Why Virtual Tours Are a Win for Buyers, Sellers and Brokers

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — which prompted the rise of online meeting platforms as well as remote and hybrid work arrangements — motivating people to do things in-person versus online has become an increasingly tough sell. This holds for commercial real estate as well. JLL reports that virtual tours, which were a hallmark of the pandemic, have stuck around

Virtual visits offer numerous advantages over the previous in-person model, states Yasuo Nishiyama, vice president of Smart Vision at Ricoh. He notes that with the right technology, the benefits can be seen by buyers, sellers and brokers alike. 

A Picture is Worth Millions of Dollars

The technology provides a sharp contrast to typical collateral viewed before an in-person property visit. “Potential buyers or tenants can examine every angle, room, or space within the property, enabling them to make more informed decisions [than with] static images or floor plans,” says Nishiyama.

The imaging and electronics company, with its global headquarters based in Tokyo, was a trailblazer in commercial real estate imaging, developing the first one-shot 360° camera in the world, the RICOH THETA, in 2013. They have since expanded to RICOH360 Tours, a virtual tour platform that operates “as a cloud service that allows anyone from anywhere to virtually view spaces online.”

Nishiyama notes that virtual visits make buyers more efficient. “Traditional property viewings often require appointments and physically visiting multiple locations. Virtual tours streamline the process by allowing potential buyers to assess properties at their convenience.” 

For sellers, Nishiyama adds, virtual tours lower marketing costs, as professional photographers and open houses are no longer necessary. Plus, “in a crowded market, properties with virtual tours tend to attract more attention and generate higher engagement than those without them.”

Despite their skepticism towards virtual tours, brokers can be helped by the technology. “Virtual tours can contribute to a brokerage’s overall appeal, reputation, efficiency, and success,” Nishiyama declared. “By providing agents with advanced marketing tools and embracing technology, brokers can attract top talent and create an environment that supports agent satisfaction and reduces staff churn. They can help generate leads for the agent, facilitate pre-screening, and provide a more informed basis for decision-making.”

Tech Versus Brokers

Brokers who worry about the technology making their roles unnecessary, or commoditizing their job have nothing to fear, Nishiyama says.

“Brokers possess in-depth knowledge of the local market, including pricing trends, neighborhood information, and legal considerations. They can provide personalized advice, negotiate on behalf of their clients, and help navigate complex transactions. Plus, brokers have established networks and connections to find off-market listings, connect buyers with sellers, or collaborate with other agents to facilitate transactions.”

Additionally, he notes, “emotions and personal preferences play a significant role in the decision-making process and technology cannot offer empathy, understanding, and personalized support to clients.”

Ultimately, Nishiyama says, “Rather than replacing the role of brokers, the RICOH THETA and RICOH360 Tours enhances it.”

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