Reality real estate

Houston-area construction team utilizes technology to solve problems

The majority of McCarthy Building Companies' projects now include some sort of virtual or augmented reality technology. Courtesy of McCarthy Building Companies

In recent years, the construction industry has begun embraced advancements in reality technology like virtual reality and augmented reality. While it has yet to reach critical mass in the industry, several contracting companies in the Houston region like McCarthy Building Companies are embracing the technology and blazing the trail for the construction industry.

Chris Patton, virtual design and construction manager for McCarthy's southern region, says many construction companies are consistently looking for ways to improve processes and procedures through reality technology.

"We really saw the potential and use cases for [VR] really early on, and it was really just a matter of the hardware and the software catching up to being something usable, consumable, deployable and cost effective on our projects," Patton says. "We were sitting there waiting for it and ready to go when it was."

Patton says these visualization tools have changed the way contractors display projects and have helped the partners on these projects — such as the design team, building owner and subcontractors — make better informed decisions earlier, more quickly and sometimes at a cheaper price point.

Before AR and VR technology entered the construction industry, companies either had to work with two-dimensional construction drawings or build very expensive, three-dimensional models, or mock ups, of construction sites that allowed clients to physically walk through a building space to interact with its features. Patton says the entire mock-up building process used to cost roughly $1 million — depending on the project size.

However, now this costly and time-consuming process is a thing of the past, as construction companies have found a way to utilize AR and VR technology to bring clients into a computer-generated environment. By putting on an AR or VR helmet, clients can immerse themselves and engage in a virtual environment that shows them all of the project's details and allows them to move about a virtual construction site the same way they would in a 3D model.

McCarthy's Houston division began utilizing reality technology in early 2015, with some of its other markets integrating the technology into their practices in late 2014. Since then, the company's use of AR and VR technology has grown exponentially, Patton says.

"When we first started evaluating and looking at virtual reality and augmented reality, [we] might have [used it on] one or two projects a year, and that was probably three years ago," Patton says. "Today, I'd say almost 60-75 percent of our projects—at some point in design or construction — utilize virtual reality or augmented reality or a combination of both."

Although McCarthy has been around since 1864, the general contracting company made its Texas debut in Dallas in 1981. Since then McCarthy expanded to create a Houston office in 2011, building a portfolio of renowned Houston clients such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Holocaust Museum Houston, Texas Children's Hospital as well as the recent completion of Houston ISD's Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

A notable project McCarthy's Houston Division took on was phase one the MFAH's master plan that included building The Glassell School of Art. The company also continues its work on phase two, which includes new developments for the MFAH for which McCarthy's virtual design and construction group created VR and AR models for the museum.

By using software like HoloLive and Fuzor for AR technology and Fuzor for VR technology, McCarthy's VDC group can visualize and combine digital creations with the real world, Patton says. With the growing number of projects utilizing the technology, Patton says McCarthy has invested greatly in personnel who will help grow the VDC group and continue to look for advancements in the construction industry.

"Some of the folks that we have those [VDC] positions in our company, some of them come from construction technology backgrounds and construction management backgrounds but others come from graphical design and have like a gaming background, some come from architectural backgrounds," Patton says. "[Reality technology] really kind of opened the door to a new opportunity for people to get engaged with the construction industry that we hadn't seen in the past."

A new service from Zillow helps Houston sellers get cash fast. Photo courtesy of HAR

Local car owners looking to rid themselves of their ride know the no-hassle ease that CarMax and TrueAuto offer. But what about those looking to quickly unload their home? Fortunately, a new service has made it easier for homeowners to score some fast funds from their domiciles.

Houstonians can now use a new program from real estate marketplace Zillow to sell their home. With Zillow Offers, local sellers can request a free, no-obligation cash offer. Once the seller accepts, they can pick a close date that works best for them.

The idea is to give consumers more control and certainty in the home-selling process and allows sellers the opportunity to sell their house on their own timeline, according to a statement. Zillow notes that timing the sale of a home with the purchase of a new one is a top concern for sellers and that 61 percent of sellers are buying a new home at the same time, which adds significant stress and financial complexity to the process.

Houston is the first Texas market and the seventh market nationwide where Zillow directly buys homes, prepares them for showings, and quickly lists them for resale.

Zillow Offers is currently available in Phoenix; Las Vegas; Atlanta; Denver; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Raleigh, North Carolina. Zillow Offers has also announced plans to launch in Dallas; Miami; Minneapolis; Orlando, Florida; Portland, Oregon; Nashville, Tennessee; Riverside, California by fall 2019.

"Texas is home to some of the largest and most vibrant housing markets in the country, and we're thrilled to bring Zillow Offers to Houston today," says Zillow brand president, Jeremy Wacksman, in a statement. "In just nine months, Zillow Offers has already helped thousands of homeowners sell their home in a simple and stress-free way."

While direct-sell in theory, local real estate agents are still very much part of the Zillow Offers process. The service works with local agents and brokers on every transaction and pays commission to agents when it buys and sells each home, according a Zillow release.

"What we've overwhelmingly heard from these consumers is that they love the control we give them over the entire process," Wacksman says. "Starting today, Houston-area homeowners are able to use this innovative, consumer-first service for one of the largest financial transactions of their lives."

The program also gives local brokerages and premier agents the opportunity to acquire new listings by connecting them with motivated sellers who have taken a direct action to sell their home, according to Zillow. These motivated sellers who request a Zillow Offer, but opt instead sell their house traditionally with an agent or do not receive a Zillow Offer, will still be connected with a local brokerage or agent.

In a city where certain neighborhoods are moving a blistering pace, this new program could be an easy sell for savvy homeowners.

More and more real estate companies are using technology for the homebuying and selling process. Houston-based Entera uses machine learning, for instance, in the process, and Offerpad, an ibuyer, recently announced its expansion to Houston.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.