Whether in the middle of a global pandemic or short on time, having the ability to virtually visit a commercial real estate space without having to actually book an appointment is a convenience no matter the circumstances. Being able to visit a space without the time and commitment of an actual visit – let alone several during the course of a day or several weeks – is an immediate time-saver. Everyone’s time and attention are important, so brokers and listing agents should strive to provide an alternative to actually visiting a potential space.
But there are some obvious differences and drawbacks between a virtual tour and actually visiting the space. Aside from being able to physically inspect certain details and ask the real estate agent questions during the walkthrough, it’s also possible that what’s displayed on the listing website isn’t 100% representative of how the space actually looks. In normal times, you shouldn’t rent any property – commercial or residential – sight unseen and leaving yourself exposed to bait-and-switch tactics and misleading photography or listing details.
So, just as when preparing for an actual walkthrough, there’s wisdom in preparing your questions ahead of time and knowing what to ask during your virtual tour.
Questions to Ask During Your Virtual Tour
Besides the typical questions to ask during a property tour, the differences in a virtual tour should prompt more discussion. You’ll want to be prepared with a list of questions about the physical aspects of the space, any amenities you may require, and even details about the basics of each room. You can’t walk through and see locations for power outlets and network infrastructure, for example, so thinking ahead and imagining yourself during a physical tour will help you fill in the gaps during your virtual one.
You’ll also want to ask the realtor the following:
- -Is this space a model property, or the actual vacancy in question?
- -How recently have these photos and video tours been updated?
- -How many workspaces have been previously used in the property?
- -Have previous tenants made any upgrades or changes to the property?
- -Are there photos of any damage I can inspect?
- -Will any tenant build out allowances cover improvements for social distancing requirements?
- -Does the building have a demonstrated history of companies utilizing distributed working conditions?
These are just a few examples, but with the unpredictable times in which we live, it’s critical that a modern office space can provide flexibility for companies that need to shift gears in a hurry.
Important Differences to Consider Between Virtual and In-Person Tours
First, it’s important to distinguish between staged photography and the real thing. While you can’t be there to physically verify the authenticity of what’s presented to you, there are a few easy ways to telling between the real thing and what’s on your screen.
- -Be Wary of the Wide Angle: Despite the need for a “fish-eye” effect to film virtual reality tours and show every corner of a room, wide-angle lenses can misrepresent the actual size and scope of a space. When viewing the property from the comfort of your screen, be sure to get concrete details about the square footage and usable space of each room so you can make comparisons.
- -Look for Disclosure: Any images that have been digitally altered or virtually staged should have a disclosure of that fact below. Asking the tour guide what specifically is edited will help you get a more realistic sense of how things actually look inside the property.
- -Virtual Staging Tricks to Spot: Real estate professionals work meticulously to physically stage properties for expensive photo and video shoots, agonizing over the artwork, interior design, and even the color of items displayed in a photograph. Virtual staging is becoming more and more versatile, allowing realtors to change items on the fly. But being in a space makes it easier to assess the flow of a room and which objects should go where. If a couch looks like it’s in the wrong place or a table obstructs major walking paths, there’s a good chance the property has been virtually staged.
Because realtors want to represent how a space “could” be compared to how it might be at the moment (that is, empty and without furniture, in most cases), it can actually be beneficial to ask for a few examples of layouts during your tour. If they don’t have them available, modern technology allows for quick adjustments, helping you imagine how your space could look once you move in.
Best Practices for Your Virtual Tour
- -Find a reputable broker. Especially because you can’t always face-to-face with a commercial real estate broker, it’s important to ask for referrals, references, and check credentials. What’s this broker’s history and experience in the market? How long have they been working in commercial real estate? Do they specialize in certain types of properties, or is this listing a bonus to their portfolio? These are all fair questions to ask.
- -Do your homework. Looking through public data on building history, contracts, and construction projects isn’t the most satisfying project on your to-do list, but investigating a potential space beforehand won’t just give you an idea of the space in question – it’ll arm you with more questions to ask during your virtual tour. And given the nature of the virtual tour, it’s important to keep records of written conversations if you decide to close on the property.
- -Be polite, but inquisitive. You may find yourself spending even more time during a virtual tour than a physical one simply because you’ll need to ask a lot more questions of the realtor than what you can see and inspect in person. It’s easy to feel that you’re using up a lot of the realtor’s time and forcing them to dig deeper on the details than they may be used to. But in our current reality, both parties need to do their homework and get as much information as possible before moving forward.
- -Be prepared. Aside from your exhaustive list of questions, it wouldn’t be a bad time for a technology upgrade. Many property listings include an option for virtual reality tours. And while these don’t require a VR headset, the image will appear distorted without one. If you’re trying to make a substantial decision on how to invest in your company’s future, upgrading your hardware isn’t a bad idea.
- -Research virtual staging and digital listing techniques. Technology is a wonderful, ever-changing thing. And while photoshopping images isn’t a new technique, it’s a powerful one. Getting a sense of what’s been incorporated into the virtual tour to improve the appearance of the property will help you get an informed perspective – albeit a remote one.
It’s difficult to predict the future and how things will change during times of crisis. As you move forward with your office space search, it’s more important than ever to be prepared to ask more detailed, specific questions during a virtual tour to ensure you’re making an informed decision for your company’s future – no matter how that looks today.