineers can test the integrity of the buildings and buyers can buy the property when still in the off-plan phase. That’s the beauty of these concepts,” says Mr Siepete.

On Purple Dot website, VR plugins have been installed to give customers an immersive 360 degrees view of the interior of Serene Park’s four bedroom ultra-modern villas that stand on 3,600 square feet.

The property, located on the Mombasa– Machakos road junction, Machakos County, gives you the entire view of clubhouses, fitness centres, swimming pools and the expansive gated community ideal for home owners or investors targeting big returns, all on your smartphone.

“You can move from the utility area, enter the living room, view the kitchen and dining, check guest bedrooms and decide whether you love the master bedroom,” says Anthony Onyango, who lives in Newcastle, Australia.

But to get the best out of such experiences, you will need a blend of all three technologies, and get a feeling of what technologists call Extended Reality (XR).

“It is the best way to go in marketing for real estates. The concept creates a new experience for the user,” says Brian Afande, managing director of BlackRhino VR, an XR agency based in Nairobi.

Several Kenyans in diaspora have described the painful ways in which they have lost their hard-earned millions in their endeavour to own property in various areas on the outskirts of the capital.

“This city is littered with painful stories of people in diaspora who have been conned dealing with the construction and real estate industry. Some have been robbed by quack consultants and contractors, others have been swindled by their relatives,” says Nashin Okowa, chair of the Association of Construction Managers of Kenya.

But by giving diaspora end-users the ability to experience their own property in the future, make the necessary design and architecture changes beforehand, developers and contractors can budget accordingly by reducing almost all material wastage at construction sites.

According to Simon Bromfield, Africa lead and channel manager at Autodesk, an American multinational construction software company, the combination of full immersion, spatial awareness, and depth of interactivity enables a far more creative, efficient, and connected process for making things that go beyond end-users’ visualisation.

“It offers a fundamental shift in the way people build – from conceptual design to production, operations and maintenance – into the entire construction process,” he says.

“In Kenya, these innovations are a welcome in the construction industry, where high costs, wastage of materials and lengthy construction timelines, are among key challenges faced.”

During the design process, Mr Bromfield explains, VR could give designers living abroad the ability to understand better the outcome of the design before building commences.

“On the construction site, contractors and engineers can use AR devices such as a tablet or a smartphone to see the digital model overlaid onto the physical site, walk around and identify issues in the built environment, and add comments, and automatically localise to the digital model,” he says.

During the maintenance process, with VR you can remotely monitor dangerous or inconveniently located systems from a safe environment. It provides the ability to control and analyse without having to be in the same physical space.

But for Julian Lim, a tech researcher, the ultimate value of technology in the property sector for those living in the diaspora can be achieved through combining blockchain and XR.

“These novel technologies pair quite well. First, it allows the decentralisation of virtual reality content without sacrificing its protection,” he states.

By using blockchain, he adds, it becomes possible to create a full-fledged virtual world, filled by its users’ creations and working on the rules created by its users, without intervention from the platform’s developers.