By Elaine Kapogines

Consumers generally don’t like to open their wallets for something they can’t see, especially when the money is for a down payment on a chunk of dirt, a floor plan and a promise. No matter how well a model home shows, many buyers have a difficult time translating that professionally decorated, completely upgraded house into a home of their own.

As we continue to move into an increasingly digital world, home builders are being forced to assess how they are presenting their projects to their technologically savvy consumers. Long gone are the days of hand-drawn renderings lining the walls of a sales office, so if you look around at your own sales office and see those hand-drawn renderings, it might be time to reassess how you’re interacting with your potential buyers.

Homebuyers, especially the younger condo-buying crowd, not only expect a high-tech sales pitch, they may walk away from a builder that is not utilizing the latest technologies. And it’s not enough to just have your presentation on a tablet either—you need something truly memorable.

“Developers in the new environment need a visualization package that can help them get approvals during early stages and then move units fast at firm prices,” says Joseph Trainor, director of DoHere Digital Technology, an architectural rendering company that specializes in cutting-edge digital renderings and illustration services. “And by choosing a top-shelf rendering company, your project will be showcased to the public in its best possible light, and will be perceived as a solid investment.”

There is a wide range of rendering and modelling options available for builders, developers and architects to consider, and finding the right product created by the right company for the right price can have a huge impact on how your project is marketed to consumers.

“Scale models are typically the central marketing tool for condominiums,” says David Myles of Myles Burke Architectural Models, a producer of premium quality 3D models. “That’s because it’s tactile. The buyer comes in and is literally wowed by a six- or eight-foot model standing in the centre of the room. And what makes it really memorable are those little details, because they’re just so cool. They’ve probably never seen a tiny treadmill or BBQ before. When consumers see a model that they can walk around and touch, they seem to trust that the builder can actually build the real thing.”

Like any industry, model making has gone through an evolution driven by the advent of new technologies. Peter McCann of Peter McCann Architectural Models has been in business for 30 years and has watched the industry change drastically with the introduction of each new technology. “When I first started out, we were working on milling machines and different tools of that nature,” recalls McCann. He then watched the laser machine replace the exacto knife, and is now watching the 3D printer make its mark on the industry.

“It’s certainly making life easier,” McCann says. “You can just let it run for hours and hours and then when you walk over, your product is done and away you go.” He points to the Salt Lake Temple project as an example of how his staff utilized the printer for really special details, such as oxen and extremely ornate furniture. But they are also able to use 3D printing technology to build mockups, which helps them to visualize the form of a building before moving to the large-scale models, as well as for context models. “The developer or architect may want to see what their building will look like in context of the ew square blocks around the development—the height of it or how the shadows are cast.”

Myles of Myles Burke is less enthusiastic about the 3D printer’s impact on the model-building industry, but agrees it has increased speed and efficiency. “It has its limitations,” he says. “You can’t print transparent or translucent items, but it’s good for solid details like staircases, columns or cornice.” He also adds the size that you’re able to print is a limiting factor, as is the fact that the unique texture makes it difficult to seamlessly join parts.

So where is the rendering and modelling industry going? It’s safe to say that many consumers live online, so maybe the future of rendering and modelling is also in that digital space. The Interactive Abode, a young start-up based in Mississauga, is taking renderings to the next level with its interactive marketing tools focusing on iPad applications and touchscreen kiosks. This 18-month-old company has already garnered business from some big names in the home building industry, including Monarch and Remington Homes. “The business is picking up quite quickly,” says co-founder and CEO Jenna Sicilano. “It was just the condo market at first, but now we’re meeting with a number of low-rise developers as well.”

One program that has caught the attention of developers is The Virtual Decorator, a program that allows buyers to create rooms in their home using the exact floor plan and materials that the builder offers. “Now people are really able to see if the dark cabinets go with the light floor before making that final purchase,” says Sicilano, adding that their programs also allow potential buyers to email the finished product as a kind of digital brochure. “We are really able to utilize the online market,” she says, pointing to marketing tools such as social media and YouTube that lend themselves well to the virtual tours.

For any developer, a high-quality visual package is a must-have, but what kind of cost is associated with these types of marking tools? “It’s a small investment for a large impact,” says Sicilano. And there seems to be a fit for any budget across the board.

“A rendering produced by someone working at home may be only $500, whereas the same view may be quoted at $3,000 or more if you go to a full-service ad agency,” says Trainor of DoHere, adding that it’s important to note the quality of work before making a final decision on what company to hire. “One way to assess the quality of a company is to look at any windows/glass in their work. If it’s all grey, the images evoke a prison feel. If there’s a systematic pattern of lighting in the windows, it can look stiff and contrived. Higher-end visualizers will have glass surfaces reflecting the world around the property, and the degree of those transparent/translucent/opaque light flows depend on the time of day chosen.”

David Myles notes his company would be able to do a high-quality 3D model for around $5,000, but has also done projects in the $150,000 range. “The projects are priced based on the number of parts required to build it,” he notes. Myles adds that timelines are also flexible and are generally accommodating, but when you’re dealing with man-hours, the longer the lead time, the better. “Preferably, it’s better to do 800 hours in eight weeks versus doing 800 hours over two weeks, but we have the capability to do what’s required.”

“The way to produce stunning visuals begins with preparedness,” says Trainor, adding that changing the designs during production will increase timelines and costs. “Also, feel free to ask questions, to consult with your visualization partner as the back-and-forth helps the renderers fully understand the project and the purpose of the imagery.”

A solid visual package tailored to your specific needs—whether it includes 3D models, interactive tours, better-than-a-photo digital renderings or a combination of all three—is not only attainable, but increasingly necessary to create an impact on consumers whose attention spans are quickly dwindling. By utilizing the available technologies, potential homebuyers will be wowed by not only your stunning floor plans and array of upgrades, but by your out-of-this-world visual presentation that they will be Tweeting about to all their friends.

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