While social distancing and business shutdowns designed to combat the spread of COVID-19 brought a lot of economic activity to a screeching halt, some businesses have been able to somewhat adapt by relying more heavily on technological tools to take the place of in-person contacts. Case in point is the luxury housing development in Rye, St. Regis The Residences, that had to close its on-site sales office.
When ground was broken for the project in May 2018, the cost was estimated at $100 million. While the financial effect the pandemic is having on construction and sales is yet to be determined, the virus has not forced a shutdown of the project’s sales effort.
The project is to include 95 one-bedroom to four-bedroom condominiums in five buildings situated on seven acres with underground parking. It will feature 25,000 square feet of amenities ranging from a fitness center, pool, movie screening room and pet spa to two St. Regis Hotel rooms for use by guests of residents.
At least one person living in each unit at St. Regis The Residences will have to be 55 years old, and none can be under 18. The Business Journal had initially been given typical unit prices of a one-bedroom at $1.03 million, a two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath unit with 1,602 square feet at $1.7 million and a four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath condo with 2,775 square feet at $3.7 million.
Susie Joyce, director of sales at the project for developer Alfred Weissman Real Estate along with Angela Ferrara, executive vice president of sales and leasing of The Marketing Directors, which has been involved with the sales effort, explained that computer software has suddenly assumed new importance for them.
“We were very lucky because pre-COVID we used this as our main pre-selling tool and now that we are here where we are it becomes even more important,” Ferrara said. “We can use this technology from home.”
At the core of the technology is Aeon Virtual software that has been customized to allow prospects watching on their own devices at home to be taken on a fly-over virtual tour of the project. The salesperson originating the presentation at a remote location, such as their home, can take the prospects soaring through the property as well as giving them a virtual view looking out the windows of whatever unit they’d like to visit.
Additional graphic and video elements allow the salesperson to show sample room treatments, floor plans, kitchen and bathroom layouts and the project’s various amenities.
“It’s been up and running since we opened the sales effort last April, so about a year,” Ferrara said. “We adapted both this as well as our other tools into a virtual presentation. We did videography, a movie in essence, starring Susie Joyce, and that is something we can send out to people and because of our 55-plus demographic sometimes the video is just something you can play; it will just click and play.”
She said that the virtual material can be personalized for each prospect and thus help them absorb a lot of detail about the options being offered.
“It gives you an overview of the lifestyle and the branding,” Ferrara said. “This is where we home in on the actual sale.” She said that The Marketing Directors’ Project Manager Denham Apperley is in the process of building out some dimensional floor plans that will have furniture.
“Because we have such good tools and we were so used to using them in the sales gallery, once we brought them home it really wasn’t that hard to transition,” Joyce said. “It took a little bit of time but we feel like if we send some of the video to prospects it gives them a quick walk-through and then if we really want to get into the nuts and bolts of it that’s when we come to the Aeon.”
“We have big screen TVs, we have things you can touch and feel in the sales gallery,” Joyce said. “We really don’t have them here but we bring them as close to everything as we can.”
“This itself takes months to build out,” Ferrara said. “We would never have been in a position to have done this if we were just being alarmed now — ‘You’ve got to pack up and leave in the next week or two.’ This would have never been possible to create. It takes months and it costs tens of thousands of dollars so it’s a big investment that we made up front and we’re so happy that we did for obvious reasons.”
The cost for the fly-over and virtual view software was in excess of $75,000.
Joyce said that prospects have accepted the idea of remote presentations.
“We’ve even had revisits, where someone’s been in already and I’ll take them through the fly-over and sort of remind them and all of that so they’re probably a little closer to moving forward,” Joyce said.
She described a couple who received a presentation, selected a home that they want and plan to take another online tour.
“We’re going to go through, show them exactly where it is. I’ll fly them through and we’ll revisit the whole thing because that first visit can be a bit overwhelming,” Joyce said. “There are some who will say, ‘I’m coming up from Florida. I’ll be there in a few weeks.’”
Ferrara said that The Marketing Directors has been using technology in its various forms for a long time and she expects it to become more and more pervasive in real estate sales. She pointed out that the system in use for St. Regis The Residences is not intended to be a self-guided tour and must be operated by a salesperson.
“If somebody were to come in and try to use this system they would not be able to. It is not a self-guided tour by any means,” Ferrara said, “Susie is trained on how to use it. It is very sensitive to the touch and I’ve used it a few times. Once you get it, you get it, but it is not meant at all to be self-guided. It will always be a salesperson leading through the presentation,” she said, whether that’s remotely as now or in-person once there’s been a recovery from the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I will tell you, though, there’s no substitute for an in-person presentation, period. You know, Susie jumps off the page at you potentially here but so much more in person and you connect more from a consultative and a trust perspective,” Ferrara said.
“The minute we can go back to one-on-one in-person presentations we will. But we will keep this as a tool until the time that we are physically in the building, which is not for a couple of months.”