Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, there was often intense competition for available office properties among prospective tenants. The listing broker usually experienced success showing the space in “as is” condition and frequently had the ball in his or her court in regards to lease term negotiation power. The commercial office space industry simply didn’t have to adopt technology and digital practices to drive growth.
That is changing quickly. With physical office tours on the decline, virtual tours are now crucial to the office leasing process. And, they aren’t a passing fad. Leasing teams are finding that they can increase odds of a qualified physical tour getting scheduled and accelerate the closing process.
But, are you getting the most out of your virtual tour investments? Let’s explore 4 key best practices to ensure that you are.
- Go Beyond “As Is” Tours
Traditionally, virtual tours are composed of photography of the space in its current condition. This poses a myriad of issues for showings, summarized below.
- Vacant Second Generation Space: Shows wear and tear on a dated finish-out or layout
- Occupied Second Generation Space: Shows poor furnishings, cluttered layouts, and the current occupant’s branding
- Built-Out Spec Suite: Shows empty space without furniture
- Planned Spec Suite: Shows vacant shell condition
- Pre-Market Assets: Unable to be toured or photographed
When it comes to any tour, it is key for the prospect to be able to imagine the space as they plan on using it, rather than as it currently exists. By leveraging virtual reality technology, you enable prospective tenants to touch every inch of the space at the click of a button. They can toggle layout and finish-out options to see how they look in real time. For example:
- Second Generation Space: Shows a fresh finish-out with corporate branding opportunities and layout options
- Built-Out Spec Suite: Shows matched finishes with furniture and layout options
- Planned Spec Suite: Shows finished space before any money has been spent
- Pre-Market Assets: Shows fully built-out space as envisioned by the architect
Not only does this allow the prospective tenant to accurately imagine buildout and finish-out options (including socially distanced furniture layouts), but it also helps the landlord and brokerage team customize and contain the options they are willing to deliver to eliminate cost overruns and set realistic expectations.
- Promote Your Virtual Tours
Once you have them, you need to let the world know. First step - update your existing marketing materials including building flyers, web properties, listings, or any physical handouts with a prominent link to the virtual tour. Leverage a property-branded QR code to quickly launch the tour from any device.
Next, feature virtual tour links in email communications including building promotions to tenant brokers and responding to client requirement email requests.
It is worth mentioning the subject line has an immediate impact on the success of such emails. According to an email campaign study conducted by Aquila, words such as “photo,” “video” and “views” imply there is a visually engaging element within the body of the email and increases open and click rates significantly. Given that “virtual tour” falls in the category of visually engaging content, be sure to test “virtual tour” in the subject line and linking the tour URL in the body to maximize engagement.
Lastly, promote the tours to tenant prospects directly. Websites such as LinkedIn and LoopNet allow display advertising and segmented account and persona targeting. While it requires some budget, paid outbound marketing can generate leads and increase brand awareness, when done effectively.
- Engage with Qualified Prospects
Now that you have a captive audience of buyers - engage them! In order to secure a spot on the increasingly competitive shortlist, brokers must engage the prospect earlier in the process. We recommend making the virtual tour as engaging as possible. Below are a few suggestions on how to drive online dialogue:
- Offer online chat: Enabling access to the leasing team directly from the virtual experience allows tenants to raise their hand to ask questions, schedule an online meetup, or book an in person tour. This not only gives the broker a chance to connect and provide an information edge, but also to collect data on qualified leads for follow-up. The tenant, on the other hand, feels as though they have been helped in a human manner, and the buyer's journey has been simplified through conversational marketing.
- Host a virtual Q&A session for a specific space: Webinars are a great tool to blur the lines between the physical and virtual world. While the virtual tour can be experienced on demand and is transmitted in one direction, the webinar takes place in real time, allowing two way communication between the broker and prospective tenant. This could be set up so that the prospective tenant may join at the expense of providing contact information. Even more so than online chat, virtual Q&A sessions allow leasing agents to answer questions in depth and collect feedback in real time.
During a time when human interaction feels so scarce, in an industry where trust is vital to a successful close, commercial real estate businesses that continue to prioritize relationship building will have a competitive advantage. By engaging with clients throughout the entire decision-making process, leasing teams are more likely to lock in the in-person tour or skip the physical tour experience and get straight to the lease!
- Close The Deal
While physical tours will ramp up again, technology will always aid the consumer’s imagination. So, virtual tours are here to stay and both virtual and physical tours can be used simultaneously to a more effective route to lease transaction.
Consider leveraging a virtual tour during the physical walk through to help prospective tenants imagine the space with various finish-out improvements. Even when walking new developments, devices such as an iPad will have the functionality to display the virtual reality of what the eventual build outs or furniture arrangements could look like. Enabling the tenant to accurately picture themselves in the space as it will be can help brokers seal the deal.
The acceleration of technological innovations as a result of the pandemic are being embraced with excitement by tenants and brokers alike. Real estate companies that deliver a more efficient office leasing experience will delight tenants and emerge from this downturn in a stronger position than their competitors.