Posted on May 29, 2015
For many students leaving the comfort and familiarity of the family home for university is a rite of passage. As with most transitions in life, the move to university and all the decision-making involved can be fraught with anxiety and uncertainty. The most often asked questions include concerns over making friends, coping with course work and living spaces.
While a student’s social nature or ability to grasp subject matter is largely down to the student themselves, the anxiety around sourcing, choosing and booking somewhere to live can be eliminated via the use of technology.
Students – part of the so-called digital native generation – have grown up in a world where the use of smart phones, tablets and laptops to accomplish daily tasks is second nature. Beyond that, their use of the internet for entertainment and gaming, shopping, banking, booking holidays and socialising means that they expect the same levels of efficiency and ease of use in all other aspects of their lives.
When it comes to other university-related tasks – such as choosing courses, applying for a student union card or signing up to the library – the internet, once again, is the perfect tool.
However, when searching for, researching and booking student accommodation, can the internet play as large a role?
The short answer is: Yes.
The aim for student letting organisations is to ensure all lettings are filled and that the customer experience is as efficient as possible. A large part of the latter means assuring students they are making the right choice in terms of accommodation and that their needs are being met.
As it stands, the majority of student accommodation management agencies have an online presence, with comprehensive websites detailing the sites available, types of spaces for renting, as well as a host of other information regarding aspects such as costs, frequently asked questions, and data about the area.
When it comes to selecting a room or flat online – keeping in mind that this space will be housing the student for the academic year – is this enough to base a decision on?
Many of these websites present photographs and floor plans of the available rooms and flats. However, this two-dimensional view may not be a true reflection of reality as judging space is difficult from pictures and students don’t get a proper feel or sense of the living area.
In addition, some websites offer virtual tours, which present users with a 360 degree view of the room from a central point. Again, it is difficult to gauge perspective or see how big the rooms actually are. These tours often present a slightly distorted view – the fisheye lens effect – which is not helpful in gaining a real representation of the area.
Other methods of showcasing the letting space include video fly-throughs and live tours. However, these are also quite linear, only allowing viewers to see what they are meant to, without the opportunity to navigate themselves and focus on the areas of interest to them.
The application of 3D visualisation in areas such as filmmaking and post production, gaming design, training and graphic design, has found tremendous success. In the property market – particularly in architectural and interior design – 3D visualisation has been used successfully in the past, mainly in bringing new build projects to life. So how can 3D visualisation benefit student letting agencies and their customers?
A new market segment is emerging, one that uses 3D visualisation on both website and smart device apps to present students with a comprehensive, realistic view of potential accommodation. In this context, 3D tours differ from other virtual tours in that they are not linear or static. Instead, 3D visualisation allows students to gain an entire view of the room or flat in question in an interactive and immersive way. In effect, students are able to walk around the room, as well as the entire building, to get an actual feel for what the property offers.
Users can zoom in where they like, see the space from any angle, focus on aspects that interest them and be in control of what they are seeing. It is a more visual, more engaging method of showing and viewing properties and enables students to make an informed choice in terms of which accommodation best suits their needs. Students can also see beyond their own rooms to gain a wider view of the building as a whole – seeing where their rooms are situated in terms of common areas and staircases, and where their neighbours are located.
The main benefit of this method is that it can all take place online without the student ever physically having to visit the building. This is advantageous not only for local students moving a few hundred miles, but for international students as well.
For student letting agencies, 3D visualisation is a powerful marketing tool. It assists their customers in making better choices, but is also crucial for advertising new builds where there are no physical show rooms to view.
The student generation is very much one fuelled by its use of social media, for everything from organising a party and gaming, to dating and making friends. Depending on the type of 3D visualisation software used, some brands allow viewers to take screen grabs of rooms and views and post them to social media sites, including student discussion forums. The benefit for letting agencies is that their branding is present on these pictures, while the benefit for students is that their friends can see what is on offer and encourage them to use the same site or live in the same building.
As technology evolves and more letting management companies adopt this type of 3D visualisation, the possibilities for an even more efficient and streamlined process are limitless. Ideally agencies will aim to get students to sign up in as fewer steps as possible – in the future, this will undoubtedly mean doing so from within the viewing app.
In addition, there are opportunities for retail partnerships with letting agents, allowing students to furnish rooms, select electronics and buy groceries from within the same app.
Technology has an increasingly important role to play in the student lettings market. Both students and managing agents stand to benefit from the use of the right tools – such as 3D visualisation – both in the short and longer term. From informed decision making to maximising lets, technology has the power to dramatically improve this market space.