It is without a doubt that the COVID pandemic has challenged the real estate industry in unique ways. The current situation has reshaped not only where people want to live, but how they want to find a place to call home. To adapt to this, our industry has been forced to adopt a whole new set of tools to adjust to these changes; virtual and self-guided tours.
It may be tempting to think that these are just temporary tools—and that as we learn how to prevent or treat this pandemic, that things will revert to “normal.” However, consumer expectations are shifting. Per customer data, over 60 percent of inquiring renters request a virtual tour in New York City. From this, we may see that even after we’re able to resume “normal” in other parts of our lives, it’s likely that consumers prefer virtual and self-guided tours and want to stick with them.
This is an opportunity to reinvent the leasing experience. As the COO and Co-Founder of Peek, a real estate virtual tour platform, I’ve had firsthand experience seeing our partners not only adapt to, but thrive from shifting to a virtual-first model. We’ve helped agents, property managers, and even entire brokerages completely move their business from brick-and-mortar to 100 percent virtual first. For example, Platinum Properties, formerly a “traditional” NYC brokerage, completely virtualized all of their listings with interactive virtual tours and found that it actually expanded their lead generation and conversion opportunities while competitors struggled.
Double down on what’s working
We’re now six months into this “new normal” of leasing and have had the opportunity to get enough data to have a solid understanding of what parts of the “pandemic leasing toolkit” actually work. The solutions that work for each individual property are as unique as the properties themselves, so it’s important to identify which tools and channels are specifically working for you.
If posting “teaser” videos as Instagram Stories has been generating a significant amount of leads, double down! Your prospect is coming to that channel. Experiment with paid placement on the platform, or find ways to generate building or neighborhood relevant content to grow a following.
Almost all marketing has shifted towards more online means, but there are ways to expand on that. If guided, in-person tours continue to convert at a higher rate, try employing guided virtual tours to replicate the experience. Step through the exterior, amenities, and different layouts of a building with a prospect over a video call and be there to address questions and concerns.
The entire industry has been thrust into a period of rapid change driven by technology, and it’s important to think about not only what’s already been adopted, but what‘s next. Think of ways that consumer behavior has changed and how to naturally integrate the process of browsing real estate. For example, we’ve all become familiar with QR codes as replacements for restaurant menus. At Peek, we lause QR codes on building or “For Rent” signs so passers-by can virtually tour the availability through a mobile-optimized website designed to drive leads.
Self-service and other socially distanced means of engagement are becoming commonplace. Self-guided tours play right into that, and there are a handful of emerging solutions looking to provide safe and secure ways to allow prospects to tour themselves. These two are just two examples that scratch the surface of how consumer behavior has changed. Getting ahead of how these changes will impact leasing and marketing will be key to staying ahead of the curve.
While this has undoubtedly been a trying time for the industry, the silver lining is that we now know that we’re more than able to adapt and progress with new technologies. Virtual solutions, creative marketing, and interactive experiences have become table stakes for business growth and success. Take the time to determine how innovative technologies and changing consumer behavior can be leveraged to move your business forward. Not only will that set you up to overcome the present challenge, but set you up to capitalize on future ones as well.