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Renters "tour' unfinished apartments

It will be at least another six weeks before the luxury apartment complex called Lake Chase will be finished and ready for renters to tour.

But property manager Joan Mahoney doesn't have to wait until that final ceiling fan is hung to show off the amenity-rich floor plans that will be available.

Instead, she opens an electronic "storybook" and takes potential customers on a virtual reality tour of the various models and the clubhouse.

"Let's say I want to show someone inside the clubhouse," Mahoney said, pushing one of a dozen numbered buttons beneath the storybook drawing of the clubhouse. At a touch, she can explore every nook and cranny of the 5,000-square-foot facility as the detailed computer image appears on a screen.

"It's a very impressive system," said Ken Mamula, president of Florida-Southeast KMLD Corp., the company building Lake Chase. "I think you're going to see the marketing of real estate change dramatically in the next three to four years."

The virtual reality tour is based on the same computer technology theme parks use to create interactive rides, Mamula said. Although he first saw it used as a marketing tool to sell high-end condominiums, he believes Lake Chase is the first apartment community to offer the sophisticated sales tool.

The three-dimensional animated graphics replicate a walk-through of a furnished apartment, offering moving views of the bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, baths and lofts.

Mamula liked the presentation, created by a Canadian company called Aareas By Design, because the graphics are sharp and realistic rather than "cartoonish." The system cost about $75,000, he said.

"It actually takes the drawings from the architect and inputs them into a computer so it comes out 100 percent correct," Mamula said. "Then they furnish and landscape and decorate the whole thing."

Mamula said Lake Chase will open for business in mid-March, although Mahoney has already leased about a dozen apartments using the technology. The complex is one of dozens of upscale apartment communities that have come online in the fast-growing multifamily housing market.

Lake Chase is planned as a 433-unit, gated complex with rents ranging from $590 for a one-bedroom to $1,275 for a three-bedroom, two-bath model. The 30-acre property is around a 60-acre lake, which will accommodate small sailboats.

Other amenities include two Olympic-size swimming pools, video-monitored playgrounds, lighted tennis and basketball courts, a fitness center, and an on-site business and computer center.

Before the virtual reality pitch, agents relied on brochures with floor plans, artists renderings and pretty pictures taken from the best angle.

But Mahoney said the new technology is wowing customers. "They're like, "Oh my gosh,'

" Mahoney said. "They're just amazed."

_ To reach Logan D. Mabe, call 226-3464 or e-mail him at