Article

Revolutionizing the Real Estate Industry with Digital Twins

Matthew Robare
May 23, 2022

The real estate industry is using digital twin technology and employing it across the board. Here's how they're revolutionizing a field where professionals are always looking for a leg up.

Digital twins are being adopted in facilities management, commercial real estate, and development.

Even real estate sales are employing digital twins to an extent.

The real estate industry encompasses a vast and diverse array of fields, from development and management to sales, renovations and investments. All these fields have different goals and requirements for the data they need to operate profitably.

One of the challenges for software companies will be providing tools that can be tailored to each use case. 

Facilities Management

Facilities management companies are currently the biggest markets for digital twins in the real estate industry. They use them for optimizing the existing building and lowering overall costs of running a particular building or set of buildings while the developer has other priorities, like lowering construction costs or soft costs.

According to real estate firm JLL, facilities managers are using digital twins to analyze building performance by producing “predictive insights to create a more comfortable, productive and environmentally responsible workplace”.

The ability of a digital twin to provide complex simulations of different aspects of a building is vitally important here, according to Deloitte, because the twin can have “a complete view of the entire structure across its lifecycle and integrate any disparate systems to create a centralized repository for all data” with the ultimate goal of creating “more human” buildings with environments that promote health, well-being and foster community.

This means that facilities managers can use digital twins of their buildings to create floor plans that maximize time workers spend in sunlight, create microclimates across a floor or suite to keep plants alive, promote interactions, or just make sure people are comfortable.

The smart sensors and other connected devices that help gather the data used for digital twins can also help maintain spaces smoothly — equipment can be monitored by the building’s sensors and maintenance done before something breaks, instead of tenants arriving on Monday morning and having to call in problems. Better data can also help facilities managers keep common chemicals people can be allergic to out of the air, or out of the building.

Digital Twins Aiding Sustainability

Sustainability and decarbonization are other important uses of digital twins in the real estate industry.

Globally, building operations are responsible for 28 percent of carbon emissions, according to Architecture 2030, and represent an area where business interests, climate change activism, and regulatory law are converging.

Digital twins can help identity heating and cooling inefficiencies, and generate detailed energy usage statistics and consumption data that can be used to improve the building’s performance. Or they can help inform on where to perform targeted passive heating or cooling retrofitting.  

Construction and Design

In the future, a developer will be able to use a digital twin to streamline construction and design.

They'll also be able to lower soft costs, such as in meetings with development review boards or committees, by showing fuller information about the completed building in its context than an architect’s renderings can accomplish.

A digital twin’s abilities to provide complex simulations can also combine the various studies a developer might be required to conduct — shadow studies, wind studies, traffic and parking studies and so on.

Digital twins could also be used to simulate the delivery and work schedules of different occupants, or their different requirements for space. They may even be able to simulate likely occupancy patterns, making them useful on the lending side of real estate.

Sales and Leasing

Another future use of digital twins could be in sales/leasing.

Companies like Zillow already sometimes provide 3D models of homes for sale, made with panoramic pictures and some realtors already “virtually stage” empty homes with furniture photoshopped into pictures to show how space could be used.

A digital twin could take this further, providing a fully 3D model for tenants or buyers to explore, along with a way of scanning one’s own furniture into the space.

The functionality could even extend to letting the prospective buyer rearrange walls and rooms, as well as showing them the data generated by the smart sensors.

Future of Real Estate and Digital Twins

Real estate’s own breadth and complexity should make it attractive to digital twin developers.

All buildings — from humble houses to the tallest skyscrapers — produce so much data that can be used to model, predict, and optimize that the possibilities are nearly endless. And even if the real estate firm generating the data has no use for it, it may still be of use elsewhere, such as by urban planners or construction companies.

This makes the data not only a resource but a commodity and another incentive for firms to invest in digital twins.

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