The New Tech Shaping How We Choose Where to Live

If we learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that you can do a lot online. It turns out that includes the life-changing decision of buying a new home – something that would’ve felt far-fetched just a decade ago.

Edward Pearse would know. The director of Time & Place, a Melbourne-based property developer, Pearse has watched how the concept of designing apartments has evolved, with new tools placed in customers’ hands that allow them to have a stake in the design and feel like they’ve almost been inside a property before a new build has even broken ground.

The flat, two-dimensional floor plan that for a long time was the norm and left potential buyers guessing what was up from down is being replaced in 2022 with 3D interactive models that are walking property buyers through entire buildings.

Pearse says the pandemic has had a hand in this.

“It managed to fast-forward things that have been sitting around as opportunities for a long time,” he says. “Like e-contracts: it became a technology that people accepted, and are accepting post-pandemic now.”

It’s a far cry from 21 years ago, when Pearse was living and working in New York. Back then, he says, you got what you got.

“It was a bit more faith based,” he says of buying apartments off plans. Eventually, the marketplace started offering blanket light or dark schemes to choose from. But that was limited, too. “In some cases there wasn’t even a drawing to represent the finishes.”

Nowadays, you’d be forgiven for mistaking a digital, life-like render for the real thing.

“Every few years there seems to be a shift and the quality gets better,” Pearse says.“We’ve [also] learned there’s more to rendering than just the software. It’s more about the direction and curation. Often we engage with an architectural photographer to help us set the camera angles within the 3D space to create almost photograph-like images.”

As much as it helps customers and investors visualise a project’s finer details to scale, (because materials without context can look vastly different in reality) it’s also a key design tool for “another layer of information you can make assessments from,” Pearse says.

Time & Place is on the cutting edge of apartment-buying technology with its Queensbridge Building development in Southbank, which utilises an online sales portal called Custom Lab. In real time, Custom Lab shows what’s still available in the Elenberg Fraser-designed 62-storey hotel and residence, and has filters to narrow down bedroom and bathroom preferences, price points, and what view and level you’d prefer.

“[Potential buyers] then access the [different] apartment plans and can understand where the kitchen is in relation to the bathrooms, how much storage there may be, if there is a study desk, and how a dining table might sit in the space,” Pearse says.

Custom Lab also affords a wide selection of options and finishes – different timber veneers, paint colours, tiles, stone bench tops, carpets and so on.

It’s the kind of tech that allows people to navigate their way through the sales process without even having an agent. Not that sales agents or show rooms have been entirely forgotten – they’ve just been given an upgrade, like everything else.

“While we can show someone a virtual experience and convey it the best we can, I still feel that falls short of the actual realities of what we’re striving to do,” Pearse says, referring to The Queensbridge’s own showroom, dubbed the Experience Studio. “To understand the way light falls on surfaces, the smells and sounds, the chatter of things, nothing can replace those experiences.”

Everything at the Experience Studio represents what future residents can expect, like the deep moss green bathroom, a to-scale kitchen, and “homely touches” such as a built-in bureau in every apartment’s entry “where you can charge your phone, drop your keys and leave your shoes.”

It’s these kinds of technologies and human-focused experiences that have changed the process of buying a home for good. The only question that remains is, what’s next? For developers such as Time & Place, it’s virtual reality.

“There’s a VR feature that we will be starting to investigate when we believe the technology is there,” Pearse says. “It will have the ability to put yourself into these spaces.”

This story is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Time & Place.

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