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Disrupting the property market: Hugo talks to us about how he’s using virtual reality to change the way we view houses.

Imagine being able to conduct your house search from the comfort of your own sofa without falling for the manipulative wide-angle lens photography, or as a developer, being able to show potential buyers what the pile of rubble will look like once it’s complete. With a varied background ranging from Ancient History and archaeology to private banking, Hugo is a serial entrepreneur who ditched the finance world to disrupt the property market using virtual reality so anyone can view a property from anywhere. We caught up with Hugo to hear more about his new company PropertyScape.

PropertyScape PropertyScape

Q: What's the story behind how you started PropertyScape?

A: From June/July last year, as part of our Masters at Imperial College we had to come up with business idea and pitch it. We came up with loads of different ideas, then one night, I was at a dinner with my brother and we came up with the idea of using virtual reality for people to look at houses, meaning they wouldn’t have to travel to tonnes of different houses or flats when trying to buy. Buying a house is a stressful and time-consuming process for all parties involved: the buyer never gets to see the right place and the agent just wants to sell everything to anyone. We thought that virtual reality could help streamline and enhance the process. I took the idea back to the team at uni and they loved it so we ran with it. Since finishing uni, myself and two others have been working on it full time and we’re going to be launching our first product this week.

Q: There’s a danger, particularly in places like London where the property market is dominated by buy-to-let or overseas investors, that PropertyScape might make it even harder for families or first time buyers to buy or get on the ladder.

A: We want anyone who's going to be buying or renting a house in the future to be able to do it using PropertyScape technology. The purpose is to inform the buyer much more effectively about what they're going to be getting. However, initially, the way we’re working is for developers, because their pain point is much higher as they're selling things that aren't built yet. We can bring them to life and inform buyers a lot more effectively with our product. It’s true that developments in London especially are mainly marketed, in the initial stages, to offshore investors, which is where our product would come into use, but the longer term vision for PropertyScape is to do this on a much larger scale for all properties in general. We want to make it possible for someone who’s sitting on the sofa to go online, view it in virtual reality and shop for property much more effectively.

Q: So how exactly do you make a PropertyScape?

A: There are two different products, one is for the developer market where we create 3D renders based on detailed plans and descriptions, as there’s nothing to photograph. The other is for the second hand residential market, for this one we go and videograph the homes in 360 and then edit and stitch it into a virtual reality construct. For the 3D product, we don't send anyone anywhere.  We get as much information from the parties who are designing it and then we take all of their designs and we turn it into a Virtual Reality experience. We're looking at many different models within the second hand residential market, to make it scalable and easier to do.

Q: A lot of startups, for example Rentify, are popping up at the moment and disrupting the traditional property market. What attracted you to this space?

A: I’d say there are two main reasons. The first is that the property market in the UK, in fact the world, is very antiquated. It’s one of the oldest there is and it's very opaque, there are huge inefficiencies in it. The consumer isn’t getting the best information or the most efficient service and I think there's a lot of room in there for disruption. I think it's a massive industry that has a lot of room to be made more streamlined and efficient. In the same way that fintech has come in and started to revolutionise the financial services sector, I believe proptech is just about to start doing a similar thing and the market is growing in terms of people coming into the space. We've just seen the first ever property tech focused accelerator, Pi Labs, start in London. It's definitely the green shoots of an industry that could follow in a similar trajectory to fintech.

My second reason is that property is a $217 trillion global market opportunity according to Savills. It's one of the largest, if not the largest market opportunity in the world. In terms of being the largest market opportunity in the world, and also being a place where there's huge room to help the consumer and streamline processes within it, I see that those are two pretty big reasons as to why there's a lot of innovation and a lot of energy and startup behaviour in that industry currently. The UK and London especially is a great place for it.

Q: It’s an exciting prospect that the startup culture and rapid approaches could change incredibly antiquated and inefficient processes in the finance and now the property space. 

A: It's very exciting. We're still miles behind the Valley, but we’ve got a growing startup culture  here in London and it's brilliant because you need innovation to make things progress and the more that you foster it, usually the better the changes.

Q: Whilst VR is still very nascent, what are your thoughts about the future of this space?

A: In my opinion, it's  the new empathy  machine and I think it could create a sort of paradigm shift in how we consume content and interact with content. It adds a new layer of experience that we just simply haven't had yet. That can be an extremely incredible thing but also it can have negative knock on effects as well. It's an interesting thought experiment to say what if in the future people prefer to interact virtually rather than physically? That said, I think in terms of how we can get people empathising with things on a much stronger level, is amazing. We’ve now got people that can do surgery in New York for a person in London using robots and virtual reality headsets. I think that's incredible. I think that the ability for it to affect enterprise, to affect marketing, to affect content is so vast. I actually believe that the enterprise side of VR is going to be much bigger in the long run than say the video game market, which is where it's all going now. There are so many different use cases for it, from hospitality to retail to medicine to engineering.

Q: 2016 is clearly a massive year for PropertyScape, tell us about your plans.

A: It’s our biggest year to date. We’ll be launching our first consumer product, which will be directed at the developer market initially, helping them to market their developments using virtual reality. The real focus is on getting the PropertyScape initial product that we’re launching this week up and running and into the hands of the buyers so they can experience properties in a much more informed way.

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