American Equity Partners offers a virtual 3D tour of 9 Entin Road in Parsippany using the Matterport platform. It also hired a vendor to shoot drone video of the exterior as well as photos and video of the renovated common areas and the available tenant spaces. — Courtesy: American Equity Partners
By Joshua Burd
With a growing collection of revitalized office buildings, American Equity Partners has become well-versed in recent years in welcoming brokers to its new-look properties in New Jersey.
Naturally, that changed last spring with the onset of COVID-19. But the landlord and brokers with JLL still managed to catch the attention of dozens of tenant representatives in mid-November with a virtual open house, seeking to showcase a newly upgraded, 197,000-square-foot building in Parsippany.
They see it as a means of helping business continue while distinguishing the building from the competition, even when social gatherings resume as normal.
“It’s just not a good time to have 50 or 75 people coming through the same space in an hour,” said Bob Ryan, an executive vice president with JLL. “It’s just not the environment for that, but the work’s been done, companies are still going to need office space and have leases expiring and have needs, so this was a good way to get it out to the brokerage community that works those requirements.”
American Equity Partners recently completed some $4 million in renovations at 9 Entin Road, a three-story building off Interstate 287, after acquiring it in early 2019. That included the addition of a high-end fitness center with Peloton bikes and a conference and training area, along with a refreshed cafeteria, modernized lobbies and an upgraded HVAC system.
Ryan leads the building’s leasing team alongside JLL’s Chris Conklin and Chris Masi. He noted that AEP, in order to create a virtual tour, had already hired a vendor to shoot drone video of the exterior as well as photos and video of the renovated common areas and the available tenant spaces. The landlord also created a virtual 3D tour using the Matterport platform.
In order to persuade brokers to actually take the tour, JLL used the types of incentives that are common at in-person open houses: The marketing team sent out an email blast offering American Express gift cards and the chance to win a Microsoft Surface Pro to the first 50 people who signed up. Those brokers were required to visit a special landing page and watch the full video in order to obtain a registration code for the prizes.
The firm announced the winner in a subsequent email blast and delivered the prizes via FedEx.
“It was very successful,” Ryan said, noting that JLL received two inquiries after the event that have translated into proposals. “It was very similar to a regular open house, just maybe not as personable, not as social as you would normally get with that interaction when people actually show up to the building.
“But it did highlight the building, the improvements and the available spaces — and we got a lot of people to take a look at it as such.”
For the landlord, the experience could serve as a blueprint for showcasing its growing portfolio of upgraded office buildings in the state, which spans 2.5 million square feet, especially as the nation works its way back from the pandemic.
“I don’t think this is a replacement for a real in-person brokerage open house,” said David Elkouby, principal of AEP. “When we can get go back to normal — hopefully that will be sooner rather than later — I think we’re going to go back to the conventional open houses. But this was a great substitute.”
Virtual tours, which come in different forms, are part of a still-evolving segment of the industry. According to an April 27 article by JLL, the technology gained new traction during the pandemic, even among skeptics, and has additional room to grow. Along with the widespread Matterport platform, that could mean the introduction of 3D and virtual reality headsets to help bring internal spaces to life and visualize the surrounding areas.
“The next step will be to see how existing tools can incorporate facts and data within the virtual walkthrough,” Alex Edds, director of innovation at JLL, wrote in the column. “New tools are emerging all the time and as technology further advances, then so should its infiltration into real estate decision timeframes. The typical three- to six-month process could be sped up.”
AEP plans to create virtual tours and multimedia packages across its portfolio, which continues to grow. The company owns high-profile assets such as 1 Tower Center in East Brunswick and recently added a nearly 100,000-square-foot building in West Windsor and a 116,000-square-foot property in Paramus.
Elkouby noted that producing high-end video and Matterport tours does add to a building’s marketing budget, as does the process of setting up and advertising a virtual open house. But he believes those tools will become a permanent part of the leasing process, even after the pandemic.
“I think that’s something that was there before there was COVID and, as of today, I think it’s something that people love having,” Elkouby said. “It’s a great marketing tool — it costs a couple bucks, but I think it’s useful because it’s a great way of eliminating certain buildings before you actually go out to the market with clients.”