The Modern Office Broker’s Technology Toolbox

We're a long way from client lunches alone for sealing leasing deals

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Over the last quarter century, office leasing brokers have evolved from the dinosaur age of a handshake and lunch with the client, to needing to provide sophisticated financial expertise in transactions. Today, it is more incumbent than ever that office brokers master a variety of technologies to achieve professional success.

It’s a lot. The tech tools office brokers are using vary as much as do their practitioners.

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“The macro environment has obviously presented a new set of challenges for brokers, and I think one that is making them much more open-minded and proactive around all of the things they have at their disposal to better perform in the current market,” said Ryan Masiello, co-founder and chief strategy officer at VTS, which tracks office occupancy among other services.

“There’s three areas that everyone is very focused on right now: One is digital marketing,” Masiello added “That’s probably not a huge surprise. In a world where demand is down 40 to 45 percent from pre-COVID levels and tenants are touring less spaces per tour, it’s more important than ever for brokers to ensure that, on the agency side, they’re creating as much visibility as possible and making it as easy for somebody to understand the asset as remotely as possible, because the fear of being overlooked in the post-COVID environment is greater than ever.”

The tenant rep has the flip-side view of digital marketing.

“Digital marketing has become imperative because their tenant, the same person that used to want to go out and look at 10 different spaces per tour, expects at this point that they can vet all those options at a high level before committing to spending any time out in the market,” Masiello said. “Instead of seeing five spaces on a given tour, they’ll probably look at 10 digitally and narrow that down to the five spaces that they actually feel like are the best fit.”

VTS addresses that issue on its platform with a product, VTS Market, that was launched three years ago, he added. “We become fully ingrained as a partner of our customers and basically create digital content for every building and every space. And that’s something that our in-house teams do.”

Two other areas in which brokers are using technology are building access and amenities.

“The thing that brokers are really excited about is being able to tell the story around the modern tech-enabled asset,” Masiello said. “So the tenant experience category is one that has taken off. It’s a category that we’re heavily invested in. We bought the two top companies [Lane and Rise Buildings] in this space over the past two years and have been working hand-in-hand with our customers to continually raise the bar around what that technology can offer.”

A common perception is that a new generation of office leasing brokers are mostly the ones using technology in their everyday work, but tech tools have insinuated themselves into the must-haves of veteran professionals as well.

“For me, it’s about information and the ability to use that information to help brokers, number one, win business,” said Arthur Mirante, vice chair North America at Savills. “Second, using that information to delight your clients when you do win an assignment.”

The quality of a real estate services company’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform is a key tech component for brokers, Mirante added.

“Clearly, the CRM platforms amongst the different major firms in our industry are becoming more and more refined, more complete with usable information for brokers, and are used more frequently today than ever before,” Mirante said. “I’ve been with Savills since August and I use that CRM platform first thing every morning.

“I remember 40 years ago, one of our top brokers at Cushman & Wakefield would talk about ‘First thing every morning you read the Wall Street Journal’ as a development practice for a young brokerage professional. Today, I start off every day by looking at our Savills’ CRM platform.”

The growing amount and sophistication of demographic data relating to geography and labor availability, along with overall data aggregation, are other major tech innovations that brokers must tap into to be competitive and successful, Mirante said.

Along with building tech in-house, Savills works with outside proptech companies such as Cherre, for automation, as well as Leverton on the AI side for data structuring into Salesforce, said Sarah Dreyer, vice president and head of Americas research at Savills.

Similarly, 20-year commercial real estate pro Eric Cagner, an executive managing director and tenant rep broker at Newmark, uses the company’s in-house tech platforms, Pegasus and Optality, to be the best “consultant” he can be for his clients.

“Pegasus is a simple program that we’ve developed,” said Cagner. “It’s a technology tool that helps our clients understand the qualitative aspects and factors that come into play when determining what makes the most sense for their real estate decisions. Today’s company wants to better understand, ‘Where are my people coming from? What’s that commute?’ With the ability to work in a hybrid fashion today, if I’m an employer, how do I incentivize my people to come into the office? Pegasus allows us to do a demographic study.”

Optality is a portfolio optimization tool that enables companies to adjust their office space in real time.

“It’s like a Kayak, an aggregator of flex space across multiple markets that allows our clients to look at different markets across the country and in real time to see what the availability is of short-term space, whether it be for daily or hourly use,” said Cagner.

Another proptech provider for office leasing brokers is Dallas-based Dottid, a workflow leasing and asset management platform.

“Brokers want to operate with as much efficiency as possible,” said Kyle Waldrep, CEO and founder at Dottid. “CRM-type tools, understanding their leads, better tracking and management of communication across their teams, is definitely something that I’m seeing from our perspective.

“Ultimately, also marketing automation, because that’s what they’re selling. Office brokers are beholden to the space that they represent. So marketing automation and virtual touring plays into some of the tenant experience.”

Interestingly, Waldrep doesn’t yet see AI as intrinsic to brokers’ work.

“I wouldn’t say AI has gone too deep,” said Waldrep. “Brokers are still highly relational people. They know what they do well and they want to keep doing that well. We haven’t seen any great disruption by AI in the office broker market. The first step is getting brokers to engage the technology that’s out there already, utilize it well, and then ultimately allow AI potentially down the road to be another catalyst or optimization of what they already do. But I don’t see any near-term disruption of anything office brokers are doing due to AI.”

Christophe Garnier, founder and CEO at Upflex, a software provider for hybrid workspaces, sees a particular need for technology in brokers leasing flex space.

“Today’s winning brokers are the ones leveraging customized solutions providing data and analytics for their clients,” said Garnier in an email. “We’re seeing office brokers use and recommend workforce analytics as the next big thing in CRE data. Insights into space utilization, office cost savings, and tenant behaviors are giving brokers a competitive edge. Traditional flex reporting used to be limited to hindsight: This is how much a tenant spent this month. This is how many people came through a workspace.”

However, now, “office brokers are using data to solve the challenge of hybrid work, especially when it comes to getting employees back to the office,” Garnier said. “When a broker can provide tools for their clients to understand their global workspace utilization in real time — rather than hindsight — it’s a major competitive advantage to win more business.”

As a relative newcomer to the commercial real estate services world, Amit Koren, chief product officer at JLL, found the perception that office brokers are luddites to be unfair.

“Having been in the industry for two and a half years, I would mostly classify that as a misconception or a myth,” said Koren. “I’d argue that brokers are reluctant to adopt ill-fitting or hard-to-use technology, but are actually quite innovative and entrepreneurial, and tend to be at the vanguard of technology that actually makes a difference for their business.”

Where office brokers use technology in their workflow varies, Koren said. “I think we’re at different phases in the maturity cycle based on the different parts of the life cycle of a relationship with the client.

“We think about three areas: finding business, winning the business, and servicing the business. In the first one, technology is pretty nascent. Most brokers today still don’t really use technology to kind of identify new opportunities. They largely rely on relationships and networks. The second one is one where technology is the most mature, bringing together data and visualizations of markets in order to help a client make decisions and pitch technology as essential, which it has been for a number of years.”

The most rapidly accelerating phase is the third because client expectations for digital information in the leasing transaction process have grown greatly, according to Koren. “That’s where I’d say brokerage is at the forefront and is absolutely driving towards that. It’s a place where we see meaningful opportunity and a need for investment. It’s something that our brokers are clamoring for in 2023.”

However, the use of tech is still somewhat generational, Koren added.

“You see it more prevalent in brokers with less established books of business,” he said. “One thing we see across the spectrum — and this is true whether it is a senior or a junior broker — is that brokers who adopt our full suite of technology tend to be higher producers. They generate about 1.6 times the revenue of brokers who do not adopt that technology. And that’s true irrespective of exactly where they are on their career path.”

Steven Jaffe, CEO and founder at  Propdocs, a Vancouver-based CRE transaction management platform, is a contrarian regarding office brokers and tech.

“I think for the larger properties, definitely not,” Jaffe said of broker adoption. “This is especially true in the biggest cities and most secondary markets. If you go look at who are the top brokers that are not 35 years old, they’re 55- to 70-year-olds, and they’ve been doing it for 20 to 40 years. They are more likely to use their personal Rolodex, network and relationships. Their team may use technology to prepare marketing material and organize tours, research and data, but, in terms of lead generation for larger spaces, offices in particular, we personally don’t feel there’s much technology required to do that.”

Philip Russo can be reached at prusso@commercialobserver.com