The early signs of a tech boom in CRE

February 10, 2017  |  Staff Writer  |  Print Article  |  Email this Article

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Andy Gutman

By Andy Gutman, Farbman Group 

While the real estate industry has generally not been an early adopter of new technologies, the last several years have been different—we have seen the beginning of a true tech boom in the industry.

The relatively aggressive integration of new technologies and tools is an exciting development, and real estate professionals are not only becoming more tech savvy, they are continuing to find new ways to use these new solutions to innovate and add meaningful value to brands and businesses.

In a relatively short amount of time, tech has evolved from a rare luxury to an inescapable reality and an invaluable piece of the professional toolkit. Real estate professionals are taking advantage of increasingly powerful, affordable and user-friendly drones to take stunning aerial footage of properties and projects, and a number of new apps and software solutions have gained traction in a marketplace suddenly hungry for new tech.

From iTenant, an app that makes it easier for landlords to share detailed information about their properties with tenants and prospective tenants as well as offer on-line sign-in to tenant amenities like fitness centers and conference rooms, to Yardi, a popular financial and property management platform, the list of new tech tools provides a number of practical ways for real estate professionals to save time, save money, communicate more effectively, operate more efficiently and ultimately boost productivity.

New tools and tech

It is remarkable how quickly real estate companies have come to rely on tech tools. A new generation of products and platforms delivers much more than the “wow” factor. They can make a significant impact on the bottom line. As new custom-designed commercial real estate apps and technologies continue to emerge, the range of ways in which they can help real estate companies and their clients and professional partners work more efficiently and cost-effectively continues to grow.

One tool we utilize is View The Space (VTS Hightower), a software that is designed to coordinate leasing workflow into a unified, accessible platform that clients can use to get real-time updates. Potential tenants can use VTS to evaluate properties, including a comprehensive financial analysis. At the opposite end of the leasing spectrum, landlords can take a look at who has viewed a given property, and can get an up-to-the-minute update of the status of deals that are in progress. Needless to say, this level of transparency and utility in an industry where information is currency and updates can be extremely time-sensitive facilitates more informed decision-making.

Other popular and effective tools include programs like Buildout, a tool that greatly streamlines and synthesizes the property marketing process, use of Drone footage as a marketing tool and August Smart Locks and other smart lock technology that greatly alleviates security concerns and logistical headaches by providing users with a unique virtual key through their smart phone that they can use to access a locked space.

Tech has played an increasingly prominent role in my own work: NAI Farbman has made extensive use of a proprietary custom-designed app that makes it possible for clients and team members alike to review Farbman Group properties. Like growing numbers of real estate companies, we also use new tech tools to give clients a detailed view of our properties without having to actually visit the space. In addition, we use FastOffice, a tool that allows us to create live space plans that integrate furniture and 3D renderings.

Other tech tools taking off include:

  • Honest Buildings, a program that ensures competitive bidding and coordinates consistent parameters between a host of different vendors. Documents can be posted online to ensure that everyone is on the same page, and Honest Buildings eliminates the disparities and inefficiencies that come with different deadlines, timelines and inconsistent submissions.
  • ProLease, tenant representative lease administration software that monitors existing owned and leased spaces, as well as leases that will soon be up for renewal. ProLease and other similar tools offer users detailed financial information.
  • Liquid Space, a platform that posts available space on a per-day and even per-hour basis­–maximizing the value of assets that are underutilized or unleased. Users can access a central database so that anyone looking for a specific category of space on a short-term basis can find a solution.

It isn’t just client-facing tools that we rely on, our in-house tech occupies an increasingly prominent niche in our professional ecosystem. We have replaced basic reporting software that had limited functionality with powerful and intuitive new tech-driven systems. As a result, instead of monthly reports, we can view real-time information about our finances and operations and generate up-to-date reports on-demand. Tech helps us educate and communicate not only with our team and with clients, but with the general public, through regular podcasts.

The next step

While the current state of real estate tech is somewhat of a Wild West, with new companies, new ideas and new tools popping up seemingly daily, I expect that dynamic to evolve going forward. While the pace of innovation will remain high, we will likely see some consolidation within the industry as successful tech companies merge and some competitors fall away. I also think we will see the commercial real estate industry’s relatively newfound enthusiasm for tech continue to grow, as well.

Commercial real estate professionals have experienced firsthand how much of a difference the right tech tools can make. In a competitive industry, there is little reason to doubt that the difference-making power of technology will be embraced wholeheartedly. At the same time, I think we are really only just scratching the surface when it comes to introducing tech to the world of real estate. More transformative commercial real estate solutions are on the horizon, and real estate professionals who want to leverage those tools in exciting new ways would be wise to keep their finger on the tech pulse.

Andy Gutman is president of Southfield, Michigan-based Farbman Group.

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