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Hong Kong point-and-view app that finds 'haunted flat' bargains

The technology behind the Pokemon Go smartphone game phenomenon has been harnessed by a Hong Kong property listings start-up, which has applied augmented reality (AR) to its home-search app. The new feature, launched by Spacious.hk last week as an update, enables users to point their mobile device at buildings, get on-the-spot information and prices on flats for rent or sale – and find “haunted houses”.

Users can tap an “AR” button, which activates the phone’s camera. By pointing the camera at a property, details of any flats for rent or sale listed by Spacious will pop up on the screen.

And, rather than hunt pocket monsters, users can find cartoon ghost icons that indicate the “haunted houses” on its database.

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Tapping on the ghost icon produces a pop-up explaining the circumstances behind a killing, suicide or other untimely death that occurred in the building. It is a feature that gives users the opportunity to bargain for a discount on the property when seeking to buy or rent.

“Augmented reality is something we’d been thinking about for a while. After Pokemon Go came out at the end of July, the success of that made us realise the potential for our app,” says Asif Ghafoor, founder and CEO of Spacious. “We think it’s a technological first. We don’t think anyone else has done this before.”

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Ghafoor says the start-up built the app architecture in a few months using open-source software, and future add-ons could include MTR stations and schools.

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Another Hong Kong property services company that been inspired by the latest gaming technology for practical business purposes is Room3. The company allows prospective homebuyers to view show flats from the comfort of their home.

Its team of videographers and editors takes three-dimensional and 360-degree videos of show flats using up to 20 GoPro cameras. Users can either view 2D images on their phones or use cardboard virtual-reality glasses for an immersive experience of being in a show flat.

Edward Wong Lok-hin, Room3’s production officer, says the videos can be found on the company’s app.

“Wearing the cardboard glasses, users can look up, down and all around the flat, and check out the living room, toilet and kitchen.”

Marketing officer Jennifer Chow Yuk-ching says the technology helps prospective homebuyers save time.

“How many housing estates can you physically go to in one day? Using Room3, they can view as many show flats as they want, without weather and time constraints.”

With HK$5 million in capital, Room3 has also branched out beyond show-flat viewing. The Langham hotel in Mong Kok commissioned the company to make videos of its suites for online promotion. Co-working space The Wave in Kwun Tong is another client. Shopping malls have also recruited Room3 to make videos of promotional events.

Chow says the business – which was established in September 2015 – has only really taken off since Pokemon Go mania took hold.

“When we first set up our company and approached real estate developers, they were not interested. But following the Pokemon Go craze, more shopping malls have rolled out VR promotion events, and clients have approached us. We will break even in the next quarter.”