Technology has been bulldozing work as we know it, for better or worse, for decades–leaving commercial real estate largely untouched…until now. Real estate is faced with a new level of disruption with the onset of everything from blockchain and 3D-printers to robotics and automation.
We’ve all seen the fear mongering news stories about how robots are out to steal your job. Whether you are just starting out or 20 years into your career, technology will drastically reshape how you work. The hidden truth is there are just as many benefits as downfalls to automation in our industry. Let’s take a more measured look at four areas where automation is transforming the daily business of real estate:
Back office logistics
Decreased demand for support staff is one of the most immediate changes for agents, developers, and brokers. It used to be that every real estate executive needed a full-time admin setting appointments, pulling data, designing and printing PDFs for a book, etc. Now, Calendly makes appointment setting a breeze. Companies like CommissionTrac, which automates commission management, eliminate the need for spreadsheet management. Canva makes it easy for anyone to become a designer. This trend shows no signs of stopping. In this environment of synced digital tools, do you really need an executive assistant? Do you need analysts and admins, when data is available at your fingertips?
Customer relationship management
While we’re asking questions: Do you know anyone running around with a rolodex? I’d guess (and hope!) not. Customer relationship management is a fancy term for the human-to-human communication that’s the cornerstone of all business relationships. Commercial real estate has seen slight adoption of automated CRMs: tools like SalesForce or HubSpot are prevalent and help automate emails to prospects and customers. However, it’s still an intensive manual process to write and schedule those campaigns. We’ll soon see this functionality evolve to AI chatbots or email responders handling basic correspondence. The technology already exists to detect who each email is coming from, parse the message for topics, and send back pertinent information. A simple example:
Customer email: “Hey David, when does my lease expire?”
Broker chatbot, writing on your behalf: “Hey Jen, your lease expires in three months. Let’s set a meeting to discuss your renewal. Here’s a link with my availability.”
As Logan Nagel recently observed, “the business of commercial real estate feeds on data.” While this is true, access to data has flipped. Back in the day, if Walmart wanted to build a distribution center in Texas, it was someone’s job to drive around, dig through maps, manually pull and analyze comps. But everything’s changed. You no longer need a team of analysts to assess markets. Instead of combing through data, you can set alerts to be notified when an opportunity meets your predefined variables. That’s the upside. The downside? This same data is available at your customer’s fingertips, so your value as a data broker is diminished. Your job becomes managing the decision-making process, leveraging your years of experience to add valuable information to the data. Remember, data plus experience equals knowledge, and it’s knowledge that drives decisions — not just data. You might have historical knowledge of traffic patterns, for example, or know there’s a new development in the works that hasn’t been announced yet. This proprietary information, this last 10% of input, will define your value moving forward. It’s important to note that younger professionals may struggle here because they lack access to the type of insider information that only years of nurturing relationships will yield.
Asset acquisition and management
Automation can save owners millions in capital expenses. A combination of third-party data and automated due diligence software can reveal whether or not an asset is worth investing in, for instance. Automated reports transform a shot in the dark (how much an asset is worth, what to expect for repairs and renovations, and how much to budget for ongoing maintenance) into a clearly calculable decision. And thanks to the surge of mobile devices (aka smartphones), a significant amount of this work can be performed by your teams outside the office. Even better, gathering all your data into an automated platform like InfoTycoon generates real-time visibility from the field to your desk — meaning you can operate in a world of no surprises.
Change for the better
Next time you read another article decrying the rise of the robot, I invite you to reconsider. Yes, some jobs will be displaced. But many more will be augmented and de-skilled. Automation is certainly changing the way commercial real estate is run. But who’s to say these aren’t changes for the better?