The New Westminster resident is on the front lines of a company’s bid to bring real estate into the future
The real estate industry might seem like it hasn’t seen any change for decades, and in some ways that’s probably true. But the trade is starting to embrace new technologies. In the past couple of years, Matt Dixon, development manager at Vancouver-based design, development and construction firm Omicron, has adopted augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), giving potential clients an advance look at the final product.
7:30 a.m. Dixon likes getting to the office before anyone else, mostly so he can sort through the mess of emails in peace and quiet. That means an early SkyTrain trip to Omicron’s downtown headquarters from New Westminster, where he recently bought a condo with his girlfriend after seven years in Yaletown. “That’s the thing I don’t think everybody gets,” he says. “They look at development companies and go, ‘Ah, these guys are big, bad developers who have lots of money.’ Well, no, we’re all just regular people competing against the same factors they are.”
9 a.m. Internal meetings dominate the early part of Dixon’s day. Omicron has five departments: architecture, engineering, interior design, construction and development. Some projects involve all of them, and others don’t. For instance, the architecture, interior design and engineering teams are working on plans for the new Molson Coors brewery in Chilliwack, while construction is deployed on various buildings in downtown Vancouver. Dixon and his development team (three strong plus two more staff at Omicron’s Victoria office out of a total of 140) bridge the gaps between the other departments. They also market projects and oversee them, mostly by brokering deals with landowners and tenants.
11:15 a.m. In this October morning, Dixon heads over to the Railtown office of Key Marketing, a real estate sales firm. Omicron and Vancouver’s Lotus Capital Corp. bought a property together and are working with Key on the project. The four-person meeting starts with “personal and business bests,” and Dixon has the perfect reveal for the former as he whips out his phone to show photos of his new dog–a Catahoula leopard named Lewis. The rest of the crew pokes fun at him, suggesting that given his recent condo and canine acquisitions, they know a good jeweller. The rest of the meeting is more of a catch-up session, as the municipality recently stepped in (“at the 11th hour,” according to Dixon) and is holding up construction. “There’s no real reason for developers to build cheaper residential buildings, because projects are costly and take forever to be approved,” says the affable 30-year-old, showing some frustration.
Lunch Dixon tries to schedule lunch outside the office, usually with a client or someone in the industry he can talk about trends or ideas with. He’s particularly partial to Gastown’s Nicli Antica Pizzeria and its prosciutto mushroom pie.
2:30 p.m. Dixon jumps right back into meetings after lunch, usually visiting a client or hosting them at Omicron’s office. Either way, he’s equipped with a VR headset that can access the design team’s virtual renderings. This lets the user tour the finished development before construction has begun. “It’s too expensive to make mistakes,” says Dixon, “so being able to walk them through virtually is a complete game changer for us. AR/VR is laughed at in tech circles because it hasn’t taken off as a consumer item. But on our side, it’s revolutionary.”
4:30 p.m. Dixon often finishes his day by checking on construction projects by phone or in person, so he’s equipped with updates for tomorrow’s meetings. We visit a site in progress, whose final stages he’d shown me in VR. It looks like things are on track to end exactly as projected. “The level of progression is still slow, because [AR/VR] is clunky–you need a headset, and it’s expensive,” he admits. “But it’s happening, and a lot of companies are getting invested in it. I think it’ll be the norm in a couple of years. If you want a new office space, you’ll walk in and be like ‘Where’s the VR headset? I want to see it.’”
Ed note: Dixon recently left Omicron for Sonder, where he'll continue his mission to embed technology into the real estate industry.