Winnipeg firm’s VR tours shake up rental industry

Technology makes apartment hunting easier

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For the past two years, Gryd.com, the Winnipeg company that produces 3D and virtual reality tours of apartments for rent across the country, has been recognized as the best new product by the Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/07/2018 (1681 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For the past two years, Gryd.com, the Winnipeg company that produces 3D and virtual reality tours of apartments for rent across the country, has been recognized as the best new product by the Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations.

It’s not necessarily known as the most innovative industry in the world, but Gryd founder Jordan Billinkoff has succeeded in impressing a solid core of some of the largest property managers and REITs in Winnipeg and across the country, so that most are at least aware of what Gryd can do.

“There are some companies that are very much on board and have been supportive from the first day we brought it to them,” said Billinkoff, 28. “Other companies, I can’t even finish my pitch before they tell me they are not interested.”

Photos by MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Gryd founder Jordan Billinkoff (right) and marketing manager Josh Glow wear virtual-reality headsets that give the user a high-quality 3D tour.

Billinkoff is well aware of the disruptive element he brings to the industry that’s done things the same way for decades. Even he acknowledges that most apartments will eventually get rented without the property manager needing to spend $250 for a high-quality 3D tour image that can become fully immersive with the use of a VR headset.

But Billinkoff bristles at the poor-quality imagery that is often used, and as much as anything, he is an advocate for a better user experience for apartment hunters everywhere.

“They want to be able to see high-quality images and take a virtual tour that has complete transparency of the unit so they know what they are getting into,” he said.

“We see our job as creating a platform that connects property managers and users to find the right properties and make better content so that users can find them.”

Gryd was one of the first in the country to use this kind of 3D tour and VR technology for the apartment rental business. It’s recently added augmented-reality annotations to the images (such as clicking on the kitchen countertop to determine what type of granite is installed).

Most recently, Gryd has figured out how to do virtual staging of an empty unit. (“I’m not going to lie,” Billinkoff said. “That was not easy to do.”) It is a tool that property managers can use for pre-marketing a new building that is under construction or to show an apartment without the time and expense of staging a show unit.

Justin Farrow, the marketing manager of Calgary-based Northview REIT, which has 25,000 apartments across the country, is tech-savvy and a big fan of Gryd.

“The technology is still new, but I would rather be ahead of the game,” he said.

“In a couple of years from now, this is something that will be beneficial for a lot of real estate properties. Working with Jordan… he’s good. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.”

The 3D tours are effective, but the VR application is even better. Billinkoff admits he’s disappointed that VR headsets have not broken through to the mass market, but he is confident it’s just a matter of time.

Some property managers, such as Regina-based Altern Properties, an early adopter of Gryd’s services, have purchased their own VR headsets to let potential customers take the Gryd-produced tours from their office.

Dustin Halvorson, director of sales and business development for Altern, said, “It’s an invaluable tool. It allows people to see the suite online. So when they come in to us, they are pre-qualified. They know what they like. We can start talking right away.”

Josh Glow (left) and Jordan Billinkoff have a few hundred high-quality images of apartments and hope to get to 10,000 in the next couple of years.

Eventually, when there is enough content and a wide enough selection, it could make apartment hunting easier.

“There’s nothing worse than travelling around for four of five hours to realize you don’t like the layout of this place or that something else is wrong at another. With VR, I think it will be a door opener for a lot of people,” Northview’s Farrow said.

Initially, Billinkoff and his marketing manager, Josh Glow were flying around the country shooting 3D tours of apartments for $250 each. But since Gryd is a self-financed company, Billinkoff realized he couldn’t keep that up and now has a network of shooters across the country can produce the images to Gryd’s specifications.

In addition to creating a growing inventory of high-quality images for apartment hunters — Gryd has a few hundred now and hopes to get to 10,000 in the next couple of years — Billinkoff’s ultimate goal for Gryd is to aggregate apartment rental searches in every city in the country.

“We’re in the real estate media production business, and we also want to be a search platform,” Billinkoff said. “We’re both creating the content and aggregating and creating better search.”

Some property managers say there is no problem searching because they all have proprietary searches on their own websites. But to search for images of all the apartments for rent in Winnipeg or Calgary, renters have to toggle to a number of different sites.

Jeremy Newman, the director of external relations at the Ottawa-based Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations, said, “The reality of the internet listing services for apartment rentals is that it is inherently fragmented and very regional.”

Billinkoff has not yet settled on the revenue model for the search function, but Gryd.com already has Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Calgary search engines up and running. He’s decamped to Toronto this summer to build up the inventory before Gryd launches in Ontario.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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