Software and Internet firms sparked a revolution in the real estate community with a myriad of applications that allow owners, managers and retailers to work faster and more efficiently. But these days that revolution has turned evolution as tech firms move forward with even more innovations.
Companies are unveiling their latest software versions, e-commerce platforms and enhanced features. In large part, customers who are demanding new features, new functions and new capabilities are driving the rapid development. “We listen to what customers are suggesting,” says Kathy Huber, president and CEO of Sausalito, Calif.-based LOCATION-net. “Almost all of our products have been developed from our customers,” Huber says.
As a result, companies such as LOCATION-net continue to roll out new products on an ongoing basis. LOCATION-net integrates data from a variety of proprietary, public and private databases. The firm interprets this information, and transforms the raw data into “smart” information. The company taps a wide range of demographic and lifestyle information to match retailers with trade areas that contain high concentrations of their customers. “We're a company that helps businesses understand and target their customers,” Huber says.
LOCATION-net allows retailers to go in and look at their entire portfolio of stores, which can help to strategically plan expansion and tactically understand operations. Products include comparable market profiles, comparable store profiles, property profiles and retailer profiles. “The evolution of our product is that we have taken traditional information that people are used to looking at and enhanced it,” Huber says. New products feature pricepoint classification reports, market supply and demand maps and customer zip code analysis.
Although LOCATION-net has been in business for the past three years serving clients on an individual basis, the firm launched its web-based format in October. Now the firm is striving to position www.location-net.com as the home page for its clients. The company continues to add new products and capabilities to better serve its clients.
One new feature that will be released later this spring is an application that allows users to identify where their competitors are located. The company also plans to release a new program that enables a retailer to search for shopping centers that possess similar characteristics. For example, if a retailer has an A location, they can input the criteria of that shopping center, and find similar properties around the country.
The REALM is another tech company that is continuing to introduce innovative software products. The REALM was formed in February 2000 through the acquisition of five of North America's leading commercial real estate technology firms: ARGUS Financial Software, B.J. Murray, CTI Limited, DYNA Software and NewStar Solutions. The New York-based firm is a leader in the delivery of Internet-based process solutions for the commercial and residential real estate industry.
“The highlight for our firm is that we are continuing to integrate our property management, financial analysis and budgeting forecasting systems so that an owner or manager can solve their front and back office process through one solution provided by our company,” says Gregory J. Spevok, The REALM's chief marketing officer.
One of the obstacles in the real estate software industry today is the lack of integration between software programs. Various leasing, budgeting and property management software requires redundant data entry. “What we're doing is enabling the owner to key the information one time, and then use that information for a variety of purposes,” Spevok says.
In addition, The REALM is creating new e-commerce business applications that tie into those software platforms. One new application is The Realm Cash, an electronic receivables, payables and processing system that will integrate directly into an owner's general ledger through REALM software modules. The company also is working to integrate The Realm Cash for use with other competitive software brands.
Tech firms not only are launching new software programs, they also are focusing on delivering software via the web. ePropertyTax LLC has developed the industry's leading property tax management application, Property Tax Office™. The company released its web-enabled version of Property Tax Office in February 2001, which makes ePropertyTax the nation's first property tax application service provider.
“What is exciting about it is that it is an Internet deployment of an application that also maintains a significant amount of content on our end,” says Richard Nearhood, CEO of ePropertyTax.com. The benefit to clients is greater efficiency and easier access to information. One ePropertyTax database features information from 9,000 tax collecting jurisdictions in the United States. The program provides data that is unique to each jurisdiction, such as property tax formulas for calculating taxes and rules related to the appeals process. The database helps owners prepare more accurate budgets with calculations pertaining to inflation increases.
Version 5.0 also offers user-friendly features. “Property tax users are constantly asking for simplification,” Nearhood says. The new version's data-imaging allows documents, such as tax bills, to be scanned in, attached and saved with related property tax information. Other features in development include an online payment system. This will allow checks to be cut electronically.
Founded in 1998, Bethesda, Md.-based Storetrax.com provides the tools necessary to facilitate transactions among retail real estate brokers, retailers and owners. The site at www.storetrax.com provides up-to-date listings with information that includes location, rates, interactive site plans, photos of the property, tenant lists and broker contacts. The site is also searchable by location, space requirements and key words.
Storetrax.com's version 3.1 was released in February. The upgrade includes features such as a client extranet that enables clients to update property tenancy information from their computers. “This will have more of an immediate impact,” says Rob Rosenfeld, CEO of Storetrax.com. As soon as the change is made on an owner's computer, the change is made on the Storetrax.com web site.
Version 3.1 also will send e-mail reminders to owners to update property information. “Keeping data fresh in our system is very important, so we plan to prompt clients on a regular basis to check their properties and make sure the tenancy is accurate,” Rosenfeld says.
Storetrax.com also has added advanced search features permitting users to search by a variety of criteria. “It allows for a more advanced search vs. just searching by square footage and location,” Rosenfeld says. Currently, the Storetrax.com database encompasses 5,400 properties across the country, and www.storetrax.com receives about 500,000 hits each month.