Is today’s Broker becoming obsolete due to technological advancements? Will future commercial real estate transactions solely be conducted online with little or no human contribution? While technology’s impact on our industry has been and will continue to be significant, I believe there will always be a role for a trusted advisor (yes, human) who can add tremendous value in a commercial real estate transaction. How much value clients will place on that role is the question and the challenge we all face. The answer depends on how we adjust to such changes in technology and harness these advances to more efficiently and effectively serve clients.
In my three-decade career, the industry has advanced significantly, but the adaptation of technology has lagged when compared to other industries. I remember the days of the ‘gunslinger’ broker in the 80’s. One who could be all things to a client – all types of real estate, all geographies, etc. Advancements came in the 90s with the growth of capturing property data, and real estate companies grasped the concept of using data to better advise clients.
Several years after the dot-com bust, two trends became evident: 1. All the major real estate players were now reliant upon data – lease rates, building expenses, comps, detailed building information, tenant information, etc.; and 2. Capturing data to better inform clients about the current market, and interpret that data to forecast the future (i.e. predictive analytics).
We are now flooded with many new commercial real estate tech companies introducing new tools, ideas, data, processes and the gathering of market intelligence. The challenge we all face is to determine which product or technology can help the industry become more efficient, effective, informative and leading edge to better serve clients. The success of a real estate professional depends on many factors, but specialization and technology have moved to the forefront.
Another major shift has occurred. Teams of specialists are now being formed within companies to better serve clients. I first noticed this change in the capital markets arena where previously, one person and an assistant would handle multiple types of property. Now we have individuals with specific areas of expertise teaming to handle specific areas of investment – healthcare, data centers, institutional office and industrial versus private capital office and industrial, retail, etc. A satisfied client is earned by demonstrating a true value-add proposition to help them achieve their business objectives, and teams, rather than individuals, are most effective in this effort.
Specializing in a given area (think geographic or specialty practice area like data centers, logistics, workplace strategies, life science, education, etc.) and harnessing technology to effectively provide innovative solutions to clients’ challenges are essential components to serving a client in today’s real estate environment. Technology alone will not be able to determine a client’s exact needs. Understanding and identifying those needs can only occur through teams of specialists collaborating to extract their true needs.
Many times, clients don’t know what they need until the team guides them through a systematic and thorough analysis. The team must then use their knowledge along with advances in technology to find the solution. Those who adapt and embrace this evolution, and then change their way of doing business will be the leading professionals of the future.
The legendary singer Bob Dylan wrote the following prescient lyrics in 1964:
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
Steve Everbach is president of the central region for Colliers. Everbach has held leadership positions for several commercial real estate companies throughout his career and has completed over 8 million square feet of transactions representing an aggregate value over $1.5 billion.