Virus leads to virtual: How CRE is using tech to sidestep social distancing

 In Blogs

Working in the Show-Me State, it’s a little hard to tell a potential tenant, “Take my word for it.”

This pandemic has upended commercial real estate in a lot of the same ways it’s affected many of our clients’ industries. Social distancing and travel bans make it difficult to show properties in the same way we’re all used to—to build those face-to-face relationships and really kick the tires on a new office property.

Yet, business marches on and deals are still closing. Fortunately, commercial real estate is adapting to this new normal, thanks to tech advances hitting at just the right time.

Tech gets the assist

Even while we’re all doing our part to flatten the curve, clients still want an up-close look at any potential new office space. While technology will never replace actually being there, the latest advances are getting us much closer than ever before. And finding that perfect space before someone else grabs it is still paramount, which means brokers must innovate, says Bryan Colin, CEO of VirtualAPT, a digital visualization company:

“Getting people in the door is the name of the game … What’s changed is how you get them in the door. How you use technology to show them what they can’t see in person.”

Even before the pandemic hit, both residential and commercial real estate brokers understood the power of incorporating technology into listings. These virtual tours are efficient methods of showing off large properties, for example. Plus, the easy access from a phone or computer means a prospect can watch whenever, wherever—and over and over if they so desire.

Regardless of geography, tenants are able to quickly review a number of options to help speed up the search, which only makes the whole process much more efficient.

The value of virtual

The good news? We’ve moved way beyond FaceTime. The flat, grainy, shaky videos of a few years ago have been replaced by high-definition offerings that feature a number of bells and whistles.

One example is augmented virtual reality, which is developing at a staggering rate. This new technology can often be used to provide a 3D look at a developing property, even while it’s still under construction. And full-motion, 360-degree custom “tours” provide a unique perspective no phone can capture (at least not yet).

We’ve had great success with the increased quality and flexibility of drone video, especially as we’ve spread the word on Corrigan II. No longer contained to just the bird’s-eye view, drones can now be flown through the property, traveling room by room, to provide that human point of view that (almost) feels as good as actually being there.

To give clients a better look at The Hampton at CCL, an office and retail building at City Center Lenexa, we incorporated a 360-degree virtual view that gives control of the tour to the viewer, who can navigate each office and hallway – looking up, down and all around – spending as much time as they want in the areas that interest them most.

New changes to old habits

While the quick move to virtual is CRE’s immediate response to this crisis, I think we’ll find the trend continues even after we’re all back in the office. After all, changing demographics are already requiring a pivot on our part to accommodate the changing tastes and tech expectations of a younger generation.

The rise of the gig economy means more and more people are working nontraditional schedules and in nontraditional work environments, so standard office hours and tour windows are often inconvenient and limiting. Barry Blanton, principal at Seattle-based property management firm Blanton Turner, sums it up well:

“They don’t have traditional hours, they don’t live traditional lives, they have a 24/7 sort of business acumen. We had to be prepared to do that.”

Plus, the digital natives of Gen Z now entering the workforce just expect they’ll be able to tour that office space, apartment or condo all from their phone—and will quickly move on if not.

There’s plenty of bad that comes with a pandemic, but when we start looking more closely, crises also bring advances in many different areas when people are forced to approach challenges in new and innovative ways. Commercial real estate will only benefit from these types of changes.

You can take my word for it.

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