Grappling with Technology

There’s a website that boasts it’s so simple that “even a broker can use it.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek way to reassure CRE professionals about the ease of using the web-based application. But the message is only partly in jest.

A surprising number of smart, successful, well-educated people are still paralyzed by technology. Like a newborn in the arms of a childless person, they hold it nervously… fearful of breaking it, anxious about potential mistakes, data loss and irreparable errors.

There’s reason to believe a lot of those technologically disabled work in commercial real estate. Back in 2000, Xavier Menendez, a senior manager with Deloitte & Touche, described commercial real estate as “probably the most technophobic industry we know of.”  

During the past eight years, the situation has gradually improved.  In 2006, for instance, Dallas-based Ben Johnson wrote: In the rush to close more deals expeditiously, technology is finally playing an important role in streamlining the commercial real estate sales process nearly a decade after the invention of now everyday tech tools that include e-mail, portable document format (PDF) files and compressed images known as JPEGs.

The question now is whether CRE will continue to embrace technology-or whether technology will become the scapegoat for the mistakes, failures and unexpected losses resulting from the dismal state of the economy. Technology has improved how we accomplish things, but has also proven to be a distraction–think of all of the games we waste time playing on the computer at work or on the phone when we should really be productive.

Even so, the benefits seem to outweigh the potential liabilities-a message worth reiterating to remaining technophobes. All production functions in commercial real estate are directly influenced by technology, which increases the efficiency of the factors of production. Technology will adversely impact second-tier malls and power centers but the overall level of penetration by e-commerce into the space-based retail market is predicted to be only a little over 5 percent by 2010. Commercial real estate will not experience a real decline in value and an absolute decline in demand for product as a result of technological developments.


Filed under fear of technology, Real Estate

11 responses to “Grappling with Technology

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  4. I’m learning about commercial real estate and internet marketing at the same time, so I’m fully embracing technology. One question I have though(you may have already answered it) as far as ecommerce goes do you think it will eventually become even with or surpass in store sales in bigger stores like Home Depot and Sears for example? or what stores will be hardest hit?


  5. Boston Broker

    Can you mail me a copy of this for senior management?

  6. David Kell

    You have no idea how e-phobia affects professionals here in my area. The boondocks of northwestern PA still has at least one attorney with the most modern equipment he can handle, a touchmatic typewriter. That’s it, no fax, let alone something digital. The local courthouse is using computer equipment that is at least ten years old, etc, etc. One of the Commissioners bought his own Blackberry and everyone had a hissy fit. The Sheriff still uses the “Rack” to force confessions, you would think he could at least up-grade to a waterboard system. Sorry I was on a roll.

  7. Noreen, hi.

    I’d like to respectfully disagree with your conclusion. As we enter 2009, it’s time to finally jettison the notion of CRE professionals as technologically deficient!

    Here’s my evidence:

    + At LoopNet we’re seeing brokers and agents list a greater share of their available property inventory online. The industry continues its migration to online marketing for a variety of reasons, including its cost-effectiveness and its reach.

    + More CRE transactions than ever before are initiated online. In the residential world it’s north of 80%. In the CRE world it’s not that high, but all evidence points to brokers and principals increasingly beginning their property searches online.

    + Increasingly we’re seeing real estate companies, like The Shopping Center Group out of Atlanta, implement LoopNet’s complete technology platform across their multi-state operation, streamlining and seamlessly linking Customer Relationship Management, Commission Tracking, Property and Listing Management, and Project Management applications online … in addition to property marketing.

    So while the industry “used to be” technologically deficient, it is fast catching up!

    Cary Brazeman

  8. Erin

    Sorry to disagree, but as an employee of a CRE firm, I can tell you that the actual CRE professionals do not want anything to do with the technology side. They hire people like me to do that. I go to presentations just because they are ill equipped to run a power point. I’ve never worked anywhere with so many young and yet technically inept professionals. And there is no motivation to improve this – no direct connection between dollars and technology as in other industries.

  9. Dan Garcia

    I agree with Mr. Brazeman. As a CRE agent coming from a residential background my first instinct is to search the various databases such as Loopnet, AIR and Costar, depending on what I am looking for. I can also find good properties on the residential MLS. Loopnet makes it easy for us to contact the listing broker by e-mail without picking up the phone. Through my title company I can e-mail blast agents my set-ups on my listings. I can even use create a free flyer or collateral material on Publisher, save it to my flash drive and send it to prospects and clients. In our office everyone has flash drives and everyone uses them for a myriad of different things. It baffles me why agents feel more comfortable with mailing a letter, rather than sending an e-mail. The old way wouldn’t work if the client’s sophistication level demand a high sense of urgency.

  10. Running a technology support and management firm that deals with CRE clients gives me a unique perspective. Overall it seems that CRE firms embrace technology for the most part but to varying degrees. None of my clients are technology Neanderthal’s which is probably why they partner with us in the first place. The challenge comes for the users. Some use technology to their advantage while others do not use it much and it becomes a hindrance. Some brokers, for instance, will use all of the tools at their disposal and ask for more to get their deals done while others on the other end of the spectrum and only use email and have their Admin manually do the rest, all at the same firm.

  11. I will echo and elaborate on John’s point. As a provider of Web based technology solutions for the real estate market (operations focused,) I can tell you that much of what you say rings true. However, the biggest obstacle we see as a provider is not one of an inability to utilize technology, it is a lack of commitment to change operating practices. Technology implementation should be connected to specific goals and measurable results. Decisions to implement software solutions are often made without the management direction and discipline to assure changing old practices and require the use of the systems to achieve the desired result; efficiency, cost reduction, data collection, etc. Technology only works when their is a commitment to using it.

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