Commercial: Catching Up With Technology
The majority of real estate business solutions have been aimed at residential practitioners, but more robust options are on the way for commercial agents.
May 29, 2015
The commercial real estate world has lagged far behind the residential when it comes to implementing technology, most likely because the vastly smaller pool of commercial practitioners offers limited incentive for software developers to focus on them. Some developers who have made the effort either failed to attract enough users, were acquired, or priced their solutions so high that only real estate firms with the largest client base and property portfolios could justify the expense. That’s left individual commercial agents out in the cold.
For both commercial and residential real estate professionals, a software management system starts with a good CRM. But from there, commercial agents have specific needs that never factor into residential sales: detailed financial analyses of their properties, income projections, budgeting, and property reports. Most systems that encompass all those tools are aimed at property managers, but that’s a whole different ballgame. For commercial practitioners, they’ve largely had to piece everything together with different solutions, which can be costly and time-consuming.
Start With CRM Now, Expand Later
As more developers recognize commercial real estate as an untapped opportunity, expect more solutions targeting this distinct specialty. That will require some testing and growing pains for the end user, as it’s tough to know upfront whether new products will deliver all they promise.
“The best option may be to tread water for some time, and let the market fallout decide which are going to [survive],” Barron suggests. “There will be a time in the not-too-distant future when there will be good, affordable solutions for a monthly fee.”
In the interim, proceed slowly. If you already use some service, start with the essential: a CRM system for commercial real estate. When investigating any software or cloud service, evaluate the provider behind it along with that product. Company history, number of years in business, number of users, and service support are all good indicators of products that are worth your time, effort, and money.
Also, make sure your client and property data remains under your control and can be exported to other solutions, should that need ever arise. You’ll enjoy the immediate benefits of CRM, and if a better system or the right fully integrated commercial solution arrives, you can migrate to it without missing a step.
So far, all-inclusive solutions — that are affordable — remain hard to come by. But that could change with the shift to cloud services as more vendors enter the market, some with new solutions and others combining existing products into a single suite. Until it’s clear which avenue is likely to be most successful, focus now on your greatest needs, such as a CRM, as you await a single system that can take care of all your needs.
Mary Anne Wisinski-Rosely, CCIM, SIOR, a sales associate specializing in office space with NAI Wisinski of West Michigan in Grand Rapids, says each agent at her company used to use whatever CRM they were most comfortable with. But NAI mainstreamed the process by migrating all of its associated to REA less than two years ago. The company also equipped all of its agents with ProCalc for financial analysis, and the local MLS and CoStar for market information. Now they all work on the same system.
“We use REA for contact management and to manage our properties,” Wisinski-Rosely says. “Before that, everyone used their own system, their own way of keeping records.”
In the past, Wisinski-Rosely organized contacts in Outlook and relied on Excel to track financials and generate reports. “Now when we get a call, we can tell exactly what’s going on, see all the activity related to any property” in REA, she says. “We’ve got a lot more information available to all our agents, and quicker access to it.” As a next step, the company is evaluating adding buildout, a commercial marketing platform in the cloud, to its arsenal.
Bo Barron, CCIM, a coach with commercial real estate firm The Massimo Group, believes cloud services such as buildout deliver benefits that haven’t been available in desktop computer software. “Get away from anything that ties you to your desk,” he says. “The whole purpose of technology should be to make you more productive and profitable. With cloud services, you can work more efficiently because you can work wherever you are.”
He sees promise in specialized Web-based tools for commercial real estate such as ClientLook, REI Wise, and Apto, in addition to buildout and REA. But he cautions that none yet offers the single, integrated solution commercial real estate professionals really require.
“The market is still pretty fragmented; nobody claims to have all the options which work well together yet,” Barron says.
He cites RealNex as one vendor that may be headed in the right direction. Over the past two years, the company acquired five standalone products, including REI Wise and REA, and is in the process of evolving them into an affordable cloud suite for all commercial needs, and that’s a noteworthy development.
“Making different products from different companies work together was almost nonexistent before,” says Hayim Mizrachi, CCIM, president of MDL Group in Las Vegas. The commercial brokerage previously was actually using four cloud services — REA, REI Wise, Property Line, and BuzzTarget. All were acquired by RealNex and are now included in its suite of products. From a user standpoint, Mizrachi says the transition to a fully-integrated workflow isn’t complete, but notable progress has been made.
“My job is to learn about technology and decide what is best and help my agents implement it,” Mizrachi says. “What we really need is one complete tool, and what they are trying to do is create a single system with everything we need right there.”
To get a look at the best solutions on the market for both cloud services and desktop software, check out the charts below.
|buildout||Price depends on implementation||An ascendant site and cloud service, buildout provides subscribers with a marketing platform for commercial listings. Includes tools for creating documents and reports, analysis, demographics, mapping, e-mail marketing and online document storage.|
|LoopNet||Free to search, listing plans start at $69.95/month||LoopNet is an online portal for finding or marketing all types of commercial property. It provides a variety of fee-based services, including targeted adds, professionally produced video tours, and advanced search capabilities.|
|ClientLook||$59/month||Cloud-based CRM solution for commercial real estate professionals, property owners, and investors. Organizes clients, prospects, vendors, and properties in a relationship database. Includes deal management module for activity and correspondence generated in a transaction, and a property tracking module for records on owners, tenants, and leases.|
|Apto||$89/month for CRM and transaction tracking; $29/for back-office modules||Built on the SalesForce.com CRM platform, Apto provides tools for managing a commercial real estate brokerage in the cloud. Basic subscription includes CRM and analytical functions, while the back-office service adds a booking module, agent commission plans, customizable client invoicing, and ability to track and make payments.|
|PowerBroker||$49/month||This cloud service is also based on the SalesForce.com CRM platform for commercial real estate practitioners. Organizes and tracks information on clients, prospects, properties, leases, listings, tenants, buyers, and deals. Includes a property marketing module and supports mobile access to all features from most smartphones and tablets. Broker Plus and Power Broker Plus versions with additional features available.|
|RealNex||$45/month for individual modules or $85/month for integrated suite||RealNex combines five independent modules into a single suite. These include REIWise for financial analysis; the REA CRM system; PropertyLine for listing syndication; BuzzTarget to add additional marketing features; and Ten Eight for tenant and landlord representation.|
|ARGUS Enterprise||Price depends on implementation, starts in the $5,000 range||Robust, scalable financial software platform for conducting asset and portfolio valuations, budgeting, and investment structure forecasting. Includes modules for property budgeting, cash flow projections, analysis of different investment structures, sensitivity analysis, and portfolio and asset reporting. Includes forms for capturing and organizing all information on assets, portfolios, and markets for each property|
|ProCalc||$950 per year, per user for each of these programs: Buy/Lease vs. Buy, Landlord Rep, or Tenant Rep. $1,500-per-year site license for all three.||Financial analysis software for evaluating and managing commercial property. Modules for calculating landlord income and expenses, comparing the cost of a lease versus purchase; commission plans; tenant representation; and e-mailing or exporting reports.|
|Yardi Commercial Suite||Price depends on options purchased||Yardi offers a range of commercial software which can be combined to create a fully integrated front and back office management system. Based on the Yardi Voyager Commercial cloud platform, options include modules for financial analysis, document management, budgeting and forecasting, contact and prospect management, and marketing.|