It’s one of the first things we do when we’re looking to buy or rent a property, or even if we’re just idly browsing the market – scan the floorplan. In fact we take floorplans so much for granted it’s hard to remember a time before they existed. They help us visualise the scale of the house, the size of the rooms and any limitations – or opportunities – that might bring.
Yet floorplans are still, mostly, two-dimensional. Is that changing with new technology, or is it simply what buyers and renters want and expect to see? Will 3D floorplans take off any time soon?
The Negotiator talked to four experts from floorplan providers to see what they offer and where they think the market is heading.
The two biggest players in the market are Planup and Metropix – both offer customisable autodraw solutions that can be tweaked to offer coloured plans and even full-on 3D – more on that later.
Back-office software such as Alto, ExpertAgent and AgentPro can import from both PlanUp and Metropix to create your listings and brochures.
So how do the big two measure up?
Planup was one of the first companies to bring electronic floorplans to the market in the early noughties and has seen uptake soar.
“The landscape has changed almost to the point where floorplans are a priority on every listing,” says accounts manager Steve Flatman.
For Planup the emphasis is on using technology to help agents do their job more efficiently.
The software originally relied on agents using PDAs but has long since progressed to the iPad, allowing agents to draw up a plan in minutes as they go around a house taking measurements.
“As technology has improved so has functionality and therefore the things you are able to do,” says Flatman.
“We have always seen the mobile aspect of being able to draw floorplans as the most important. Instead of drawing a sketch at the property then coming back to the office and having to translate that onto a plan back at the office, we take that time loss away from agents by doing it on site.
Instead of drawing a sketch at the property then having to translate that onto a plan back at the office, we take that time loss away from agents. They draw the plan on site. Steven Flatman, Planup.
“The market is so fierce in terms of what agents are offering, there are so many things they need to do, they are running out of time to cram everything in.”
The app allows you to draw a room wall by wall as you go around the property and there is also an autocomplete function so that if the room is a standard shape the software completes the plan for you. “Nine times out of ten that is correct,” says Flatman.
One function that makes Planup stand out is the ability to create property descriptions, as well as floorplans, as you go round measuring up. It can also generate an energy performance certificate (EPC) for you, too.
Planup charges £39.99+VAT per month for up to 30 floorplans; £7.49 +VAT per plan.
Metropix, part of the giant Landmark group, is now the biggest market player by volume and more than a third of floorplans are created using its software.
The app works in a similar way to others on the market, using autodraw to create a plan on your iPad as you go round. Where it differs is in offering a database of existing floorplans from nearby properties that have already been scanned in that you can use as a template.
Called Planbank, it will alert you if a possible match is available, based on postcode, and you can simply select and adapt it, if necessary.
It’s really quick and easy to draw but in some cases you can just pick out a template and change the address. If an extension has been added at the back you can easily just add that. Steve Sanashee, Metropix.
“In some cases we will have an exact match because a property was sold three years ago and we’ve still got it in the archive,” says Metropix’s customer relations manager, Steve Sanashee.
“It’s really quick and easy to draw but in some cases you won’t need to because you can just pick out a template and change the address. If an extension has been added at the back you can easily just add that.”
Agents who send them to us, do so on an ad hoc basis, when they are short-staffed or overrun. They think paying £7.95 to have someone do it for them is a small price to pay.
Like Planup, Metropix also offers a one-off plan-drawing service. “Those agents that send them to us will do so on an ad hoc basis, when they are short-staffed or overrun. They think paying £7.95 to have someone do it for them is a small price to pay.”
£44.90+VAT per month for up to 20 floorplans; £7.95+VAT per plan.
One provider offering something completely different is Instant Floorplans, a spin-off from Swiftcomplete – software that helps write property listings. Instant Floorplans has taken an insightful view of how agents work in the real world, where many prefer to make hand-drawn sketches when they visit a property.
The software, launched at the Negotiator Conference & Expo in November, will instantly convert sketches into a finished floorplan.
“We have tried to fit in with the current behaviour of agents who prefer to go out and draw up a sketch,” says company founder Chris Winfield. “We weren’t sure if people would be doing them on an app at the property, but we found most people think it’s too much faff; it’s a lot easier to just do a quick sketch and then go on to a programme. So we’ve tried to remove that step so they can just take a photo of their sketch.”
Agents find doing plans on an app at the property is too much faff; it’s easier to do a quick sketch and then go on to a programme. So we remove that step and photo of the sketch.
Instant Floorplans uses artificial intelligence and can correct wobbly lines or coloured pens, though the company does recommend using graph paper.
Winfield explains the system works well with plain paper, but that agents often don’t! “Some agents will draw the floorplan initially quite big, then realise they’ve got half the property to cram into a small bit of paper. So if you use graph paper it gets round that issue and the conversions are pretty accurate.”
Roughly 98 per cent of sketches are processed without the need for any alterations at all, while the remaining two per cent are usually where the agent has tried to squeeze too much into a small area. Once the sketch has been scanned in, either on your phone or tablet, you can use the plan editor to tweak the layout if necessary.
Chris says the product ties in well with Swiftcomplete, which allows you to punch in a postcode and generate an automatic property listing with just a few taps.
£40+VAT per month for up to 30 floorplans or £7.50+VAT per plan.
If you need a bespoke service for high-end properties, Fourwalls may be just the solution you are looking for. The company doesn’t offer autodraw, they use a photography team who go out and photograph a property, measure up – and if required, produce EPCs, too.
You get a fully featured, CAD-generated floorplan, complete with the level of detail you would expect from an architect’s drawing.
Where it really shines is in the floorplan itself: what you get is a fully featured, CAD-generated floorplan, complete with the level of detail you would expect from an architect’s drawing.
The company has contracts with upmarket agents such as Savills and Hamptons but considering the service it offers, pricing is competitive.
“We have a network of photographers across the UK – they send us the sketches and we draw up the plans, according to the sketches, to RICS guidelines, using CAD,” says Fourwalls CEO Owen Turgoose.
“The photographer does a data-collection task while they are at the house and that is all combined with local area knowledge.”
We have a network of photographers across the UK – they send us the sketches and we draw up the plans, according to the sketches, to RICS guidelines, using CAD. Owen Turgoose, Fourwalls.
Fourwalls also offers a personalised copywriting service, and some agents use the company not just to provide a floorplan and EPC but create the whole listing and even produce brochures. “We literally provide everything they need.”
Sister company floorplansUsketch offers a cheaper floor plan-drawing and property photo service where agents can upload their own sketches and photos to be turned into CAD drawings.
Floorplan £65+VAT per property. EPC, floorplan and photos up to 2,000 sq ft £200+VAT; copywriting fee £75 per property.
£9.50+VAT per plan, £1.50+VAT per photo.
Future of floorplans
So what changes are in the pipeline for floorplans? The big two players, Planup and Metropix, already offer the option of 3D plans, though these can have their drawbacks, as Steve Flatman of Planup explains.
He says 3D floorplans give a better idea of space, but are unpopular with many vendors – so agents avoid them.
The reason is simple: these partially rendered plans show floor coverings, furniture and other details that are not always 100% accurate, and attract criticism.
There’s another factor, too.
“Agents want to dangle the fish, they want to get the people interested,” says Flatman. “They don’t want to give away all the information because people end up making up their own minds.
“If you give them everything they are going to make a choice there and then, without them. They want to be there to give them their ten cents and get them more interested.”
However, the times they are a-changing. One of the factors limiting customisation at the moment is the speed – and cost – of creating full 3D renders. CAD software is expensive, and 3D scanner even more so: a Matterport room scanner can cost upwards of £5,000.
“It’s the speed of 3D renders that will be changing in the future. When the cost comes down and the speed increases it’s something we will be taking a long hard think about it – if it makes sense for us to do it, we will, but we won’t do it on a wing and a prayer,” says Flatman.
Over at Metropix, the company is just about to embark on a major development of its 3D engine, which will refresh the style and presentation of 3D plans in a matter of seconds.
“The new 3D approach will give agents the chance to enhance content within their listings in a couple of clicks,” says Steve Sanashee. “The new technology creates a platform to progress our 3D services and evolve the offering in the future.”
However, on one thing he is adamant — and it’s a view shared by the others. “I believe the 2D will remain the most popular floorplan for many years to come,” he says emphatically.