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Google Partners With NYC Landlord To Launch VR Tool At Country's Largest Rental

The largest rental building in New York City, a hot spot for celebrities, is the launching ground for a Google tool to make virtual reality tours more accessible to everyone.

A penthouse at Sky

The Moinian Group is now using Tour Creator at its 71-story, 1,175-unit rental tower on Manhattan’s Far West Side, Sky.

The Google product, which launched Wednesday, allows people to make and take VR tours by using 360-degree photos or with images from Street View. The pictures can then be uploaded to Poly, Google’s 3D online content library, and shared as a URL. A custom app isn’t required to access or make the content.

Moinian was one of the first companies to pilot the program in its testing phase. It will start using the tool at Sky, and then roll it out across the entirety of its 20M SF New York City portfolio. The other companies Google piloted the tool with included REA Group, which owns, Hilton, Time Out New York and KLM Airlines. 

"A flat image, especially in New York City, is very hard to gauge what the apartment really feels like,” Moinian Director of Marketing Michael Mignosi told Bisnow. “This is the closest thing to giving them a real sense and feel of what it’s like being in the unit without actually being in it.”

Google said it worked with companies like Moinian to pilot Tour Creator to make sure it was a seamless experience.

“The thing is that Tour is accessible to anyone,” Google VR Product Manager Brittany Mennuti said. “An agent or broker could dive into the tool right away.”

The product is also being used for training, she said, and it could be particularly useful for construction companies. Firms across the country have been turning to virtual reality and other technology to create a more efficient workplace.

“We think it has huge potential for real estate,” Mennuti said. “You can get an immersive view.”

The Moinian Group's Michael Mignosi

Moinian started piloting the tech at Sky, at 605 West 42nd St., where athletes like New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis have rented apartments. It plans to roll it out next  at Oskar, the firm's luxury rental at 572 11th Ave., followed by the rest of its residential portfolio.

Mignosi said Moinian plans to eventually use it to market retail and office space, though the family business' leaders are still brainstorming and working on the ways it could be used.

“We plan to shoot all individual residential and office spaces … We are also exploring how this would work in retail,” he said, noting that its offering at 535 Fifth Ave., which is vacant and undergoing a renovation, would be a prime example of space that would show well on the tool. “There are no frills, it’s not something you can fake. You drop this camera in and it creates different scenes … versus something like a flat, static image.”

In order to create seamless 360-degree images, users need to use a certain type of camera, and Moinian has three Ricoh Theta cameras, which allow the user to shoot everything in 360 degrees.

“360 [degrees] is not something totally new for us, we’ve used it on Facebook before," Mignosi said. "This is the first time that [it] is completely shareable and accessible across all platforms."

The pressure is on for residential and commercial landlords to fill space in New York City. Rentals are being squeezed amid a flood of new product that is becoming available. Last month, a total of 44.3% of new Manhattan leases signed included some form of concession, according to figures from appraisal firm Miller Samuel. 

That is up from 28.6% a year earlier, and the third-highest level that has been recorded. Median and net effective residential rents both slipped over the past year, with the pre-concession rent falling nearly 2% from April 2017 to hit $3,355.

The city’s office market is also grappling with more new construction and vast space hitting the market. Tenant concessions have been reaching record highs as net effective rents slide. Retail is also dealing with challenges, and, on average, Manhattan rents declined 19.5% year over year to hit $653 per SF last quarter.