Commercial real estate brokers are the heart of the real estate industry. They are tasked with buying, selling, and leasing the large majority of all buildings. While owners can pause their new business activity to feel out the market and professionals like property managers can lean on their salaries to put food on the table,
brokers eat what they kill
. Without sales or leasing activity, these professionals go unpaid. This means that they spend a lot of their time in the activity of finding prospects and closing deals, which doesn’t give them a lot of time to test out and implement new technology. Although technology has advanced a lot in the past twenty years, the job of a broker is still very similar to what these professions did in the early 2000s.
Nonetheless, It’s not enough to simply say that the strategies and techniques that haven’t failed yet will keep on working in perpetuity. The recent pandemic has forced brokers to adopt new techniques and has accelerated the pace of tech adoption. If brokers doesn’t evolve and adap they run the risk of being replaced. So brokers need to decide which technologies will help them navigate this complex, dynamic landscape.
It’s a blessing for brokers that there are so many choices out there to take advantage of. It’s up to the brokers themselves to decide what works for their existing team structures and workflows, but cutting through the ad-speak of these websites and sales calls can be difficult. And while many of the most helpful technologies for commercial brokers are real estate-specific,
not all of these tools are ‘PropTech.’
Some are industry-nonspecific apps and platforms that happen to be effective for the real estate world. This can make choosing the most appropriate tech platforms difficult.
The daily functions of commercial brokers cut across numerous tasks. A given day might include coordination with a team of analysts and assistants, cold calling to drive new business, meetings with clients or prospective clients, property tours or conversations with prospective property buyers or occupiers, research on market trends, and back-end work to ensure proper commission calculation. And while there is a core set of brokerage tasks most of these professionals perform every day, every individual broker will vary in the type of tasks he or she has to complete. Some may be more involved in the property transaction, and some may be more focused in the firm’s guidance and office management.
This variety of tasks
means that brokers can benefit from a wide range of tools during the course of their daily work.
In this report we will discuss the ways that commercial broker marketing technology is changing the way buildings are bought, sold, and leased. In particular, we are focusing on six distinct categories: Data, CRMs, Automation, Collateral, Visualization, and Listings.
Data is at the core of brokerage. It helps brokers make decisions, contextualize the properties they trade, and price deals. Traditionally data meant listing data alone, but now brokers are using numerous alternative data sources to add context to their activities and the decisions of their clients, as well as to identify prospects and win business. Data figures into brokerage workflows in three primary ways: prospecting for new properties, pricing properties, and adding economic context to markets.
Prospecting involves searching for properties that could fill a client need, dialing up owners to inquire as to their property goals, whether leasing space, buying, or selling, and contacting potential occupier companies. Of all the brokerage tasks out there, this might be the most critical, since every other property task follows from it. Without parties interested in buying, selling, or filling space, all the listing tech, pricing expertise, and market knowledge a broker might have would be useless. Consequently, prospecting data, in particular, information on properties, property owners, and occupiers, is critical to every broker.
Though prospecting might be the single most important brokerage task, pricing is also critical. For leasing brokers, this means understanding going rates for spaces based on location, size, and amenities. For investment sales brokers, this means a full understanding of sales comps and the cap rates at which properties are trading in specific submarkets and niches. Finally, market economic data is important to contextualize the rest of this information. Understanding changing demographic trends, tracking cap rates, knowing whether businesses are entering or leaving a given area, these questions and others fall under the scope of market intelligence. The diversity of commercial brokerage data uses out there is reflected in the number of data providers that brokers have to choose from. While many of these companies offer more than one type of data, we’ve organized this section into the types of data they are strongest in.
No conversation on commercial real estate data would be complete without a discussion of CoStar. Most brokers at large property firms center their data around what CoStar provides. With an enormous database, powered by human researchers who independently verify non-public property, market, ownership, and transaction data on an ongoing basis, CoStar is sometimes the only game in town when it comes to finding accurate property information. Offering owner contact information as well as, more recently, information on project debt and loan maturity, CoStar is attempting to position itself as a one-stop data shop for brokers and investors. This is reinforced by the busy acquisitional activity of the company, owning a range of platforms including auction site Ten-X, rental platform Apartments.com, and the biggest listing site, Loopnet.
CoStar does not prioritize integrations, making exporting data (typically limited to a manual, error-prone process of 500 records at a time). And since the company relies so heavily on human researchers driving throughout markets and calling brokers and owners to verbally verify information, data accuracy can vary from market to market.
While CoStar has been able to collect data directly from brokers via researchers, another lease data provider,
Compstak, was able to amass a database of property comps with an innovative model: crowdsourcing. Brokers receive credits for sharing accurate property comps, which they can then use to acquire additional comp data points. Those that don’t have fresh lease info to prodive are required to pay for aggregated datasets. Compstak explains that they employ analysts and data scientists to independently vet the comps they receive.
Some of the other options for real estate data include CoreLogic, which provides property data alongside data for several other businesses, like insurance and mortgages, including mortgage prospecting data. This means that it could be a great source for some property investors, but potentially overpowered for brokers who aren’t interested in committing to really expanding the amount of data they use.
Another company providing transaction data is Real Capital Analytics. This is a provider of property transaction and market data. In addition to information on property investors, RCA also provides information on pricing, refinance activities, and market trends.
It also provides prospecting tools for brokers, such as overviews of individual portfolios.
While there are many successful real estate data providers, other young companies have struggled. RealMassive was another property provider which up until recently offered a variety of data on properties and markets. The company went out of business earlier this year under unclear circumstances.
Much of the data around commercial properties is public, and one of the companies collecting and organizing that data is Reonomy. Reonomy is particularly notable for their emphasis on providing owner contact information. The company also provides CMBS data and information on a large number of property companies.
It is also worth mentioning Real Capital Analytics and CoStar again here, since both provide a large amount of prospecting data fo brokers. While CoStar is most notable as a provider of property data, their service also shares the names and in many cases the contact information of brokers and property owners.
Market Intelligence Data
In addition to understanding properties and owners, brokers must also be aware of market trends and changes. Attom Data Solutions provides a very large array of property data including geographical boundaries, property features, listing information, foreclosures, and more. In 2020 the company acquired Home Junction, a data company that provides, in particular, boundary data for a variety of geographies. This could make Attom’s data particularly appropriate for brokers who need to understand nuanced geographical boundaries or identify smaller properties.
Another option is Moody’s, a longstanding business data provider. The company made recent moves into the commercial real estate space with the 2018 acquisition of REIS, a real estate data provider offering intelligence on properties and markets, and in 2021 the purchase of Catylist, a broker-focused data provider. Since Moody’s offers information on a wide range of businesses in addition to real estate, using the data platform could equip brokers who need to understand other industries, like office, retail, or industrial agents, with a deep assembly of information.
Property management activities also generate a large amount of data. Some providers, such as Yardi, have monetized this. Yardi Matrix is a data provider that leverages anonymized data from property management software clients to provide information such as income and expenses by market. Yardi Matrix need not be used in conjunction with the company’s property management tools, and can function as a standalone service.
Alternate Data Sources
Brokers should also consider the alternate data sources at their disposal. Publicly available data sources of data such as governmental data, and the data that brokers incidentally collect through the course of their daily activities, are the two broad categories here.
The U.S. government provides a large amount of public data through the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics in particular. Brokers looking to assemble their own proprietary datasets would be well served to thoroughly review the information available on these sites, since they can add additional context and nuance to the trends explained in some of these paid, real estate-specific sources.
GlassDoor, Indeed, and other job sites can also be very useful in terms of providing information on job posting activity from market to market. This information can be useful as a marketing point to help sell properties in particular markets, and it can also be instrumental to prospecting activities for leasing brokers looking for new tenants.
Just as important as the data brokers pay for is the data they collect themselves, from their own transactions, market observations, and interactions with fellow professionals. Self-collected data is often a useful check against broader assumptions or claims provided by paid data sources, and in this way can serve as a fundamental source of truth upon which to base, or tailor, other pieces of data.
Brokers need to build their networks, this requires a lot of outreach and communication. Keeping all of this data organized is where the broker’s Client Relationship Management (CRM) system comes in. These tools provide a number of benefits: they put contact information and buyer/occupier needs within easy grasp for any property or space that comes across the broker’s desk. They allow for more advanced data reporting than would be possible from Excel. And they allow for process automation of outreach and collateral distribution.
There are many players in this space. These can be divided into two categories: general CRMs that tend to have the greatest power, and real estate-specific CRMs that deliver more targeted solutions for brokers and related professionals. Brokers, of course, make numerous phone calls and send numerous emails. In most cases, brokers will use these systems to make sure that their various client relationships are kept documented and up to date. They are also useful for ensuring helping fill client needs, since individual client profiles can be filled out and in many cases automatically paired with new opportunities that come into the system.
Salesforce is easily the biggest name in CRM systems. Since its founding at the end of the century, it has expanded to offer a wide range of business functionalities to a wide variety of professionals. While Salesforce is not prohibitively expensive, its advanced functionality can be difficult to implement without focused experience or a lot of time.
For brokers seeking a lightweight solution, Copper is a CRM meant to interface with Google’s products. As such, it shares data easily with the GSuite programs, like Gmail and Google Sheets. In many ways, Copper is a streamlined offering that eschews most of the advanced features of something like Copper, instead focusing on ease of use and easy deployability for its users.
Some brokers might have particularly digital-based strategies. Hubspot is another large CRM with a wide variety of features particularly meant for advanced marketing users who are interested in optimizing their entire digital strategy. It is likely too powerful of a tool for the majority of brokers, but for those who have built sophisticated brands, who are interested in leveraging advanced analytics capabilities, detailed lead targeting, and maximizing the effectiveness of their website, HubSpot can be a compelling resource.
Real Estate CRMs
Brokers stand out in some notable ways from other sales professionals. In many cases, brokers transact less, higher-value products (properties) per year than other, more traditional salespeople. And since no two properties are exactly the same, it is not enough to simply describe one or two types of products and leave it at that. Brokers instead need to be able to record a large number of properties, each with its own specific details and data points, within their CRM. And finally, the geographic nature of real estate means that mapping functionality is often much more important for brokers than other sales professionals.
The following tools offer specialized functionality for real estate pros. Apto is a commercial real estate-focused CRM that is built on top of Salesforce. It offers specific elements focused on real estate, like mapping functionality, that do not come standard in Salesforce itself.
ReThink is another broker-focused CRM that provides a range of real estate-specific features built in, like property filtering and a comps database. It was acquired by Buildout in 2021, pointing toward a goal for that company to become a single tech provider for the universe of broker needs.
A third real estate CRM to know is ClientLook, which prioritizes simplicity and ease of use for real estate professionals. It also includes built-in virtual assistant functionality, meant to help brokers with simple tasks like data entry.
Although still not widely utilized, process automation can transform brokerage workflows. The best use case of automation on a brokerage team is to remove distractions from revenue-generating work, and increase the efficiency of revenue-generating work itself. While what exactly revenue-generating work entails will vary from team to team, typical tasks could include cold calling for leads or dialing contacts in order to get a property under contract or a space leased. The automation tools described in this section can unlock big chunks of time for brokers to spend on activities that will generate additional business.
Two of the most accessible automation tools for brokers without coding experience are Zapier and IFTTT. Both of these are conditional logic builders. Users can set a trigger event, like a newsletter signup, email with a certain keyword, or anything else, which prompts a followup action, like recording email details to a database, adding a phone number to a call list, or even automatically sending out a personalized email response to an inbound lead.
The most prominent alternative to these tools is Python. If Zapier and IFTTT are consumer automation solutions, Python is the real deal, a programming language that allows for advanced automation and data science work. Although not the most advanced programming language, Python is prohibitively time consuming for most real estate brokers to learn. However, the system can be so flexible and effective at automating repetitive processes that hiring a freelancer can be an effective use of resources.
Whether brokers are using Python or simple, consumer-grade solutions like Zapier, it is critical that they take the time to properly implement them. According to Andrew Bermudez, CEO and co-founder of Digsy, a listing platform we discuss below, “Block out three hours to think about what you need to do when you get a call. Try to cut the number of inputs you need to make for a given opportunity.”
Finally, brokers should also consider using Calendly. This is a lightweight, easy to use scheduling solution to allow individuals or groups of people to easily plan meetings with brokers and their teams. This application connects with your Google or Outlook calendar and automatically shows available time slots based on your preferences.
Brokers have to cast a wide net when marketing properties. This means that collateral production is a critical task. Brochures and flyers that are eye-catching and well-written inevitably stand out against their less polished peers, helping brokers maintain and expand market share. Excellent communication separates okay brokers from great ones, and keeps the best at the front of mind for all of their buyers, sellers, landlords, and tenants.
It is important to discuss the push toward digital communications here. Even before COVID-19, brokers found they were able to interact with, and conduct business with, much wider audiences thanks to the internet. At the same time, the internet has allowed for communications to become much more efficient as well. Instead of sending out a physical mailer to 500 contacts, the internet allows for digital distribution of collateral to thousands, as well as increasingly dynamic, interactive communication methods such as webinars.
PowerPoint probably doesn’t need much discussion at this point in the century. However, it is worth noting that while PowerPoint is an industry standard as well as an easily accessible tool for presentation creation, there are more powerful tools out there that don’t require much more effort to master. The next products will explore some of these options.
Adobe is the big name in the graphic design world, and Creative Cloud is the aptly-named cloud-based subscription that allows access to most of these tools. Photoshop and Illustrator allow for the creation or manipulation of a wide range of illustrations and photographs, and InDesign is a powerful written and visual content design tool. The other programs within the system are less relevant to brokerage.
The main Adobe products might be too much for some brokers. For these professionals, Canva is a social media-oriented graphical creation app that allows users to easily generate social media posts with visual flair. Spark is Adobe’s option that competes in some ways with Canva, offering similar social media post generating functionality. However, Adobe Spark also has functionality for creating videos and long-form, text-heavy, multimedia content as well.
Taking a step beyond simple content creation tools, Buildout is a brokerage marketing suite that has as a main feature a robust collateral creation tool. Using this system, brokers can set up their document templates and then fill each individual listing brochure, or other documents, with the appropriate content and photos. Buildout also allows for brokers to syndicate their property listings out to a number of listing sites, with the exception of LoopNet and CREXi. Buildout recently announced its acquisition of Rethink CRM, the broker-focused CRM option discussed earlier. This tips the company’s hand toward their goals in the market: to provide a “single source of truth” for brokers looking for a one-stop tech solution.
Another giant in the real estate tech space is VTS. VTS provides, amongst other solutions, data, marketing solutions, and listing services. The company also recently acquired Rise Buildings, a property management software solution. This puts VTS alongside Buildout as one of the companies looking to offer a one-size-fits-all brokerage tech solution.
Another company in this same game is Yardi, which we previously discussed under Data. Although Yardi is skewed much more in the direction of property, asset, and investment management applications, the company does provide a variety of solutions for brokers as well. In addition to Yardi Matrix, the data element, Yardi also provides property management software alongside the CommercialEdge product, which includes listing data and functionality for brokers.
While securing a listing through the use of data and a CRM is the first part of the job for a broker, following through and getting paid requires actually executing on the transaction as well. An integral part of this is property visualization. While photographs of a space or an investment are an undeniable minimum bar for any modern broker, more advanced spatial visualization tools are becoming increasingly vital components of modern property listings. Mr. Bermudez added that “usually on listing sites you see only one photo and maybe a floor plan. Having virtual tour videos and walkthroughs like from Matterport, having good pictures, and detailed descriptions helps a lot. Listing platforms use various algorithms so the more content you have, the higher up your listing shows.”
These tools allow prospective occupiers or purchasers to interactively view their spaces without needing to tour in person. They also save brokers time on property tours since in many cases these tools serve as qualifiers for prospective tenants or purchasers prior to an in-person tour. Consequently, these tools have seen a big boost in popularity during the course of the COVID-19 outbreak but they will certainly remain popular after the outbreak is behind us.
Matterport is the biggest game in the spatial visualization space. The company sells cameras which can take 360-degree photographs, and then provides processing services to blend these photos into smoothly interactive virtual tours similar to Google StreetView. Matterport also offers its own branded cameras, some of which allow for faster image capture than off-the-shelf alternatives. While not quite as efficient as these specialized devices, Matterport is also able to perform its image stitching and tour creation via images taken via smartphone. In return for these services, Matterport charges for 3D tour development and cloud storage. While Matterport is the biggest name in the game, there are alternatives for brokers who find it too expensive or too powerful.
An alternative is Swivel, a leasing-oriented brokerage platform that puts an emphasis on space visualizations and helping brokers understand prospect needs. It includes features that allow brokers to strip the branding out of their spaces, virtually furnish available suites, as well as non-visualization tasks like setting up 3D tours and managing the prospect interaction and tour process.
Cupix is another Matterport rival offering similar services, and in addition to traditional 3D tour creation, this company also offers digital twin solutions for enterprise clients.
Finally there is VirtualApt, which takes things a step further by utilizing robots to capture the images. By using robots instead of human photographers, VirtualApt claims quicker turnaround times and potentially offers easier implementation for busy brokers than the alternative.
When looking to sell a property, fill a space, or satisfy a tenant need, brokers will consult their existing contact lists to see if a suitable match exists. This utilizes two of the sections we previously discussed, namely data and CRMs. Of course, brokers will also find it expedient to list their properties and spaces on publicly accessible listing sites in order to increase the volume of offers and potentially bid up prices. The following are platforms for listings or tools that help brokers get their listings in front of more people.
LoopNet is the main listing side of the CoStar platform. Brokers with paid subscriptions to Loopnet have their properties posted to the public side of LoopNet, allowing them visibility by anyone who goes on the site.
Professionals who do not pay for the listing service can also upload listings but they will only be viewable by those who have access to CoStar, not the general public. In addition to payment for listing on LoopNet, brokers can pay for additional advertising services and priority ranking within LoopNet search results. CoStar and LoopNet, together, are highly trafficked. In addition to these, CoStar also owns Ten-X, a property auction site. Based on the niche and the market, some brokers may feel it doesn’t make sense to spend time with other sites as well, but others will want to shoot for broader coverage.
Brokers looking to increase their reach might look to CREXi, another listing platform that stands out separate from the CoStar/LoopNet services. It also includes comps and property auctions.
For leasing brokers, Digsy is a platform that helps occupiers find the right suites and spaces by serving as a direct-to-user listing platform. It also includes a number of related brokerage features, such as photography and virtual assistant services. While not relevant for investment sales, leasing brokers may wish to put their properties on it.
Other solutions in this space take a wide approach to filling broker needs. Biproxi offers a suite of brokerage marketing software that can accomplish several goals. It allows for social media management and has transaction management functionality. It provides brokers with the ability to manage their listings and auctions, and rapidly create new listings as well.
Will there be one platform to rule them all?
Many of the companies discussed in this report are actively engaged in the acquisition of other, smaller providers. CoStar, Buildout, and Yardi are frequently in the news for their busy M&A activity. While this can be a sign of a healthy, growing company, there are some considerations brokers should make before committing to these providers.
For one thing, acquisitions could indicate that offerings at these companies are in the process of changing. But more than that, brokers should be cautious about signing on with providers who are themselves acquired. While in some cases these systems remain supported, in others they wind up closed down or diminished in scope.
Acquisitions sometimes point to another growing trend in the business. Many of the broker-focused technologies out there are looking to be the one-stop-shop for broker tech needs. According to Ewa Baska, Director of Marketing for BuildOut, “we see the future of brokerage commercial real estate tech will include a finite amount of platforms that emerge. They will buy up all the other tools around them to get as integrated of a toolset as possible, in order to be the source of truth for brokerages.”
For the brokers themselves, this could be a good thing. Keeping all, or at least a majority, of your tools under one platform’s banner has the advantage of limiting data loss or irregularities when transferring information from platform to platform. From a usability perspective, this is also probably a beneficial thing, since it will save the end user time navigating from application to application when moving between tasks.
Brokers have never had more tools to choose from than at present, but while this opens up new opportunities for effectiveness and efficiency, it can also be overwhelming to approach without a purposeful, organized review process. The software and platforms described in this report are all excellent starting points for brokers looking to increase their marketing prowess whether on the prospecting side or the closing side.
Brokers must remember that even the easiest tools mentioned here still have some level of learning curve. Choosing a tech partner for your visualization, listing, or prospecting tasks might be the biggest decision brokers have to make when it comes to tools, but every brokerage professional should make sure to earmark time and effort to learning the ins and outs of the systems they pay for, whether they will be using them personally or assigning them to an assistant or team member.
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