Real estate offices used to be a necessity. Why? Buyers needed somewhere to look at MLS photo books with active listings. MLS books, of course, have been replaced by the internet, Zillow, and thousands of IDX sites in every market. No one needs to go to a real estate office to look at listings anymore.
Where does that leave real estate offices? How do you make them relevant again?
Create an EXPERIENCE.
That’s what Engel & Völkers in Minneapolis did by building a virtual reality theatre.
I had a chance to ask Broker/Owner Geoffrey Bray a few questions…
Please describe the experience you’ve created with virtual reality, and what the proposition is for buyers.
The idea, and ultimately best use, for our Virtual Reality theater has one core principle and that is to provide amazing service. The business model we believe in most at Engel & Völkers is still very traditional in the sense that we are targeting a specific market of people who still need and want to work with a real estate professional. Of the various conferences I attend each year, not a moment goes by in which I don’t overhear a conversation, or a presentation that focuses on the newest tech or tech-focused company that is going to take the role of the real estate agent out of the equation. Although that may be true for some agents, it won’t be true for ALL agents. There will still be a strong need by many consumers to have someone alongside them every step of the way to execute their goals and real estate ambitions. That being said, just because we focus on service and some traditional aspects of the business doesn’t mean we can’t employ and implement some of the most cutting edge technology in the arena. Virtual Reality is one of those technologies and we felt that the theater was the perfect way to marry high end service with some of the most advanced tech in the space. By allowing someone to tour 15-30 homes in a matter of hours, yet do it in a professional environment with a qualified advisor lets the consumer take some control over their time and preferred method of home searching, while also having someone knowledgeable present every step of the way. In essence, we can give people different home shopping experiences based on their level of comfort with the newest tech, while not changing our role as advisors and our relationship with them in a drastic way.
What was the “aha” moment that led you to invest in building a virtual reality theatre in your company office?
At the 2017 Engel & Völkers Exchange event in March, they announced an initiative that they called “Making Virtual a Reality.” I liked the concept, and the corporate company even purchased and gave a VR camera to every shop in North America. Like all tools and enhancements in our business, they are only as good as the user and the decision to use it. I am the first to admit that while we loved the idea of VR, we loved the idea of being at the forefront of the technology more. It wasn’t enough for us to simply photograph the homes with VR…other people were already doing that. It also felt very one sided, at this time, in the fact that it only really added value to the seller who would have their home available for virtual reality tours online. Buyers needed to first off know that the tech existed, and then needed someone to help them explain it. By having the theater, we now get to use VR as an add-on as our service to sellers, and professionally assist buyers in their home search by using VR. It’s very cutting edge, and it feels cool to be at the head of the pack on something. The aha moment comes every single time someone puts the goggles on. They immediately understand how much time they’re going to save in their home search not by necessarily finding their home with VR, but cancelling out a bunch of homes they may have wasted time going to see in person. Time…it’s a pretty valuable thing.
How large of a financial investment was needed, and what percentage of your offices’ leads would you attribute to the initiative?
This one is tricky. We could simply break down the cost of the equipment, but I would like to state that having the appropriate space in a brick and mortar location is important, and can be rather expensive as well. However, if a company has the space for a small or large theater, I would say that a theater could be executed for as little as $5,000, and then sky is the limit. We chose to make the theater look and feel like a real theater. So, we did stadium seating with leather theater style chairs. A 110″ screen with the proper throw from a projector takes a little expertise, and I was lucky enough to have Christ Peterson in the office who geeks out on this stuff and helped to execute the idea. The essentials are goggles, a computer, a projector and screen or large television, the right lighting, the right seating and the right space. Not too many ingredients to create a pretty cool service offering to a real estate business. We had a lot of fun with it.
What’s coming next?
Our big goal for 2018 is to have 85% or more of our company’s listings photographed in VR. All of us as real estate professionals have to photograph our listings this way if we are going to be able to give buyers the opportunity to experience the majority of homes this way. If we, as an industry, can commit to doing this, we will all benefit from it. The majority of agents I speak with understand the value of saving time not having to drive to a home simply to cancel it out as a non-possibility. So, that is our big goal and what we are currently working on. Chris Peterson and myself have put aside time in 2018 to ‘innovate and invent,’ which I am really looking forward to. We have a few things up our sleeve, and we can’t wait to talk with you again.
[There was a previous story on Inman about the virtual theatre]