Integrating technology into the day-to-day business of commercial real estate can be difficult, given the steep learning curve of some programs and the sweet familiarity of tried-and-true methods.
But technology disruption is remaking the industry at both ends of the spectrum. On the major playing fields, new forms of data analysis along with online brokerage and lending platforms are changing how deals are done. In local markets, CRE pros are trying to meet new client expectations by adopting the work-from-anywhere philosophy.
Top 3 Tools for Success
Just as the cellphone freed CRE professionals from the office, the cloud is freeing them from the office computer network, allowing CCIMs to fully transact business from any location - a property site, the car, or a beach in Cabo.
In addition, CCIMs are experimenting with apps that increase their productivity wherever they are doing deals. And finally, at least one CCIM is steeped in the hyperlocal, accessing zoning and property data for his specific market. It's probably the wave of the future.
The following three applications were suggested by several CCIMs, and taken together, they represent a decent tech toolkit for today's CRE professional.
Analyst Pro. “Analyst Pro is my favorite secret tool,” says Debi Carter, CCIM, executive vice president of Hudson Peters Commercial in Dallas. “I used it in front of a group of medical office investors and their eyes lit up when they saw the report. One of them said to me 'I was using 10 spreadsheets trying to get that information.' ”
Carter points out that Analyst Pro was developed by Todd Kuhlmann, CCIM, a CCIM Institute senior instructor who currently teaches High Tech Marketing for Commercial Real Estate. His online instructor-led course delves into creating a personalized lead generation plan using social media and other tech-based programs.
CCIMs like Analyst Pro for its ease of use on the go. Danny Zelonker, CCIM, SIOR, broker/partner at Real Miami Commercial Real Estate in Miami, uses it on his iPhone or iPad when showing properties to clients. “It gives me a five- or 10-year analysis such as buy vs. sell or sale leaseback, internal rate of return, and net present value, even cash-on-cash return. The pro version lets me customize with my logo and contact information.”
DropBox. This cloud storage service is a favorite of many CCIMs for file sharing across personal devices as well as across personnel teams.
“The one thing I can't live without is data storage,” says Chris Bornhoft, CCIM, a sales and leasing broker with Windermere Manito Commercial in Spokane, Wash. “DropBox is the Swiss army knife I have with me at all times. Every file saved is automatically backed up for a year. So if I overwrite a file by hitting 'save”' instead of 'save-as,' with a few clicks, I can get my original file back. At $99 a year for 1 terabyte of data storage it's also affordable.”
“On DropBox, all information is available to me and my group at anytime from anywhere,” says Ron Koenigsberg, CCIM, president of American Investment Properties in Garden City, N.Y. “How do you beat that?”
Buildout. Buildout is a cloud-based marketing platform specifically geared toward commercial real estate. It fulfills the dream of many CRE professionals: Enter data once and publish everywhere. The information populates fliers, proposals, and eblasts, and websites, as well as syndicated listing services and aggregators.
“Buildout is amazing,” says Steve Gries, CCIM, central region vice president of DP Management/TCN Worldwide in Omaha, Neb. “It has streamlined the production of all of my marketing materials greatly while, at the same time, expanding my marketing capabilities.”
Beyond the Basics
Along with analysis, cloud storage, and marketing programs, CCIMs touted the importance of a good customer relationship management program.
“We manage a client database of over 10,000,” says Linda Gerchick, CCIM, designated broker for Gerchick Real Estate in Scottsdale, Ariz. “We live and breathe Salesforce. We have been using this for over five years and have spent the time customizing for our own use.”
Cloud-based ClientLook is another CRM that receives praise from CCIM members on CCIM Connect, the members-only communication platform. “I spent a few years looking for a CRM that would work for an individual commercial professional,” wrote Charles “Chuck” Martin, CCIM, with Realty One Group in Las Vegas. “Salesforce, Act, and Top Producer were either cost prohibitive for an individual shop or required numerous or expensive modifications. I finally found ClientLook, which is priced right, seamlessly syncs with my Android, provides email tracking, and is created specifically for commercial real estate professionals.”
CCIMs on CCIM Connect also suggested RealNex - which provides a suite of integrated tools including REIWise and REA.
CCIM Connect is a great place to research CRM programs, says Robin Eschlimann, CCIM, of Eschliman Commercial Real Estate, Lincoln Neb. “CCIM Connect's Open Forum has a search box on the upper right-hand corner. Type in CRM you will find this topic is discussed every couple of months. You can get a pretty good sense of the differences by reviewing previous posts.”
CCIMs touted a variety of handy apps that they rely on every day to boost their productivity or just make life easier. Evernote was cited most frequently.
“Evernote is a cloud-based filing cabinet, which is great for collecting notes, business cards, and ideas for properties,” says Jonathan Epstein, CCIM, of Berger Epstein Associates in Bethlehem, Pa. “I use it to store designs, finishes, floorplans, tenant ideas, prospects, and images. It's easy to search, categorize, and share.”
Another favorite of Epstein's is followupthen.com. “It's a great automated follow-up device if you're trying to achieve a 'zero' inbox. You create, forward, or reply to messages using a syntax like 'firstname.lastname@example.org' for the reminder to come exactly then.”
A big part of improving productivity for transactional brokers and agents is capturing documents and signatures while on the move. Jelena Butler, CCIM, director/broker of SB Commercial Services in Ooltewah, Tenn., relies on Genius Scan, a scanner app that saves documents as PDFs or JPEGs.
“It allows me to photograph a contract page by page,” she says. “Within seconds I can assemble documents, convert them to PDFs, and email all within Genius Scan.”
The buzzword of the day, hyperlocal basically refers to what's going on in your own backyard. In general, real estate has always been hyperlocal, but maintaining your property type expertise in a specific geographic market may be more necessary than ever as retail, industrial, and other industries use data analysis to pinpoint locations of new stores or distribution centers.
To help him stay up-to-date in his Miami market, Danny Zelonker, CCIM, SIOR, relies on REConsole and Gridics Zonar for local property info.
“Instead of digging through endless sites of data to figure out what is important to each property, owner, and market,” Zelonker says, “I type in an address, and REConsole provides all of its similar properties, comparable sales, and current and planned construction in that property's market.” This automated real estate research program is beta testing in South Florida, but expects to expand throughout the U.S. by the end of the year, according to GlobeSt.com.
Focusing on the hyperlocal only increases the edge that CCIMs have in their markets. Educated commercial real estate professionals who know best practices and have access to the most information about their market will succeed - with or without the latest tech gadgets.