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Show homes are shown the door with new virtual reality experience


A new virtual reality show home experience is revolutionising the house-buying journey for clients of Leeds-based property developers, Citu.

Citu's Climate Innovation District

Working with Leeds Beckett University on a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) project, Citu has created a digital platform which removes the need for traditional bricks and mortar show homes.

Leeds Beckett BSc (Hons) Games Design graduate, James Fenwick, led the project, with support from a team of academics at the university, alongside studying for a Masters by Research degree.

The Virtual Reality Experience (VRE) allows Citu to use immersive, interactive and customer-friendly technology so that customers can navigate themselves through a digital and virtual home within Citu’s new city centre Climate Innovation District – the largest sustainable development in the UK.

This enhanced customer experience includes being able to customise the Citu Home to clients’ specific requirements, as well as viewing performance data such as heat loss depending upon the materials of the building.

The project was funded by Innovate UK and has now been awarded a grading of ‘outstanding’ by the UK-wide Knowledge Transfer Partnership funders – the highest possible result.

Kev Gillespie, Sales and Marketing Director at Citu, explained: “Citu prides itself on doing things differently and the VRE James created for us is another great example of that. It has been a long-standing industry dilemma how you do justice to a home that’s not even been built yet, but thanks to this partnership with Leeds Beckett University, the Citu VRE really helped bring our homes to life.”

James said: “Starting the KTP immediately after graduating was an amazing opportunity. The project gave me a unique opportunity to work alongside academics at Leeds Beckett and industry leaders at Citu meaning I was never alone or unsupported.

“The project was a lot of hard work, and at times very challenging, but the support and confidence from both Citu and the university made the whole experience a pleasure.”

Scene through Citu's Virtual Reality Experience of the Climate Innovation District exterior

Kevin added: “The VRE has been a huge selling tool for us and every person who has experienced it has been blown away by the attention to detail. Not only does it give potential customers the opportunity to walk around their home of the future it also gives a sense of space and design to the outdoor community areas and avenues which are just as important in the Climate Innovation District as the homes themselves.”

Ten years ago, it would have been unheard of to think about buying a house worth more than £300,000 completely online, relying solely on a digitally created vision of the home. However, this is exactly what Citu are now successfully doing thanks to James’s work and around 1,000 people have already used the virtual reality system.

James added: “The project brought ample opportunities for my own personal development. The highlight of which was heading to Los Angeles for the Vision conference. At the conference I met and heard from industry leaders, sampled the latest technology and had a very brief discussion with Richard Dawkins about the parallels of human biology and virtual reality. Speaking with VR professionals at the conference reinforced that the project was on the right track, and at its forefront.”

Scene through Citu's Virtual Reality Experience of the interior of a house in the Climate Innovation District

James has now been appointed as Citu’s Virtual Reality Experience Manager on a permanent basis; and both Leeds Beckett and Citu now sit on the committee of the Leeds Climate Change Commission, influencing and leading on sustainable development and change in Yorkshire.

The project has also made a significant impact on the teaching at Leeds Beckett University. A number of projects involving virtual reality are now offered to students, including virtual physiotherapy for patients needing rehabilitation after limb impairment, and investigating the effectiveness of virtual reality in phobia therapy.

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