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Is Video Conferencing the Missing Piece of Virtual Commercial Property Tours?

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Real estate is about relationships and the value of face to face interactions is hard to quantify. However, the “we’ve always done it this way” way of business can be toxic in real estate. Instead of thinking of new ways to do a task, people spend too much time trying to keep to traditional methodologies. However, taking a step back and reapproaching the problem with a fresh perspective, may change a problem into an opportunity. For all the bad the pandemic brought, it also forced us to pause and think about how else we could do something. Like virtual tours.

One area forced to innovate immediately was brokerages. Without the traditional space tours and face to face meetings, business all but slid to a halt. Many companies experienced the pains of moving from in-office interactions to remote-based work. Brokers were faced with an even bigger challenge. How do you show a place without being there due to social distancing? What is lost in virtual tours in comparison to in-person tours? Is there a new and better way to do it all?

The challenges of video meetings are unfortunately too familiar. The mute button is always on when you don’t want it to be, various internet speeds lead to audio and visual distortion, body language is for the most part invisible, and a myriad of other distractions exist. Add in screen fatigue, real estate brokers had a complex situation in front of them if they wanted to get any business done.

Virtual tours have been gaining in popularity but really took off during the pandemic. Museums even started doing virtual tours so people stuck at home could explore someplace new. However, virtual tours are not replacements of in-person tours much like how Zoom meetings aren’t replacements for in-person time. They’re a great option but it’s not the same. “We were hearing a lot of feedback from the industry asking for a better way to do tours,” said Bryan Colin, Founder and CEO of View Labs, previously known as VirtualAPT. “Places are more impressive in person and part of that is because you have someone there with you, experiencing the place at the same time and taking part in conversations with you. We wanted to bring that experience to the virtual realm.”

Taking that experience virtually first had to solve some of the common problems of existing video. “There is no excuse to not get people interested so we had to come up with something that works or else we’d be stuck. We had no choice but to pivot, get creative and get sophisticated,” said Jason Lund, Executive Managing Director at Colliers. But not everything is in the broker’s control. Meetings often suffer because of unsatisfactory internet connection. Video platforms often require a download and upload speed of at least 5 Mbps and can use 600MB to 1.70GB of data per hour. View Labs’ 360 Meet matches the max internet and device capability of the viewers so all participants have the same asynchronous experience.

However, the real innovation was in integrating video into virtual tours and all in the same place. “I can only imagine what CFOs email inboxes look like as they’re inundated with listings. As a broker, how do you get through that noise and get people to engage? You have to differentiate,” said Lund who turned to View Labs to accelerate his business. “I knew I had to be quicker, had to be better.” This differentiation had to go beyond pretty PDFs and into creating a holistic experience that didn’t suffer from the usual disruptions and distractions of virtual tours or videos.

The broker marketing process often involves hours of planning, preparation, and design and the PDFs often end up in someone’s email trash bin within minutes of arriving. “But everyone does it because they think it’s their only option. There’s certainly still a time and place for leveraging the traditional PDF, but there are also so many innovative tools and processes that professionals should use to both supplement and replace that exercise, when appropriate,” said Lund. Marketing in other industries has long evolved from shouting the same message to an entire audience and hoping someone bites. Personalized targeting is a must and if a solution doesn’t address a current challenge, odds are it won’t make it past the initial stages of consideration. 

What’s more personal than doing a tour together? A 360° video paired with a face to face interaction of a familiar and trusted broker doesn’t replace the in-person tour, it makes it even better. Even with restrictions lifting and lives going back to a level of normal, consider how many video calls you’re still taking every day. Brokers are busy, people looking for space are busy, and, no matter what, we’re physically restricted to being in a single place at a time. For brokers looking for that “wow” effect, they may find it in the virtual tour and video combination.

The true mark of a successful pivot is if it continues to exist or continues to flourish when things return to standard operating procedure. We will never truly be back to the lives we lived a couple of years ago, but maybe the forced innovation across many CRE sectors will make the lives of brokers better going forward. “Virtual tours are here to stay. Virtual tours paired with video means that brokers don’t need to go to every single property and they don’t need to do everything in person,” stated Colin. “You still want to have that flexibility in your personal lifestyle so you don’t have to travel to get more opportunities.”

The experiential factor of going places is infiltrating industries across the spectrum. Retail stores aren’t as much about shopping as they are about an experience. Offices and coworking spaces aren’t just places to work but they’re about experiencing work, community, and creating opportunities. Why should virtual tours be any different? The inclusion of video in virtual tours is the difference between a momentary fix and the go-to solution for brokers and their clients.

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