The Future of Commercial Real Estate: Going Digital

There’s no tried-and-true method in finding the perfect commercial real estate property. In the “good old days,” you’d look for advertisements in local newspapers, trade magazines, and call around to brokers to meet and discuss your options within their portfolio. But with the growth of the digital media market and diversification of technology, there’s no shortage of resources to help you find the right fit for you and your company. 

The benefits of adopting a digital-first approach for your commercial real estate research makes total sense. Without even leaving your computer (or smartphone), you can access and compare details, visuals, and even participate in virtual walkthroughs to save a lot of time and energy if the property just isn’t the right fit. 

Before we dive deeper, it’s important to know the resources available to brokers, how to identify misleading property listings, and where to look when you need advice in the ever-changing realm of commercial real estate. 

Here are a few ways taking a digital-first approach to commercial real estate shopping can save you time, energy, and money.

More Resources at Your Fingertips

From the perspectives of both buyers and sellers, utilizing the vast amounts of data, listing websites, and market research available via just a few clicks can help you sort and manage your “maybes,” “nice to haves,” and “that’s perfect” properties at any end of the equation. Whether its free services like Zillow, OfficeSpace.com, or even Craigslist, you can easily find and access information about potential properties without even contacting a broker. Of course, paid services exist and are available to get more information about the history of the space, so there’s virtually no limit to the number of avenues you can use to find the right property for you. 

Utilizing Virtual Walkthroughs

Especially now, more and more listing agents are utilizing digital tools to recreate virtual walkthroughs and digital media assets as part of their listing pages. As long as you’ve got access to a computer or a mobile phone, you’ll literally be able to walk through properties and get a sense of the space without having to leave your desk. 

While the use of virtual tours and other digital tools have historically been utilized in residential real estate, it’s not uncommon to have these digital assets available for commercial real estate listings nowadays. In fact, commercial real estate brokers now have plenty of options at their disposal, including virtual tours, staging, 3D floor plans, and drone videography that help give prospective clients a better understanding of how a space looks (and could look) without physically visiting the property. 

More Ways to Reach You

But with all of these advances in tenant-facing technologies and solutions, it’s easier than ever for brokers to see what people are looking for in the market based on keyword searches, key photography, and what’s popular on YouTube. Plus, Google Display Ads will ensure that the property you looked at yesterday will show up wherever you go online. As you go through your search, be wary of services that require you to sign up with an email address, Facebook account, or other restriction before you can view a property. You’ll likely be added to a marketing email campaign, so if you’re just doing preliminary searches or not  really interested in a property, it’s not a bad idea to put a little-used email address to avoid unwanted messages from brokers and listing agents. 

Brokers are also utilizing digital platforms to market their listings and are more accessible than ever before – from posting their listings across listing websites, posting on social media, publishing blog posts, white papers, and even webinars. That’s good for you, as the more information you can gather and share with your team, the more informed you’ll be when it comes to making a solid decision on a new commercial real estate space and the process behind leasing or buying it. 

Streamlining Your Search – and Using Technology to Help

Aside from the obvious benefits of using digital technology in the commercial real estate world, the tools available to help make your search easier and more streamlined are readily available than ever before. This may have been a different story even 5-10 years ago in commercial real estate, but new companies and online resources are making it easier for prospective tenants and buyers to research and complete their transactions online. 

While you’re now just a quick Google search away from finding what you need online, if you’re looking for resources to ease the commercial real estate leasing or buying process, there are notable resources like the National Environmental Title Research Online. NETR is a public directory of all public records platforms in the United States, providing an easy way to locate public records in your area in order to find ownership history, construction projects, and other publicly-available information about the property in question. Not only will this help you understand the history of the building, but it’ll allow you the opportunity to leverage this information during a lease agreement negotiation. 

There are also services like biproxi, a platform that specializes in helping commercial real estate brokers, sellers and buyers. For buyers specifically, biproxi provides an easy way to access data reports, including Phase 1 ESA reports, sales comps, property valuations, and appraisals to help you during due diligence and closing.

And then of course, there are free commercial real estate listing websites like OfficeSpace.com that offer tenants and buyers a comprehensive look at the available commercial listings in their area. And, should you approach a tenant representation broker and move forward with your search, you’ll be able to reference the spaces you’ve located on these platforms, giving them an idea of what you’re looking for and your price range right away, speeding up the process and getting you into your new space faster. 

Assessing the Technological Aspects of a Physical Space

Especially with the onset of COVID-19 and the shift to a more work-from-home tolerant business community, it’s important to look for the infrastructure, resources, and perks that a building itself can provide to its occupants – whether they’re working there full-time, remotely, or on a rotation. Whether it’s smart lighting, integrating charging ports at workstations, server space, modern air filtration systems, or dedicated fiber lines, a listing that shows the most information about a property will only help your efforts in picking the right space for your company’s future. 

Technology touches everything we do in our modern lives, but it’s especially true in commercial real estate. Even as you utilize some of these tips in your research, it’s important to do the due diligence in investigating beneath the surface. Contacting neighboring tenants to ask about the property owner, asking for references on previous tenants, and learning more about any recent improvements or upgrades the building has undergone won’t be found on every real estate listing page. 

Especially as more millennials become an increasingly larger demographic for commercial real estate, you can expect to see more virtual and digital ways to experience potential properties – and that’s a huge win for anyone looking for their next commercial real estate space. 

John is the VP of Sales at OfficeSpace.com where he leads broker relations and sales. Prior to being VP of Sales, he was the Regional  Director for the company. John has over 25 years of experience working in the commercial real estate industry. Before OfficeSpace.com, John was a commercial real estate broker for the Norman Company in Seattle, WA.