How to Virtually Showcase Student Housing Properties

Technology experts and property operators shed light on what’s behind a successful virtual tour experience.
Photo by Nicolas Solerieu via Unsplash

As the pandemic emptied schools and shifted the learning experience into the digital realm, student housing operators were compelled to recalibrate their leasing and marketing strategies. Before long, personal outreach was replaced by digital campaigns and virtual tours took the place of in-person tours.

While most of the technology was readily available—from social media platforms to chatbots—property operators had to quickly adapt and learn how to create tailored leasing experiences for each prospective resident, while providing an authentic representation of the property.

“The pandemic was disruptive to our leasing efforts, and we had to quickly pivot to a method of leasing with which we had little experience: virtual leasing,” Rick Jones, president of Caliber Living, told Multi-Housing News.

Virtual property tours were already popular before the health crisis, but with closed leasing offices and students forced to search for off-campus housing alternatives, this option has become a must-have. Some prospects might prefer live streaming through Facebook, Instagram, Zoom or Google Meet with a leasing agent in real-time for a walk-through of the property. Others might pick self-guided 3D tours to get a better view of the property.

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“Without these tools, the exposure people had (was) limited to pictures and videos that we prepared. The static nature of those mediums may not have been a fair representation of the property and would not adequately anticipate what people wanted to know,” Jones explained.

Using virtual tours effectively

Student Housing Bedroom. Image courtesy of Caliber Living

For a successful virtual tour experience, student housing operators and universities have to make sure that they have a strong understanding of technology and provide an immersive and interactive tour of their properties, especially since they target the tech-native Generation Z.

According to Chris Vasilakis, founder & CEO at Guided Virtual Tours, one of the most common mistakes student housing operators make is that they bury the virtual tour on a gallery or photos page, making it hard for students to find the tour, leading to a higher bounce rate.

Virtual tours are most effective if they are guided, Vasilakis pointed out. When tours aren’t guided, the prospect isn’t being sold while they tour and there’s always a chance that the student missed parts of the tour, he added.

Michael Vervena, vice president of sales and marketing at Planitar Inc. and creator of iGuide, a proprietary camera and software platform for capturing and delivering immersive 3D tours, also noted that the key to ensuring that student housing virtual tours are effective is to make them visible and easily accessible.

“Sharing the tour on their website, in their marketing materials and on social media, is the first step. The second step is to make sure the tour has the information people are looking for. This includes traversal-related spaces like hallways and corridors, as well as rooms,” Vervena said.

Here to stay

Student Housing Living Room. Image courtesy of Caliber Living

Thanks to the vaccine rollouts, in-person tours are slowly becoming an option again—but virtual tours aren’t going anywhere.

Although virtual technology cannot replace the real-life experience of physically being present somewhere, it can complement or enhance the in-person experience. This might be one of the reasons virtual tours will remain popular long after the pandemic.

According to Vervena, virtual tours work best when they’re used before or after an in-person visit. It’s hard to remember details later, but virtual tours can help prospective renters circle back and confirm details.

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In addition, virtual tours are likely to remain relevant post-pandemic, especially for those who don’t live near the property, Jones pointed out. And some of the benefits of virtual tours—such as saving time for both the renters and the staff or touring multiple people at once—will continue to outweigh the benefits of in-person touring.

As viewing the world through a screen becomes even more normalized, technologies such as virtual tours will continue to be an essential part of the leasing experience even beyond the health crisis.

“I see virtual tours becoming more readily available, more shareable, more immersive, and containing more valuable data. The trend toward having more data and fewer surprises when going to a location for the first time won’t go away,” Vervena concluded.