President and CEO of Catylist, which powers commercial real estate listing and research databases across North America.
Property technology continues to revolutionize the commercial real estate (CRE) industry, and online CRE data tool sets have become crucial for CRE professionals to research, buy, manage and sell properties. Having been in the industry for more than 40 years, I’ve witnessed the history of CRE data management and marketing and can testify that online tools empower brokers, investors and clients, and they’ve become essential to day-to-day business. Being thrust into a rapidly changing environment has exposed strengths and weaknesses in some of the industry’s top data and marketing platforms.
Historically, tech adoption and innovation in the CRE industry lagged behind residential real estate. Major technology players weren’t under pressure to adapt or drastically improve their products, so many platforms simply stayed the same. Within the past 10 years, that has rapidly changed due to increased competition, demand and the entry of millennials into the industry. This evolution, coupled with sudden restrictions on in-person gatherings, has uncovered increased reliance on virtual technologies and motivated brokers’ expectations for innovation. Nimble and inclusive technology platforms have gained traction as CRE brokers grapple with budgetary constraints. The bifurcation of data and marketing can no longer be the industry norm.
Now, more than ever, CRE professionals need data and technology providers that keep pace with the ever-shifting economy and potential repercussions of a global pandemic. An unpredictable future necessitates new needs and wants for brokers, including tools such as broadcast email that reaches everyone in the industry, public listings available to searchers across the nation, and on-screen collaboration tools to facilitate remote work and presentations. Shrinking budgets in the face of decreased demand for retail space, a national shift to online work models and tenants’ potential inability to pay rent are all weighing heavily on CRE professionals, spurring them to look for platforms with the highest value. Brokers must be strategic with their budgets and invest in technologies that account for this new set of needs. Exploring new CRE platforms, comparing their merits and tools, and evaluating what works best for their business is more important than ever.
Public Listing Exposure
Potential investors or tenants now have unfettered access to listings from across the country. Widely distributed listing data is more ubiquitous than ever before, and clients are coming to the table with more background knowledge and informed requests. It has become imperative that brokers display their listings to the public in order to generate leads.
With this expansive public access, however, comes a caveat: the cost to the broker to get their listings onto those national free-to-search databases. Pricing has moved to the forefront of brokers’ minds as the pandemic forces them into uncertain times.
Hybrid Platforms And Cost-Effectiveness
In addition to getting listings in front of leads, perhaps the greatest technological challenge brokers face today is gaining affordable access to data and marketing tools. When marketing tools and access to data are sold separately, the cost can extend far beyond a broker’s budget. Tools that are integrated into a hybrid data and marketing system are becoming a hot-ticket item for brokers.
The expectation of integrated marketing features has also shifted efficiencies in the industry. Access to more granular pieces of data allows brokers to create quick analyses and then, within the same system, market each property with tools like broadcast email that reach every professional in the market, member or not.
Data Ownership And Acquisition
Key differentiating features industry professionals need to be on the lookout for are data management, access and acquisition. As users share their listings and input data into CRE marketplaces, they should retain ownership and be able to download, export and share that data how they see fit. In an industry where sharing listings far and wide is a key marketing and sales step, brokers need to have unobstructed access to download their current availabilities and past property data.
Many listing and data platforms enact a one-size-fits-all mindset that gathers users’ data and charges a premium to access it. Once data is submitted to the platform, the contributor essentially loses free access to that data and must pay to get it back. A collaborative approach to data acquisition that empowers brokers with ownership over their data is the key to a united industry.
With all of the unknowns surrounding the industry today, brokers know that there are options. They should try out new platforms and pay attention to which companies are constantly releasing new marketing integrations and working to provide brokers the most well-rounded systems for their business as it stands today. I suspect they’ll be pleasantly surprised to find access to the data and marketing tools they need at a better value than ever before.
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