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CRE Industry Keeps Deals Afloat Through VR Technology, Skype And FaceTime

All the intangibles revealed during commercial property tours, like a building's patina or its interior design, or how it just feels to walk into the lobby, help landlords win over potential tenants.

But what happens when an international pandemic like the coronavirus makes it impossible for brokers to invite prospective tenants and clients on-site for personalized tours? 

For some, it means business activity subsides until the crisis ends. 

Others are sealing the deal from the comfort of their own homes. While virtual reality and remote building tours aren’t new to the brokerage industry, the pandemic may hasten their move into must-haves.

CRE Industry Keeps Deals Afloat Through VR Technology, Skype And FaceTime

Texas-based landlord Boxer Property decided to go full-throttle into the virtual realty space when the COVID-19 pandemic forced potential tenants away from the company's office buildings. 

Boxer had already deployed virtual reality tech tools that allow tenants to capture realistic, multidimensional views of its properties online. 

“Years ago, we started taking pictures of suites, and then we started doing videos,” Boxer Properties Marketing Director Heather Shuttleworth said. “Then, we recently got a Matterport camera, and we are doing the full 360-virtual tour experience at several of our properties.”

Even though 3D tours are effective, Boxer still wanted a more personalized approach during the COVID-19 crisis, so the firm upped the ante and now offers live Skype property tours hosted by Boxer employees. 

“They can talk to [the leasing agent] face to face and see the space through the camera,” Shuttleworth said. “If they want to walk through it on their computer they can, but we are kind of missing the personal touch there and people often have questions and want to look at something more closely in the space.”

The Boxer team is already receiving positive feedback; and at least one Skype tour recipient signed up for a lease right after taking a remote interactive tour.

CRE Industry Keeps Deals Afloat Through VR Technology, Skype And FaceTime

Co-living and microstudio multifamily provider Common says 30% of its rental applications come from the firm’s online virtual tour experience, which the firm has operated in some form since its inception five years ago.

But Vice President of Operations Eric Rodriguez said Common, much like Boxer Property, kicked its existing remote solutions up a notch when the coronavirus crisis sent New York and other areas into lockdown mode. 

With the firm already offering FaceTime and Google Hangout tours with live specialists prior to the crisis, the transition to conducting everything remotely was an easy one. 

“It has always been part of our concept,” Rodriguez said of the firm’s tech-first approach. 

Rodriguez said Common has always believed its mission is to get more people inside the property at all times of the day. In good times, that involves both in-person tours and VR-guided tours. In bad times like these, it means doing everything remotely without missing a beat.  

The firm believes all multifamily leasing in the future will depend heavily on remote access and virtual reality components to stay competitive. 

“Generally the property management industry is shifting toward that convenience-first perspective,” he said. 

Real estate brokerage Younger Partners out of Dallas has been offering virtual tours of its Greenway Tower listing in Irving, Texas, for quite some time.

The brokerage doesn't view remote-viewing or virtual tours as new concepts, nor do they see their emergence as related to COVID-19. 

“I think it's becoming more and more a must-have,” founding principal Sean Dalton said. “Everything is changing in our society as far as [everyone] wanting things now and quicker. Everyone wants things to get done faster ... and I think these virtual tours allow people to be more efficient with their time.”

Greenway Tower's owner poured millions of dollars into renovating the property, and the virtual tours were put into place with the help of an app to simply get more eyes on the building and all its improvements, Dalton told Bisnow.  

This is exactly where virtual technology succeeds best. 

“We felt that this was an opportunity to really get the building into [prospective tenants’] hands rather than pulling them out to Las Colinas.”