It's hard to sell a dream, the real estate saying goes. Before shovels hit the ground and framers start hammering, developers have to persuade potential buyers to sink hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars into their vision.
But imagine if would-be buyers could move through a condo that hasn't yet been built, peer out the windows at the future view, and change the countertops and faucets with the click of a button or the wave of a hand. That's the dream Montreal-based Edge Dimension Inc. is trying to sell to builders.
Started five years ago by two friends in their early 20s, Edge Dimension blends video game design and cutting-edge virtual reality technology to create lifelike real estate tours. All that's needed is a VR headset.
"We're literally going to remove the need to build a demo house," said president and chief executive officer Guillaume Renaud, who left university, where he was studying 3-D art and video game development, to start the company.
Traditionally, real estate firms have relied on artist renderings and demonstration units to woo customers. It can be hard, though, to convey a sense of scale with two-dimensional images, and demo units are expensive to build and limited in the range of colours, flooring types and furnishings they can display.
Edge Dimension is offering the "ultimate immersive experience" instead, said Mr. Renaud. Users can navigate a virtual apartment with a joystick, or even hand gestures, clicking from maple to oak to pine floors. They can see the home in daylight or at night.
All Edge Dimension needs from a developer is the blueprint for the house or condo unit and photographs for style references.
When Edge Dimension started, it focused mainly on 3-D illustration, the static, photorealistic images commonly seen on real estate websites and in sales offices. Since then, however, the company has staked a claim in the emerging field of virtual reality marketing.
Jeff Tremblay, head of virtual reality and augmented reality for the French digital marketing giant Valtech, has worked with Edge Dimension on a number of projects.
"There are a few players in Quebec who have been doing 3-D modelling for a while," he said. "But they didn't jump on the VR/AR bandwagon as fast as Edge did. And that gives Edge, well, an edge."
Virtual-reality marketing is still in its infancy, Mr. Tremblay said. But it has the capacity to shake the marketing world to its core, and not just for real estate.
Why would a car dealership need a 50,000-square-foot showroom when it could be just as effective in a 2,000-square-foot "experience centre"? "Think about cost savings, think about options. All the options you can use to customize your home or your car, they can now be synthesized into a 1,000-square-foot room," he said.
Edge Dimension has worked with Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. to build interactive apps and Dorel Industries Inc. to render 3-D images of furniture.
From the start, though, the company knew its bread and butter would be real estate, Mr. Renaud said.
"Real estate promoters told us very early how hard it could be to sell a unit based only on the floor plans."
Étienne Beaudry, vice-president of sales for Montreal-based Alda Développement, worked with Edge Dimension on a virtual tour of its newest condo project.
"It differentiates us from the competition, and real estate is highly competitive, especially in Montreal where the market is booming," said Mr. Beaudry.
"We're dealing with high-end clientele, and right from the start [with the virtual tour] they know they're dealing with a business that invests in the experience."
Edge, which is run by Mr. Renaud, 28, and vice-president and co-founder Maxime Vignola, 26, is very much a product of today's interconnected and flexible digital economy. Of the company's 25-odd employees, only half are based in Montreal; the others are scattered around the world in South America, Europe and the United States.
"We're not in the same time zone, so I can work all day and then ship the files over, and they will work while I'm sleeping. So we're pretty much like a 24/7 company," said Mr. Renaud.
Edge's Montreal-based staff can meet at its offices there to collaborate and socialize. But most of the work happens from home. "We're basically the new generation of entrepreneurs, we're digital nomads," said Mr. Renaud. "All we need to run the business is a laptop."
While Edge Dimension is not the only Canadian company moving aggressively into VR marketing in real estate, its focus on blending 3-D and VR sets it apart.
"While other virtual-reality companies would do video shooting with cameras, if they need to add special effects and stuff, they cannot do it," said Mr. Renaud.
"Meanwhile, if you call us and you need a shooting on Mars with a castle and unicorns, we can do that," he says. "The possibilities are endless."