But now there exists a wide range of web-based and mobile tools to help visualize your home in three dimensions. Don't make the mistake to think this is all about rearranging furniture, either. Three-dimensional representation of your home can help sell it, too.
"Floor plans are an absolutely critical part of selling a home in the internet age." says Joseph Himali, founder of Best Address, a brokerage firm specializing in luxury real estate in the Washington, D.C. region. "Interactive floor plans are the latest level of convenience. They help buyers imagine themselves in the property and that helps them make the 'buying decision.'"
I took two web-based applications and one mobile app for a design test drive: Homestyler.com, Floorplanner.com, and Home 3D.
How difficult would it be to get an accurate representation? Could any of the software convincingly portray my house? Finally, could any of these cheap-to-free 3-D floor plans I create be of any value for a regular homeowner like myself?
I set out with a basic goal: to create a 3-D floor plan showing the groundfloor of my house. It's an 1881 Victorian filled with fussy, non-standardized measurements (currently in the process of restoration).
Starting with Autodesk's free, web-based Homestyler, I began drawing the ground floor as one space. In hindsight it probably would've been better to draw the space room by room. Homestyler offers a few pre-built, common room shapes and easy-add room extensions. Even so, it was quickly apparent that the wall-drawing tools weren't as intuitive once I veered from the standard path.
For example, in my house there is a short, curved hallway between the library and dining room. It exists in real life, but, I couldn't convince the software it was possible to build. Homestyler's preset rules are very handy so that you don't add windows, walls or doors where they can't be built. But in my scenario these limitations were frustrating.
By contrast, drawing the same floor plan using the site Floorplanner was a cinch. I could easily snap openings into walls and slide them into position to reflect a non-standard hallway.
In the next step, you add stairwells, and egresses such as windows and doors. Homestyler offers a range of very specific doors and windows but nothing that worked for my period house. Floorplanner offers even fewer door and window options, but it gives the user greater flexibility to add stairs.
The real fun begins with both web applications once the 2-D floor plan is drawn. You can click to view it in 3-D and then start experimenting with furniture, decor, and landscaping.
Homestyler makes it easy to visualize specific paint colors or appliances, thanks to its partnerships with companies such as Sherwin-Williams and Kohler. Here, Homestyler's rules are very helpful. A stove may fit in one direction in your kitchen but not another, and yes, Homestyler will tell you. Unfortunately, you're limited to a couple of brand-name items with few generic placeholders. For example, where were the generic built-ins to represent the library?
Floorplanner, on the other hand, offers far more "generic" features, and even stand-in people. Both allow you to get a sense of what your room might feel like once completed, but in exchange you give up some accuracy.
Landscaping is also key to a property's curb appeal, and experimenting online sure beats the sweat of moving plants around in real life. Here, Floorplanner is the clear choice. They offer a range of very specific plants and structures to add to your landscape. Strangely, Homestyler offers a very limited landscape palette: a bush, a fir tree, and a soybean plant. (Soybeans?)
Eager to replicate my experiences with the Homestyler and Floorplanner (both free), I paid for a mobile 3-D app called Home 3D.
I had high hopes that a mobile version would mean that I could easily access my floor plan while shopping for home decor. Unfortunately, on this release of Home 3D it isn't particularly easy to build, customize or navigate floor plans. I think it could easily rival the other web apps if the app is developed to include on-the-fly product-scanning. (A future where I could scan an item in a shop and see it instantly in the 3-D floor plan would be killer!)
Yes, 3-D floor plans can certainly help the average person visualize changes to their home. Those willing to invest the time might even be able to make a representation suitable for inclusion on a real-estate website. Floorplanner also sells a "pro" version which allows potential home buyers to take virtual 3-D tours of your layouts.
Overall I found Floorplanner to offer the greatest flexibility and the easiest to use. If it's important that your 3-D floor plan represents specific decor choices or you want greater accuracy, Homestyler is your friend.
If limited to showcasing products from partners, Homesyler would be more powerful by partnering with period-detail design companies. Homestyler also makes it easy to share your plan online with others, such as mine below.
Both Homestyler and Floorplanner are free options that will give you pretty decent accuracy. Avoid the $3.99 Home 3D app, though, which is clunky to use and not particularly helpful at this stage.