Photo courtesy of The MacKenzie Companies

May 14, 2020 – With companies everywhere being forced to “learn on the fly” in varying aspects of daily business activities, so too is the case for the marketing departments of Maryland-area development and brokerage firms in response to maintaining a continuing schedule of property showings and tours.

“When it comes to mastering the use of new technology, the learning curve has become significantly shortened by necessity,” explained Katy Hayes, Marketing Director of The MacKenzie Companies.

While balancing the home-schooling activities for two small children, Hayes has immersed herself into manipulating software programs on the Adobe Creative Suite and others to produce videos that evolve into virtual property tours, as well as hiring the services of outside vendors.

“A few weeks ago, we weren’t producing many videos and now several of us on the marketing team have become fairly adept at the process,” she said. “We are being responsive to the needs of the individual brokers, with several using apps such as FaceTime to conduct real-time tours. Because of the travel restrictions in place, technology has enabled us to keep marketing activities and deals flowing.”

She sees direct application across all asset classes with videos not solely focused on showing the interior of office spaces. “The videos have worked extremely well for industrial buildings, with the ability to depict the placement of dock doors, columns, and illustrate ceiling heights very effectively. The most important thing everyone wants is a high-quality result that adds value to the marketing package,” Hayes adds.

St. John Properties is having similar experiences. “Our team has quickly adapted and evolved to meet the needs of the brokerage community and prospective clients that have requested property tours,” explained Jay Riley, Director of Marketing for the company. “Options begin with the opportunity for FaceTime video tours at any of our properties with our in-house leasing professionals, and we have also quickly produced short video walkthroughs. Coming soon are a higher level of tours accomplished with a 3D camera paired with the Matterport platform which allow for space viewings at the preferred pace of the end-user, rather than the pre-determined path of a video,” he added.

Photo courtesy of St. John Properties

Riley reports that some of the initial FaceTime tours conducted in April have progressed to in-person showings.

“Our goal is to be as responsible as possible to brokers and tenants that are unable or uncomfortable with traditional space tours given the current environment,” Riley said. “With the expected reduction in corporate travel, and high level of quality attained with this technology, we expect virtual tours to remain an important tool in our marketing arsenal. Over the past eight weeks, our marketing and leasing efforts have not lost a beat and, through resourcefulness, we have discovered some valuable new tactics.”        

Merritt Properties has launched a campaign through to encourage website visitors and prospective customers to “consider the remote possibilities.” Options include 360-degree tours, personalized video consults and interactive 3D floor plans to provide safe touring experiences for various properties throughout their portfolio. Users can experience a self-guided, high-definition tour of properties at their own pace on the 360° system simply by navigating a touchscreen. The personalized video tours consist of a leasing agent conducting a descriptive walk-through of an available space and interactive 3D floor plans allow customers to virtually tour a space, providing a realistic sense of flow and overall layout. In addition, Merritt’s in-house design experts have been creating virtual design boards and customized 3D space plan models to enable end-users to gain a realistic perspective of floor plans and intended design finishes.

Ashley Reimer, Leasing Agent for Merritt Properties, described how the company assembled a multi-site virtual tour within two days and advanced the leasing process as a result of the effort. Conducted early last month and involving four office sites, she explained that the tour took approximately an hour, which could not have been achieved under typical circumstances.

“We gathered everyone on a Zoom conference call and virtually ‘walked’ each space through 360-degree videos,” Reimer explained. “The prospect was able to examine building exteriors and lobby areas, and experience an excellent feel of each space. Every box was checked and we were able to control the pace and flow of the tour. I definitely see the application of these virtual tours going forward, especially during the space-planning process.”     

One local broker still believes in the old-fashioned tour accomplished with shoe leather.

“From my perspective, we are still in the infancy stage with all this disruption but I believe there will always be a place for the personal tour,” said Joe Nolan, Principal, NAI KLNB.

He related the story of a recent showing of an office building at 1301 York Road with the executives of a healthcare company. After initially meeting outside the building, Nolan walked up four flights of stairs while the touring party used the elevator to travel four floors. After touring one suite, the process was repeated with Nolan walking another four flights up, with the prospective tenants taking the elevator to the eighth floor. “We are preparing a property video for a new listing now to respect the need for caution and social distancing. However, I don’t believe anything will replace an on-site visit to kick the tires in hopes of better understanding if the particular building and suite is where they want to move their business.”

LoopNet recently unveiled CoTour, a system that enables up to 20 members to take virtual tours of commercial office, industrial, retail, multifamily and specialty space that is populated with HD video tours, aerial drone photography, architectural imagery and 3D virtual footage. The company reported the completion of more than 6.4 million tours last April.