Professionals in the industry are finding technology an indispensible tool.
THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ‘Q’ – THE REGISTRY’S PRINT PUBLICATION – IN MAY 2015
By Joe Gose[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or years, the real estate industry was largely considered a laggard when it came to adopting technology. But that reputation is changing, especially with the millennial generation now launching careers in the brokerage business.
This new generation came of age at a time marked by rapid technical innovation. Millennials embraced technology early and apply it much more willingly than real estate professionals who navigated the “dark age” of fax machines and hard-wired phones, said Dominik Slonek, principal and managing director for Avison Young in San Francisco.
“The business has completely changed with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even Snapchat and Instagram,” he said. “All of these things are being used in business, for business, by business. In the past you left a voicemail or sent a fax; now transmitting pictures or documents is instantaneous.”[contextly_sidebar id=”3z7sAr7qx5m00yCFI6tJ8EICalz7vwO5″]Toronto-based Avison Young has been in an aggressive expansion mode after it entered the U.S. market in 2009. Since opening its San Francisco office in 2012, the firm has expanded to Sacramento, San Mateo and Oakland, and its Bay Area roster has grown to 70 from six. The brokerage is aiming to add offices in the Silicon Valley and Walnut Creek, among others.
“We’d like to have eight to 10 dots on the map in the Bay Area,” Slonek said.
Like other brokerages, Avison Young has fully adopted technology. The firm uses applications like Dropbox for document storage and sharing, for example, which has allowed it to forego costs associated with servers and other infrastructure while accessing the information from just about anywhere, Slonek said. Avison Young also is adopting customer relationship management software, he added.
Meanwhile, Austin, Texas-based startup RealMassive, an online provider of “real-time” information about commercial property listings, lists Avison Young alongside Jones Lang LaSalle, Colliers International, and other brokerages and landlords among its clients. RealMassive recently added Oakland and Silicon Valley to its marketplace, which now exceeds 4 billion square feet.
From using smart phones to snap and immediately send property images to clients, to “blasting” content from a blog to Twitter or Facebook, technology’s integration in commercial real estate has all but consumed the industry, suggested Thomas Poser, a senior vice president in JLL’s San Francisco office.
“There’s not a moment of my existence that I’m not focused on technology,” he said. “It permeates everything we do now.”
Among other technologies, Bay Area JLL offices midway through 2014 began using Blackbird, a proprietary, three-dimensional visualization tool developed by the national brokerage. It allows potential tenants to virtually tour buildings and walk around surrounding neighborhoods when searching for space.
“We’re used to vetting buildings on paper before hitting the streets,” said Steffen Kammerer, a vice president in JLL’s Palo Alto office. “Now people can get a sense for the surroundings without getting into a car.”
That provides a nice boost to efficiency when covering territory stretching from South San Jose to Fremont to San Francisco, he added. Blackbird also can provide prospective tenants with an idea as to what their working lives will be like in buildings that are still on the drawing board or under construction, Poser said.
Similarly, condominium marketing and sales condominium Polaris Pacific has started using three-dimensional cameras developed my Mountain View-based Matterport. The technology maps rooms in a home and “stitches” them together, allowing potential buyers to walk through the properties.
The technology is especially going to be useful to program design concepts into large luxury penthouse shells that are coming online, said Kathryn Baker, head of design services for the company.
“It’s definitely a huge enhancement from my perspective,” she said. “It enables my design team to share the link even with overseas buyers so that they can virtually experience the space.”
Despite technology’s pervasiveness, real estate remains a relationship business and requires professionals to adhere to timeless fundamental principles like conducting due diligence by physically walking neighborhoods and inspecting properties, Poser said.
Additionally, transacting business at the speed of light sometimes presents challenges when it comes to allowing too much information out into the public, added Slonek.
“There’s a lot of transparency in technology, and sometimes it can get in the way of your fiduciary duty to the client,” he said. “Even though you have a Facebook page, you don’t want to put something on it that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper.”