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How a $1 Billion Management Company Leases More Units “Site Unseen”

What’s the most powerful tool you can use to lease an apartment to someone who’s never even seen it?

That was the problem facing Buckingham Companies, a multifamily development and management company with 57 properties, more than 10,000 units and $1 billion in real estate assets. Buckingham focuses on new developments, and leasing typically begins long before the units are ready to be seen in person. That can present a significant challenge to the leasing team.

“People are understandably nervous about renting an apartment without seeing it first,” says Shannon Sorrells, marketing manager at Buckingham. “Giving the prospect as much information as possible up front really helps them make a decision. The more details you provide, the higher your conversion rate.”

In their leasing brochures and on their website, Buckingham originally showed ordinary two-dimensional floor plans to prospective renters. But because those plain floor plans lacked any in-depth details, the results often fell flat.

“We essentially just took the files from the architect or the development team and put it on our website and in our brochures,” Sorrells says. “It shows you the floor plan, but it doesn’t give you that visual aspect. What color will my floors be? What will the walls look like? What about the countertop? Everything was just black and white. Aesthetically, it didn’t look very good.”

Gaining a Competitive Edge with 3D Floor Plans

In 2013, Buckingham turned to 3DPlans.com to provide high quality, photo-realistic floor plans on an affordable, quick-turnaround basis.

“Now we have a 3D image that we put into our print collateral and on our website where somebody can see an aerial view of a floor plan. They can click within that unit and do an interactive walking tour, so they can see what the apartment will actually look like,” Sorrells says.

Prospects typically do almost all of their research online before ever setting foot on a property. Being able to experience three-dimensional floor plans, walking tours and site maps right on their phone is a powerful selling point.

“When they can dive into that level of detail and find a location within the building that they want, they are going to feel more connected with your property than they would to a competitor down the street,” Sorrells says. “People walk in and they feel like they already know that they want to live there. It makes the closing process smoother, easier, and quicker. And more comfortable. We’ve given them so many tools to play with, that’s what really sells it for us.”

A More User-Friendly Experience for Both Prospects and Staff

One of the hidden benefits of using 3DPlans.com is that the leasing teams gain a better understanding of where the units are located and how they are laid out. That leads to more successes in the leasing office.

“For instance, we have a property in Nashville that’s 17 stories. Now we have an image of every single floor and where each unit type is located within that floor,” Sorrells says. “We also have an interactive touchscreen application where prospects can choose what unit type and options they want. They can immediately tell which floor plans are available on what floors, and then see what kind of unit view they may have or location within the building. That’s been very helpful for us.”

To date, 3DPlans.com has completed projects for more than 21 Buckingham multi-family and mixed-use properties. “It’s really helped us lease site-unseen to more of our prospects,” Sorrells says.

Taking 3D to the Next Level with Virtual Reality

To stay competitive in a quickly-evolving market, Buckingham is taking another bold step into the future: adding virtual reality to their marketing arsenal.

“With a new development, we may not have apartments ready for them to walk through until the week before they are set to move in. So being able to physically feel what it’s going to be like to walk into that bedroom or walk into that kitchen, it really makes a huge impact on them,” Sorrells says.

The new on-site virtual reality setup will include a large-format TV screen and a headset. Prospective tenants will not only be able to see a 3D rendering of their favorite floor plan, but they can also don the headset and explore it virtually.

At first, though, this leap ahead didn’t seem feasible. The other vendor they initially contacted couldn’t create a virtual layout of an entire unit and still keep the project under budget.

“Initially, our development team tried using a virtual reality tool with another vendor. But it was only for the amenities spaces on some of our high-end developments, and not at the unit level,” Sorrells says. “And the cost from that other provider was astronomical. It just wasn’t feasible for us to do that for all of our properties.”

Once again, Buckingham turned to 3DPlans.com to improve their visual marketing efforts. 3DPlans.com created a virtual reality of the entire unit at 80% lower cost — only a fraction of what the other provider charged.

“Now we can pay just a little bit extra and have a virtual reality set up within that 3D walking tour,” Sorrells says. “It really makes a great tool for our teams and for our prospects.”

"We've been happy with absolutely everything."

Although 3DPlans.com is not the only provider of 3D floor plans, they are a recognized leader in the field, and Sorrells is quick to point out exactly why.

“I know there are other companies out there that are similar, but 3DPlans is very detail-oriented. It’s nice to work with a vendor who can anticipate your questions and concerns, and answer them before they even become an issue,” Sorrells says. “They take what we give them and run with it. It’s rare that I need edits, but when I do, they’re quick and they make sure that we’re satisfied with the final product.”

She wouldn’t hesitate to refer others to 3DPlans.com, she says, and has already recommended them many times. “They’re helpful, friendly, and very responsive. They’re wonderful,” Sorrells says. “We’ve been happy with absolutely everything we’ve received from them, and I really enjoy working with the people there. So for every new asset that we purchase or develop, we always turn to 3DPlans.com.”

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shannon sorrels buckingham
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Shannon Sorrells

Marketing Manager

“People walk in and they feel like they already know that they want to live there. It makes the closing process smoother, easier, and quicker. And more comfortable. We’ve given them so many tools to play with, that’s what really sells it for us.”