While the pandemic raged, behind the scenes the people who make Illinois commercial real estate brokerages work have been toiling to make technology work even harder for them.
There’s evidence everywhere that CRE brokers have accelerated their use of technology to better track property and market data, share information among team members, decipher the data, and improve individual and team productivity.
Michael Anguiano is a case in point. He’s co-founder and principal of Monarch Realty Partners, a middle-market multifamily property investment sales brokerage based in Chicago. A former engineer and self-described “technologist,” Anguiano believes commercial real estate brokers should be using technology however they can to further the progress of their business.
He continually asks questions like “What can we automate?” and “How can we use technology to inform business decisions?”
His goal is for the firm to digitize every bit of data they can in a central database, analyze the data, and be able to find “a needle in a stack of needles,” by which he means pieces of information that may be critical either to winning a new deal, finding a buyer faster or getting a seller the best price based on historical comps and other data points that may indicate a submarket or neighborhood is trending in a particular direction.
Monarch uses Apto commercial real estate software to store information on people and properties, including client interactions and all manner of transaction data, and to generate action items like the list of “the 10 people” he needs to call on a given day. His firm’s database includes records on about 8,000 contacts and over 15,000 properties.
Tracking so many buyers and using the contact data for email marketing and other outreach compresses the timeline to bring deals under contract and get them closed, he says.
Using technology becomes “second nature”
Annie Koch, chief operating officer and director of transaction management for STREAM Capital Partners, says that while her firm has always been tech-forward, the pandemic has made team members even more reliant on technology with more people working from more different locations.
Koch’s firm is based in Chicago, with brokers located all over the country. They specialize in net-lease properties and sale-leasebacks, primarily single-tenant retail, industrial, medical and office assets. “Through the pandemic we’ve become more adept at using technology to stay connected and collaborate. We move a lot quicker and are more casual in our use of tech, which is good. It’s become second nature to the way we work.”
Her firm uses customer relationship management database software built for commercial real estate. “It’s super critical to our growth … being on one platform that we all buy into and use across the country. Brokers have a centralized space to store information and track deals,” Koch says. STREAM Capital’s database includes more than 100,000 contacts.
Koch points out that the widespread availability of data and other technology services has elevated the standard for the property marketing packages her firm produces. They all now include more informational assets like aerial photographs and demographic data.
Tracking the market, not just their own inventory
In Southern Illinois, where the big commercial real estate data companies like CoStar don’t provide much coverage, Collin Fischer, CCIM, says it’s even more important that his firm track the market, not just their own deals — which run the gamut from investment property sales to office leasing and sales to retail.
Fischer is a principal of BarberMurphy. His firm researches, aggregates and tracks thousands of properties so they know lease rates and sale prices, among other information. Not only does the information help them win listing assignments, it helps them score better deals for clients.
“You’re educating yourself on the market by doing the research. It’s one of the main reasons — if not the only reason — someone would hire a broker or advisor … you’re always collecting and tracking information.”
Listing information stored in Apto database software propagates to the company website and to third- party multiple listing services, or MLSs. The database also feeds customer newsletter and property marketing email campaigns, and then gets turned into comps when deals are closed. There’s no more need for duplicate data entry, Fischer says.
The company also tracks when commercial leases are due to roll over and scheduled rent increases, so they know when a tenant is most likely to consider relocating or consolidating space. On the investment side, they track hold periods so they know when owners are most likely to exit a deal.
“That’s why people pay me, plain and simple, to know things,” Fischer says. “Apto lets me track and recall information in conversation with people, which pays me back daily by letting me get ahead of the deal.”
Brad Feldman, senior managing partner of Interra Realty based in Chicago, takes a similar view. His firm facilitates the sale of multifamily and mixed-use developments, mostly in the middle market. They track tens of thousands of properties, aggregating information from CoStar, Cook County and RealQuest, which they also use to prospect for buyers and sellers. For property marketing they use Buildout, which integrates with their main database software program.
“The more data you can track and aggregate, the better,” Feldman says. “Rent comps, sale comps, unit mixes — the more granular the data the easier it is to be able to compare apples to apples, and thus know how investors are going to look at a property and what appraisers are going to say, all of which you can communicate to the seller and to buyers.”
Technology is “never going to take away my job”
For all the benefits of technology, few brokers think it’s going to put them out of a job anytime soon, if ever. Koch says that despite ever-more intelligent technology that becomes more assimilated into brokers’ everyday lives, the basic nature of what it takes to succeed as a broker is the same as it’s always been: “Good old-fashioned cold-calling combined with working hard and long. Technology makes us smarter and more efficient, to be sure, but we’re nowhere near a point where technology predicts the next deal or reaches out to a contact with the knowledge, intuition and hustle of a person.”
Fischer agrees. “We will never lose the need to have the human touch. Tech is part of my edge because so much information is at my fingertips. I can pull up comps on my phone when meeting with a client, and he immediately knows he should be working with me because I know what I’m talking about. Technology is a very good asset, but it’s never going to take away my job.”
Steve Humphreys is a former research analyst for JLL and investment sales analyst for CBRE. Today he is a Hawaii-based writer and analyst studying how the commercial real estate industry is recovering from the impacts of COVID-19 and the effects it will have on the future of the workplace in America.