What if you could take a “virtual walk” through a community and see a high resolution, 360-degree view of every apartment and common area?

By Susan Saldibar

When I’m looking at vacation rentals, the first thing I do is check out the 360-degree views and virtual tours. They’re great for getting a feel for the property without physically being there. So, if a property has only a few photos to share, I tend to move on to the next one. Technology “trained” me to expect realistic and engaging virtual tour experiences. And I’m not complaining!

So, why would I expect anything less if I were looking at senior living communities? Like a lot of my fellow baby boomers, I would want to see as accurate a picture of the community as possible. I’d want to take a “virtual walk” through the community and see a high resolution, 360-degree view of every apartment and common area. Wouldn’t you?

It’s always a challenge to line up move-ins before the community opens.

Recently, I spoke with the team at Touchtown (a Senior Housing Forum partner) about their Census Builder solution. It includes an immersive virtual tour feature which walks you through the entire community, complete with amenities and floor plans. The tour can be accessed from a large interactive touchscreen display or self-serve from a mobile application or community website.

The virtual tour has made a big difference for a brand new 275-unit independent/assisted living community called The Mansions at Gwinnett Park. Gwinnett Park is one of four communities operated by The Mansions, located in the greater Atlanta and Oklahoma City areas.

As we know, the greatest challenge for any new community is to garner as many deposits prior to official opening as possible. But Gwinnett Park presented some unique challenges that the Mansions’ team hadn’t encountered at their other properties. To begin with, mud and debris from the construction site made the sales trailer difficult to access and left little room for flags and signage. Also, the team faced new restrictions on visitors at the construction site, so it was challenging for prospects to fully visualize the campus.

“When we arrived, it was just a patch of dirt,” Michael Costlow, Director of Sales said. “That’s why we needed to get our name out there and start developing relationships with the community,” he adds. Time is money. You have to start getting the building leased-up in advance.

What to do when a prospect wants to see an apartment before you have built it?

The Gwinnett Park marketing and sales team put their Touchtown virtual tour to work. And, Michael Costlow was happy to report, it actually got them a deposit on a room that hadn’t even been built yet. He believes it was due to being able to show them the virtual tour.

In this particular instance, the prospective resident wanted a 1-bedroom suite and had one specific request: she didn’t want to walk into her apartment and see the kitchen right in front of her. Michael was able to allow her to virtually “walk through” a 1-bedroom suite from the sales trailer. Through the virtual tour, the prospective resident was able to visualize the full layout of the suite and see for herself that the kitchen was not in the line of sight from the entryway. That was all it took for her to place a full deposit, Michael said. “If we had not had Touchtown, I could not have shown her that, since our model doesn’t include a 1-bedroom suite with that layout,” Michael told the folks at Touchtown. “I would have had to make a follow-up appointment with her at one of our other properties (50 minutes away) and then would have to try to arrange to take her through someone else’s suite.”

Here are a few of the benefits that the Touchtown Census Builder virtual tour application brought the folks at Gwinnett Park.  

  • Saves time for everyone. That means not only your sales representatives but also your prospective residents and their families. A single visit with an iPad to show the virtual tour is time better spent than driving back and forth to models.

  • Transcends physical obstacles like bad weather, access to sales trailers, and a parking lot not yet complete.

  • Gives the “big picture” of the finished product. At a construction site, you will see lots of unfinished areas and try to describe how the property will look when completed. Using Touchtown’s Census Builder, you can help prospects connect the dots.

  • Enables out of town family members to “visit” the community virtually. When key relatives are not able to see the community, the sales process is almost certainly slowed down.

Touchtown helped Gwinnett Park secure over 50 deposits within 5 months of the sales trailer opening, even with new obstacles.

Amy Davis, SVP of Marketing for The Mansions at Gwinnett Park, said that the mixture of tools from Touchtown seems to make the decision to move in much easier for prospective residents. Their typical tour to move-in conversion rate is about 40-50%, so the Mansions team set their goal at 50 move-ins upon opening week (April 2019). Amy was pleased to report that they were able to maintain the 40-50% conversion rate (despite new construction challenges at this site) and had secured over 50 deposits as of January 2019.

Michael was pleased as well, noting, “I know that without [Touchtown’s Census Builder], we would not have 44 deposits . . . I told [my CEO] that I’m not going to our next site without them!”