Pundits correct about disruption in Commercial Real Estate?

With all the normal "hindsight is 20/20" and "Monday morning quarterback" disclaimers in place, I'm still waiting for what William Robertson CEO of Skyline Exchange wrote in Forbes Magazine on December 16 2014 to come true.  His article "Why Commercial Real Estate Is Ripe For Disruption In 2015" said "...mark my words. This industry is on the brink of disruption. "  Yoav Vilner added to it 6 months later with his article in Inc. Magazine by listing Commercial Real Estate as the 1st of 3 "...Industries on the Verge of Disruption: Here's Why."  

Don't get me wrong, I'd love for Mr. Robertson's and Mr. Vilner's predictions to come true, or at least truer than they have.  Mr. Robertson lists 3 areas where "...we should expect to see the greatest change"

 #1 - "Better transactions- At the end of the day, commercial real estate is about closing deals—the smoother the process the better."  They reference Compstak and TenantRex as examples, which do help, but I still have to hire a financing broker to manually shop the property I want to buy to find potential lenders, or call local banks one at a time and submit financials to each of them individually.  Then I have to schedule, have performed, then submit appraisals, inspections, and other documentation to the lender.  I'm ready for the Lendingtree model where mortgage lenders compete for my business. 

#2. - "Improved process management- When it comes to commercial real estate development, finding the right vendors and keeping the project on track can be real challenges."  His example is HonestBuildings, which seems valuable for large projects, but when I completed a vanilla shell buildout project for 1 tenant in Reno for $21/sqft, then needed bids on the next buildout about 90 days later and prices jumped to over $60/sqft, I would have loved to have a tool like HB that would have predicted this increase and help me budget better, but I doubt their software would have predicted the increase.

"3.  Information aggregation and sharing- Perhaps the area where there’s the greatest likelihood of disruption involves information and data – which in many ways are the backbone of the industry where listings and deals are constantly changing."  He lists CoStar/Loopnet, Compstak & Hightower as examples, and I'd add ProspectNow, who does a great job aggregating property ownership and tenant data, from property size to specific owners and contact info for owners/tenants.  They didn't stop with aggregation, they are driving efficiency by reducing the time spent prospecting for new listings, they are finding owners more likely to sell using predictive analytics.  Now that's not easy because for predictive models to work, they need data "signals" that are proven to be add to the predictive power of the model, like if HonestBuilding used trends in the cost of raw building materials and rates of subcontractors to predict increases in bid prices.  PropertyMetrics uses signals that the computer model says has lead to listing a property. If the most predictive signal is appreciation of a property, that information is available, but if the best signal is owners who are experiencing financial difficulty or are over-leveraged, that data would be much harder to access for their models.  I really applaud what they are doing, their models will get smarter and smarter over time, I think when I first looked at them they were 79% better, and now they are 100% better, but remember it's 100% better than random guessing, not 100% accurate in predicting who will list.   

Mr. Robertson went on to identify commonality in his areas of disruption, stating "Among all of these changes is a common thread—the need for continued transparency."  I'd have to add to that, the common thread is that the disruption needs to increase efficiency and solve a real problem, much like ProspectNow is doing.  You'll spend less time finding new listings, and more time finding the ideal buyer at the best price(my repurposing of Trivago's tagline, not endorsed by ProspectNow).

There are many areas where disruption COULD make commercial real estate more efficient, here's my top 5:

#1. - I can use my phone to unlock and turn on my car, but I still have to use a lockbox with a key inside for contractors or leasing agent at my properties.

#2. - I've got an app on my phone to turn up/down the thermostat in my home with a 30 minute retrofit, but where's the app to monitor my HVAC or fire system?

#3. - My commercial insurance carrier's verification process requests a service contract for maintenance, not an alert sent when the hood filter has been cleaned/replaced. 

#4. - Building permit/inspection submittal requires hardcopy and a personal visit, rather than having an online submittal tool, software that analyzes the CAD file and automatically issues my permit if my designs are compliant, and accepts photos for construction inspection evidence.

#5. - Finally, I'd like an app that would analyze a local retail trade area for categories or brands that are underrepresented around my vacancy, and lets me see my broker's progress on finding the ideal tenant at the best price(thank you again to Trivago), I think I may be able to help with this one, check our progress at www.VoidStacker.com.  

Please let me know what services or processes you'd like to see innovated or disrupted, or what solutions I've missed, I'm only a part-time real estate investor, but a full-time software guy.





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