It goes without saying that 2020 wasn’t a stellar year for office leasing. As the world was forced to work from home, companies big and small had to reconsider their need for office space and the way they used it. Even the companies committed to having an office presence were reluctant to sign new leases with few signs of the pandemic ending in most parts of the world.
To service these changing demands, tenant rep brokers have been forced to adapt. “What we see in our data is that the old ways just don’t cut it any more. This was happening before COVID, but now it has been greatly accelerated,” said VTS’ Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder Ryan Masiello. “Tenant rep brokers are incredibly smart people that are forced to spend way too much time on manual tasks like copying and pasting tour books together. I was doing the same thing as a tenant rep myself a decade ago, and it’s crazy to see that the toolset still hasn’t changed. We’re looking to solve that by simplifying the process and bringing the same digitization that has transformed practically every other industry on the planet.”
His company’s solution comes in the form of their new Marketplace which, unlike the other marketplaces that have come and gone, is built with the experience of the tenant rep in mind. And it’s completely free for brokers to use.
Current market activity highlights the need for this technology. Although there were signs of life over the summer and into the third quarter with some tenants entering the market and touring available space, tenant demand dropped sharply again in most markets during the fourth quarter, according to VTS’ monthly Office Demand Index. At the end of last year national office leasing demand at the end of 2020 was down 61 percent from December 2019.
Additionally, according to a VTS survey of more than 250 US office tenants, 70 percent of occupiers feel some level of discomfort with an in-person tour and 80 percent would prefer to take a virtual tour of a space to narrow down their search before touring in person.
With limited tenants in the market, and occupiers increasingly demanding to virtually experience a space before proceeding to an in-person tour, it’s on tenant reps to ensure the materials they’re sharing with their clients upfront deliver. A beautiful, intuitive digital touring experience has been a focal point for VTS’ Marketplace. Their team works with landlords to produce state of the art digital content including video tours, accurate photography, up to date floor plans and more to accurately tell the story of a space and the broader building it’s in. Tenant reps can easily share these listings with their clients directly from the Marketplace, giving them the modern, digital experience they now expect.
New digital tools and an improved understanding of clients’ individual needs will not only help brokers lease space, but will help with the prospecting process as well. As the pandemic continues, and with it, remote work, tenant rep brokers are working harder than ever to navigate this difficult market and capture limited tenant demand. Brokers can use the Marketplace to both prospect for new clients and provide the best experience for current clients. They can create and save custom surveys for specific requirements and get notified the minute new space comes online. And with granular search filters like price, size, space type, ceiling height, and lease term, tenant reps can better curate their lists for tenants and reduce the number of properties that time-strapped occupiers need to sift through.
What Masiello thinks will help make the tenant rep broker’s job easier more than anything, as well as make the market more efficient as a whole, are the partnerships his company has made with many of the country’s largest landlords to ensure tenant reps have access to the freshest and most accurate inventory. “On average we get exclusive listings from landlords two weeks before they get published anywhere else,” he said. “Plus, because we are the system-of-record for landlords and their leasing teams, tenants know they can trust our listings. This often eliminates the call that is usually needed to confirm availability and price.”
Even though the vaccine has created a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the road ahead still looks bumpy for tenant rep brokers. Our work from home experiment has converted many companies to remote work, even if just part time. As our normal lives return and office leasing returns, the tolerance of tenants for an inefficient leasing process will not. The brokers that adopt new technology, like virtual tours and the VTS Marketplace, will be the ones who ultimately survive, absorbing the clients and the deals of those that do not.