Gotta close ’em all! How one broker plans to turn “Pokémon Go” into real estate bait

Citi Habitats' Mike Schulte on using the app to lure clients

Pokémon at an open house
Pokémon at an open house

Thousands of businesses across the country are already using the new nostalgia-charged gaming app known as “Pokémon Go” to draw potential customers down the primrose Poké-path and in through their open doors. And now, one broker thinks it may be New York real estate’s turn.

Since “Pokémon Go” debuted in the U.S. last week, Citi Habitats’ [TRData] Mike Schulte read several articles about how businesses everywhere are riding the “augmented reality” wave, promoting their locations as hubs where game players, who now number in the millions nationwide, can catch the handheld monsters for as long as they please (and maybe buy something while they’re at it).

That got Schulte and the marketing staff at Citi Habitats thinking about how Pokémon Go could be used to draw people to open houses and leasing offices, or as an internal email from the brokerage reviewed by The Real Deal put it, “help create more brand awareness around the building & help to foster more showings and in turn deals.”

“The only way to immediately attract people is to use what’s called a lure, and you have to be within vicinity of a Pokéstop,” said Schulte, already conversant in the game’s vernacular. “In most cases, you’re in neighborhoods where you would have something like this, but [the lure] only lasts for 30 minutes.”

Pokéstops are pre-determined locations inside the game, which can be anything from a church to a graffiti-stained wall, where players stock up on important items and set up “lure modules,” traps that allow users to catch more Pokémon and which can be purchased inside the game with real money.

Because players frequently check the game map to navigate the urban Viridian Forest and find Pokéstops and lures in their area, a real estate developer, for example, could have a lure going at all times at or around a new development project, bringing in dozens of people to the site in the course of just a day. Schulte has already planned out how to put the lures to work.

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Mike Schulte Citi Habitats

Mike Schulte

“You would need to have an onsite office, where there’s a physical employee that can click purchase every 30 minutes. It’s a cellphone that will sit on a wall that you keep pressing purchase on. There’s no way yet to automate it to run indefinitely and just bill you.”

But there’s a key obstacle to realizing the full marketing potential of “Pokémon Go,” the broker said. The locations for Pokéstops, as well as the gyms where players can test their skills against competitors, have already been established inside the game, so if your business isn’t already a Pokéstop or gym, or close to one, you might be out of luck. When Schulte reached out to a contact at Nintendo, however, he was assured that businesses will soon be able to enter agreements with the game’s developer allowing them to register their shop (or real estate holdings) as Pokéstops. It’s something that Schulte envisions for 40-07 73rd Street, a Jackson Heights rental owned by his client JMC Holdings. For now, new projects with leasing offices close to existing Pokéstops can jump on the opportunity.

“Any of our new development marketing teams, they should be all over this,” he recently told one colleague.

Even if the “Pokémon Go” phenomenon fizzles, there’s a chance the underlying technology will make waves in real estate. Developers and architects already use an augmented reality platform called AR Pandora to project interactive building models onto the real environment. And some brokers now use virtual reality devices, like the Oculus VR headset, to turn ho-hum open houses into full-on futuristic experiences, with no need to even visit the property for sale.

Some realtors are including a property’s proximity to Pokéstops and gyms in listing descriptions online, according to the website Atlas Obscura. “Conveniently located between two Pokémon Gyms and has 8 PokéStops within walking distance,” reads one such listing in British Columbia, Canada.

Whether these tactics will lead to actual foot traffic and attention from potential buyers and renters remains to be seen. But brokers and developers hope enough players will, in the spirit of the Pokemon song, “travel across the land, searching far and wide, each Pokémon to understand, the power that’s inside.”