Love it or hate it, these days technology can be a huge boon to busy commercial real estate brokers in creating efficiencies and delivering faster and better services to clients. Yet the challenge for both individual brokers and larger firms is sifting through the deluge of new tools without getting caught up in a race to have the shiniest new toys regardless of whether they help the brokers do a better job.

Commercial real estate professionals are gravitating to technologies that can assist with key functions such as file sharing, client relationship management, analysis and marketing. “What we hope to use technology for is that we can provide better services for our clients, not just for the purpose of deploying technology,” says Mike Kamm, president of Cassidy Turley in San Francisco.

For example, Cassidy Turley is in the process of implementing a new customer relationship management (CRM) solution that it calls “eClient.” The solution will allow brokers to track their individual client relationships and provide a broader look at who other brokers in the firm are working with. “That is going to be a major improvement in our productivity, and also allow us to provide better client services in a more coordinated fashion,” says Kamm.  

For small and mid-size firms, technology has the added perk of helping level the playing field when they compete head-to-head with larger brokerages. “Our view on technology is that it is only going to make us more efficient in the long run and we are trying to embrace it as best we can,” says Scott Burns, president of Wilson Commercial Real Estate in Los Angeles

 Wilson Commercial has 75 shopping centers in its portfolio. “We get calls all week long from people wanting to get in and tour the space,” says Burns. Often, people want instant access to the properties. So Wilson Commercial has posted YouTube videos that provide virtual, 360 degree tours of its spaces. The firm still wants to bring prospective tenants to the physical space, but giving them a sneak peek eliminates some “tire kickers” that just want to check spaces out with no serious interest in signing a deal, adds Burns.

A quick virtual tour can also help tenants form detailed questions about a particular space or shopping center. It is not going to replace the physical walking and touring of the space in any way, but providing that video snapshot of a space on demand to prospective tenants is becoming part of the marketing tenants are expecting, notes Burns. 

The next stage videos is 3D models, such as those created with the Floored app.  The tech firm scans spaces with 3D cameras, refines the data and produces models that are available online to be shared with prospective tenants.

Proliferation of CRE apps

There is an app for just about everything these days, and commercial real estate tasks are no exception. Brokers are utilizing apps that assist with everything, from converting voicemails to text messages to providing immediate access to research reports and property listing services and databases.

Apps for property information sites such as CoStarGo and LoopNet Mobile are increasingly popular. Cassidy Turley also has launched its own free property listing app, Cassidy Turley Listings, as well as introduced its own iPad app to distribute its research products. Currently, the Cassidy Turley Northern California Magazine app is available for iPad to access downloads for research reports in Northern California and San Diego.

Such technologies can help brokers in the field save time when scouting for investment sales or leasing opportunities. In the past, when brokers saw an interesting property and wanted to research ownership, they had to phone the title insurance company and ask for information. Now there are apps that provide that same info on demand.

For example, Fidelity Title has an app called Commercial Pro 24-7 that allows users to touch the image of a property on an aerial map and receive title insurance information on terms of ownership, parcel maps and other recording documents.

In the past, it was a challenge to track down ownership information behind properties held by an LLC or other private entity. Now brokers can use apps such as ProspectNow Mobile to find the names of owners behind those companies by conducting a search with a building address or contact phone number. ProspectNow is an online database that claims access to a commercial real estate database of 6 million building owners and 30 million tenants, including phone numbers, mailing addresses and building details.

The process of finding ownership information can now take a broker four to five minutes compared to several hours of deep digging.  “It makes us much more efficient and lets us leverage technology and apps that literally save us hours of our time,” says Burns. “Where we used to research things manually, we can now click a few buttons, wait 10 seconds, and the information pops up.

Challenges of dealing with technology

Implementing new technologies is not without its challenges. Certainly, making sure you are deploying the right software and technology for what you really want to do takes a lot of vetting. “Obviously, technology is very expensive, and you don’t want to have to redeploy new platforms any more often that you have to,” says Kamm. Technology also is changing very quickly, which makes it more difficult to stay abreast of the latest and greatest tools.

Getting brokers and staff trained and using the technology effectively is another challenge. “You can buy and deploy a lot of software, but if people aren’t using it properly then it is not going to generate the kind of returns that we all want,” says Kamm. Even once people go through the training, there is no guarantee that they will actually use it, he adds.