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Q&A: How Virtual Reality, CRE And Philanthropy Are Blending Together

LA-based commercial real estate firm Rosano Partners is presenting its new virtual reality system, Matterport, at the 2016 San Diego ICSC this week. Named one of the best places to work in Los Angeles in 2016 (see the team celebrating chief strategy and operations officer Ian Whitman's birthday below), Rosano Partners' current projects weave a fascinating tale. We sat down with Ian to chat about VR, CRE and philanthropy.

Rosano Partners celebrate COO Ian Whitman's (third from left) birthday

Bisnow: What distinguishes your VR system from other brokerage firms’ competing in the VR space?

Ian Whitman: With [our 3D video / VR platform] Matterport, unlike other platforms, clients can view the space in real time. It's an advanced marketing tool and another resource for our brokers and our clients. With Matterport, we don’t have to disturb tenants, buyers can view property while out of state and access the platform from their mobile devices. Most brokerage firms will present a flier and a few pictures; this is a three-dimensional walkthrough of the space. Rosano Partners is leveraging our marketing budget to include VR as a standard offering.

VR and 3D walkthroughs entered the marketplace some time ago, but we’re focused on the actual application. We prefer to be early adopters of technology, not only to gain a competitive edge, but to improve the overall brokerage experience. Just this Monday, the FAA [rules came into effect] that instead of obtaining a standard pilot license and permission to fly drones commercially on a case-by-case basis, pilots must now take a wholly new certification exam and adhere to a number of new air regulations. We're already deploying our drones at Rosano.

Rosano Partners team members go bowling as a company

Bisnow: Where does VR fit into your 10-year growth/recruitment strategy and corporate responsibility plan?

Ian: We’re a full-service real estate company in Los Angeles. We’ve grown from a humble team of four in 2012 to over 45 agents in 2016. Our growth has been a result of our strategic and diverse positioning in the market. We’re a culture- and Millennial-focused company with team members fluent in over 13 languages. It’s an open-ended and creative space, designed for collaboration, teamwork and transparency. It’s a very unique CRE firm; diversity is part of our strategy. Communication is our mainstay, and VR creates a new path for us to interact with our clients.

Our corporate responsibility plan is a pledge to develop a sustainable program upholding the cornerstones of our mission. We’re going to start lending our resources and time to sustainable farming initiatives. LA is riddled with residential pockets where there are a disproportionate number of liquor stores and bodegas relative to grocery stores. These areas are dominated by fast food, and residents typically lack access to fresh, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables.

Our plan is to partner with urban agriculture nonprofits to create vertical gardening structures. Residents will be able to learn new skills and grow their own food in underutilized spaces under and around buildings. Testing will begin within the year, experimenting with how VR can be used in these spaces to create and streamline the sustainable urban farming process.

Rosano Partners Virtual Reality Headset for commercial real estate

Bisnow: How do you plan on incorporating that tech-fueled sustainability mindset into RP’s operations moving forward?

Ian: Today, RP’s philanthropic pursuits extend beyond one-day annual volunteer duties. Real estate is notoriously lagging on the philanthropic front. Our goal is to work with our community, providing office space, mentorship, valuable business insight and manpower to keep these neighborhoods’ businesses and dreams alive. We hope to use our experiences to give small business owners the opportunity to thrive. Right now, we’ve partnered with 826 LA, a local mentoring/tutoring organization for children. We want to do more in our own backyard and hopefully lead by example. Consistent involvement over time, staying engaged, and making long-term progress is the key to maintaining a sustainable and impactful program.

Bisnow: How is VR transforming your relationship with clients? Do you worry introducing it risks compromising RP’s identity, making it more transaction-heavy than relationship-focused?

Ian: No, our relationships are simply transferring more virtually. VR is a sophisticated marketing tool that improves the transaction process. Our clients don’t necessarily have the time to meet in person, and VR enables us to be more amenable to their schedules. We’ve also been using online conference tools and webinars for some time, and now they’re commonplace. So it’s a different type of relationship. As the demographics of commercial real estate get younger, they’re going to demand greater technological sophistication and integration.

To learn more about Bisnow partner Rosano Partners, click here.