Part 2: Virtual Tour has to look great
Once the virtual tour (VT) team accurately portrays the home as designed by the builder (see Part 1), the next expectation is for the tour to look great. The goal is to create moods while making the home look bigger, brighter, cleaner, warmer, etc. As mentioned previously, ensuring the accuracy of the house design in the VT is an objective exercise. This next part is more challenging because it is more subjective, and there are almost no rules.
What are the ingredients that make a tour look great? Rendering Quality and Staging. (The composition is also important. The hotspot location for the panoramic image plays an important role. More on this next week when we talk about UI/UX.) When a builder asks me, “Is that a photo?” then that is a good sign the rendering looks great. However, there are many more subtle details to this process. As a buyer of VT, builders should be informed and know how to spot quality work from different VT teams. The items below are only overviews. One can find volumes of information by experts, (who often are more like artists than scientists). Typically, builders already have either in-house staff or vendors that help with this process.
Different VT teams use different rendering software. The one selected likely offers the biggest sweet spot of ease of use (especially for revising a project), rendering speed, photorealism, and the price of the software. These factors all play a role in providing a sustainable solution to help scale and meet the client’s demands. As a builder, you do not need to know the nuances of each rendering software (and there are new ones every year) or the latest technology (displacement, raytracing, ambient occlusion, specular, physical-based, real time, etc.) Instead, you can focus on these items:
Are the rooms well lit so that they are not too dark or overblown? Are all the rooms evenly lit? For example, some rooms without windows, like walk-in-closets and basement, need to have the same level of brightness as rooms with windows. Are the exposures for the light coming through the window and the interior lights (i.e. light bulbs) correct? Great lighting should not have a clinical feel; instead, it will create some level of drama and emotions.
Do mirrors, glass, tiles, and other shiny surfaces look glossy? Do these objects have the correct amount of reflection? For example, the amount of reflection from a mirror is different from wine glasses, chrome faucets, or a brushed nickel doorknob.
Do different surfaces look realistic and are correctly scaled? For example, does the hardwood floor show the correct width for each plank? Does the kitchen backsplash with random tiles actually look random and not show repeating patterns? Does the wood grain of a table correctly run in different directions to show the correct construction? Do fabrics and rugs look thick and soft and not like paper-thin?
If the interior space is built according to plans and looks photorealistic, then the next part is decor. The process of decorating and furnishing the house is typically performed by interior designers and professional home stagers. Some may have furniture items rotating through model homes or placed in storage. In real life, this can be a lengthy and expensive process. When it is done well, it looks pleasant and seamless. Otherwise, the room can come across as outdated, cliche, garish, underwhelming, or disharmonious.
Correct furnishing as per size, location, etc
Sometimes, builders will have designers provide furniture placement on the floor plans. Although they use CAD furniture icons with no specific size or detail, they narrow down the location of certain items (i.e. which wall should the bed be placed on.)
More often than not, furniture placement is not provided. Instead, the VT team adds that as part of their service. For example, some owner’s bedrooms are larger and are designed to accommodate a king-size bed. Putting a queen-size bed would result in extra space. Speaking of bedrooms, we know it is important to have nightstands but it is not a must to have a pair of nightstands for all bed sizes. For a smaller bedroom with a twin or full-size bed, it may only accommodate one nightstand, which is sufficient. And yes, even when there is a pair of nightstands, they do not have to match. Another example of proper location: Is the TV at the correct wall where the cable hook-up is located in the living room? Are furniture pieces skillfully placed to enhance the appearance of the room while balancing some practicalities? Sometimes, the sofa and armchairs can practically face the tv but “close up” the room.
The details are endless
Is it okay to leave the pantry or walk-in-closets empty? Do the objects in the bathroom give a spa-like feel? Is the backyard, deck, patio, screened-in porch, etc staged? Looking through the window, is the outside scene correct (i.e. neighboring homes, fences, specific location such as mountains or lake, etc)? As a builder, you can also direct the VT team to furnish rooms to reflect trends. For example, adding a desk to a bedroom, or converting a flex room into a home office will resonate with homebuyers during COVID-19.
Is the furnishing under or overwhelming in terms of quantity? The amount is often predicated on the time spent, the style of the home, and the expertise of the virtual stager. As mentioned, there is no standard but a great deal of subjectivity to all of this. Underwhelming decor (which is way more common than a heavy hand in real or virtual staging) will be obvious to the eye.
How is furniture selected? Does the VT team have an organized catalog for you to select? Are the furniture pieces based on real-world familiar brands (i.e Restoration Hardware, West Elm, Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, IKEA, etc.)? Or do you pick from a 3D catalog that is not so user friendly? Can you provide photos for the VT team to replicate? Are the furniture items adjustable in terms of colors and sizes? (Can you pick the black leather sofa but ask for it to become a brown suede loveseat?)
Styling is highly subjective; trends come and go. Designers use labels to cover a wide range of styles. Currently, mid-century modern has been all the rave but traditional is now having a comeback.
Regardless, there are some considerations to look out for including the usage of multiple types of fabrics, curtains, knick-knacks on shelves and tables, plants and flowers, accent pillows, rugs, mirrors, electronics, cutleries, floor and table lamps, picture frames on surfaces, wall art, etc. Are rooms staged to target demographics, including teen bedrooms, active adults living rooms, etc.? If the home is at the mountain or the beach, do the decorations complement such a location?
If everything looks objectively correct and subjectively pleasant, then you have a great scene for a rendering or even a video. For those two items, there is not much to them. We are all familiar with watching a video and how the controls work with Youtube, Vimeo, etc. But for a virtual tour, it gets more complicated. So next time, we will talk about User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX).