Capturing Prospects Through Virtual Tours

Virtual reality opens apartment marketing opportunities

Apartment hunters, understandably, want to see units before agreeing to rent them, but some situations make a conventional tour impossible. Virtual reality − through high-quality, 360-degree views of apartment interiors − enables prospects to tour units otherwise unavailable to see in person, even during an on-site visit. This new technology allows property managers to market apartments before and after lease-up with custom, digital journeys that complement traditional floor plans and gallery pages. In addition to the convenience for industry professionals, prospects love 3-D virtual tours because they can get a sense of the unit from their mobile device, laptop or desktop before scheduling an in-person visit.

Cost-effective and accessible

While virtual tours don’t explore an actual unit, they do show high-quality 3-D renderings of furnished or unfurnished floor plans that include walks down halls, into bedrooms and around living areas and kitchens. You can practically look at yourself in the mirror.

Unlike video tours, virtual viewers can proceed through rooms at their own pace without the need to click pause, and they can explore the unit in whatever order they want rather than clicking fast forward to get to the room they want to see. 3-D tours also eliminate the notoriously shaky camerawork that comes with a low-quality video tour – and alternatively the high price you’d pay for a professional camera crew that needs to film each floor plan separately (and multiple times if you want both empty and staged looks at the apartment).

“Any marketer wants to show the product they’re selling, and virtual reality allows tours in a very cost-effective way,” said John Gorman, vice president of websites at RealPage, Inc.

Gorman, who moderated the “Virtual Reality and the Future of Presenting 3-D” panel at last year’s Apartment Internet Marketing Conference, has led RealPage’s efforts to market a virtual reality tool specifically for the apartment industry. A product demo garnered considerable interest from marketers. The software guides the viewer through the 3-D floor plan from front to back, as well as side to side and up and down, giving prospects a view from every angle. An extensive library of furniture is also available, giving the viewer a sense of both the empty and lived-in look.

“Virtual space,” Gorman pointed out, “doesn’t cost anything to furnish.”

Peek into units before they’re built

Virtual reality has also proven a popular option when it comes to touring new developments before a construction team even breaks ground.

“Virtual tours can show the property prior to construction,” Gorman said. “When people drive by and see the ‘Coming Soon’ billboard, they can tour the floor plans. They not only see the location potential, but what the community looks like from the inside out.”

virtual tours

Learn more about virtual reality technology at RealWorld 2017

An alternative to actual tours when time matters the most

Holli Beckman, vice president of marketing and leasing operations at Washington, D.C.-based WC Smith, said she was hooked on virtual tours the minute she saw them. This summer, the company, which has 85 properties, plans to install tours viewable using headsets and mobile phones.

Because WC Smith doesn’t build models for show, the technology will enable prospects to see what properties have to offer even if occupancy is 100 percent at the time. Also, potential renters will be able to see new apartments more quickly, even when leasing agents aren’t available.

“If someone walks in and doesn’t have an appointment, it may be an hour or two before they can get to a leasing agent,” she said. “Having virtual tours allow that person to see the packages we have available. Instead of turning them away, we can keep them entertained and limit the tour time.”

Technology fosters peace of mind for prospects

Beckman noted that virtual tours also help relieve doubt for prospects in markets heavy on relocation. For example, 35 percent of WC Smith’s business comes from renters who are moving to the D.C. area, and they don’t always get to see the unit until moving day. For situations such as those, virtual reality tours supplement photos and videos that apartment seekers may feel only show what the property wants them to see.

According to Gorman, skeptical prospects need to see a true representation of the property before one stick of furniture hits the floor.

“You want to present the property in the best light, but always show accurate imagery,” Gorman said. “You want someone, when walking into a leasing office, to [recognize what] they saw on the website. That’s really, really important.”


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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