Photograph by: Mark van Manen , Vancouver Sun
It could be a drone, used to take aerial images of a property from the sky. It could be an interactive three-dimensional city-modelling program that takes potential tenants on a virtual tour of a retail space before signing a deal. It could be a startup website with a free listing service for office spaces available across the country. It could be Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram.
These are just some of the new tools available today. But are real estate’s old guard — who, perhaps, are still comfortable flipping through their rolodexes or knocking on doors — adapting to the new tools of the trade and using them to get a leg up?
There is something old school about real estate, said Roy Pat, a twentysomething broker who specializes in industrial sales and leasing deals at Colliers International’s Vancouver Office. “I think there’s definitely an old guard in a way.”
He said communication technology has definitely reduced the value of face-to-face networking. The professional networking site LinkedIn has been a “fantastic” tool for making connections, and for brokers to keep in touch with clients and landlords, he said. Many realtors are also using the network to announce their deals.
“The larger your network, the higher number of third-degree connections you have,” he said.
But insta-bragging on other social networks such as Twitter or the photo-sharing app Instagram hasn’t really caught on with the older generation in real estate. There are only a couple of brokers using these apps around the office, Pat said.
“On the commercial side, we don’t really use Instagram or Twitter,” he said. “Only one or two agents in the office use a Twitter handle to announce deals, but I am not sure that it has driven much business.” He added that perhaps that’s because their market demographic is less likely to be paying attention to those networks.
“Both realtors and landlords are looking for ways to differentiate their services or their property to boost business and give them a leg up,” he said. “We recently started doing helicopter videos to market larger properties.”
But it would be much cheaper to use a drone, he added. “You don’t get the full height that you would get with a helicopter, but you still get pretty impressive shots.”
He said Google Maps, Bing Maps, Salesforce (customer relationship management software), and municipal geographic information systems tend to get a lot of use on a daily basis by people in the industry.
Local tech entrepreneur Bill MacEwen created a company called SpaceList in 2012. The Gastown-based tech company posts office and other commercial real estate listings at no charge. It’s like a one-stop shop for all the commercial spaces in the country. It includes the listings of companies such as Cadillac Fairview, Dundee, Avison Young and Bentall Kennedy, among many others.
“There certainly were skeptics who thought commercial real estate wouldn’t work online,” MacEwen said in an email. “It turned out that it does work and we’ve been reliably generating new business for our customers. Once that pattern was established, we started winning people over.
“The younger generation in our industry is seeking out new tech and sharing what they find with the senior agents,” MacEwen said. “Once enough people buy in, everyone else follows because they can’t afford to be left behind. That’s been particularly true for SpaceList because the strength of our network grows exponentially with the number of participants.”
Engineers and designers can make powerful technology cheaper and faster than ever before and “that’s led to a huge influx of new products, but sometimes those products never find a market,” he said. “Other times the product market fit is readily apparent.”
He said new tech tools catch on if they help to make money. “We’ve found that the real estate industry eagerly embraces tech that saves them time, broadens their perspective, or increases deal velocity.”
Most of us are now carrying extremely powerful smartphones in our pockets, MacEwen added. These phones now tend to have more capabilities than most existing (and expensive) office business-to-business gateways.
But learning how to use information-sharing tools is just the beginning.
New information is at your fingertips 24/7 and everyone has access to the same information, said Michael Farrell, vice-president, industrial division, at Avison Young’s Vancouver office. “What matters now is how you analyze and use the information.”
While he’s noticing that the technology gap between the old and new guard is now shrinking, a major part of the real estate business is still about “creating and maintaining excellent relationships” with clients, he said.
“Technology can’t replace or replicate those relationships, but it can make them easier (to establish).”