Brooklyn condo brings new twist to virtual sales: the robot tour

RYAN DEFFENBAUGH 10/9/2020



The pandemic has given a huge boost to the virtual 3D tour. Now, a condo development in Brooklyn is taking unconventional home tours to the next level: robot tours.


At Six Garfield, a 33-unit condo building rising in Park Slope, a robot the sales team named Theo has helped guide a half-dozen tours for potential buyers since marketing launched at the end of September. The device is known as a telepresence robot, featuring a touchscreen monitor and a high-definition camera that can pan a room.


From her desk in the building's sales offices, Brown Harris Stevens sales agent Teresa Ali can command Theo to move about the building simply by clicking locations on a live video feed. While the condos won't open until next spring, the tour includes a sales office with a building model and photos, as well as a 3-bedroom model unit, where Theo can roam around to offer closer views of closets, bathrooms and whatever else prospective buyers ask about.


"It lets us get up close and personal without being there," Ali said.


For the first three months of the pandemic, virtual showings were the only option. With home sales and rental leasing at a near standstill, real estate companies rushed to add options for virtual tours. Rental listings on StreetEasy offering 3D or video tours doubled between May and July, while sales listings offering the same options tripled, according to StreetEasy spokeswoman Casey Roberts. Home showings returned under strict guidelines in June, but virtual tours have stuck around. StreetEasy data shows that, in August, views of 3D tours were up 33% from May.


Brendan Aguayo, a senior vice president at Brown Harris Stevens, said he was looking for an engaging way to do virtual tours and after some Googling came across the roughly $4,000 device from the California company Double Robotics.


"I wanted something that went beyond Zoom and PDF slides, and this was an option that seemed easy and wasn't too expensive," he said.


Ali added that she has previously given virtual tours by walking around units with a customer on her phone's video chat, a common practice during the pandemic. But it was difficult being both videographer and agent.


The robot tour offering could also be a way to stand out in a city sales market that has been completely upended by Covid-19. There were 1,481 homes sales in Brooklyn during the third quarter, according to the Elliman Report, down 43% from the same period last year.


StreetEasy had no active listings that mentioned a robot tour option, Roberts said. But Theo has changed that for Brown Harris Stevens. David Cann, the CEO of Double Robotics, said their robot's use in the real estate industry has "picked up steam this year." The company's online list of clients shows the bots are more often used in offices and schools.


Theo so far hasn't closed any deals on his own. But Ali said there are a couple of potential buyers coming in for personal tours after taking tours online. It helped that the first round of showings have been without incident.


"I took it slow at the beginning," Ali said, "and I'm happy to report I have not crashed him."