Logan Nagel, with Cushman & Wakefield | PICOR in Tucson, is a member of the firm’s multifamily investment sales team. Perhaps because he is new to commercial real estate and highly intent on mastering the art and science of getting deals done, Nagel organizes much of his day around work processes.

“I spend countless hours in front of a computer and on the phone prospecting leads, evaluating buildings, marketing properties and closing deals,” Nagel says. “Despite how much these steps might differ from transaction to transaction, each of these processes is, at its core, a highly repeatable workflow with a number of perennial time-sinks for my entire team.”

Having come to this conclusion, Nagel has focused on trying to automate as many of the processes and steps as possible.

“As one example, I realized early on that to be successful at prospecting, it’s critical to have an accurate database of properties and owners in my market. So building out a database of names and addresses has been the biggest and most time-consuming part of my job. But technology helps dramatically.”

Nagel uses Apto, which he calls the “600-pound gorilla of real estate customer relationship management systems,” or CRMs. “Apto aims to take the grunt work out of the prospecting process by telling brokers exactly who they have to call and when, based on user-defined call lists and frequency preferences.”

With Apto, Nagel says, he can use maps to visualize properties and their surroundings, including how people and properties are connected to each other. Mapping an owner’s portfolio, for example, reveals where the owner may be over- or under-concentrated, or where an investor who bought a nearby property might be more or less interested in acquiring another.

“We track client outreach and outreach cadences using the cloud-based software,” Nagel says, “including which buyers are looking for what. At a certain point Excel just isn’t good enough compared to a purpose-built platform like Apto.”

Tech-forward SRS deploys a range of software to serve clients

Kristin Walrod, senior marketing coordinator for SRS Real Estate Partners in Phoenix, also uses commercial real estate specific software to increase her company’s efficiency while producing consistent results for clients. She observes that many retail property owners are migrating to Property Capsule, which integrates shopping center availability information and property information on owners’ websites and syncs it with property management software such as MRI.

Walrod says her firm relies on Buildout to produce retail property marketing materials, including brochures and property websites, and design software to produce custom marketing for out-of-the-box properties or new developments that warrant splashy branding to introduce the properties to the market. Walrod also says that Esri software deserves high marks for its demographics and mapping capabilities.

Technology helps Eagle manage the market

Jeff Gorden, CCIM, vice president of Eagle Commercial Realty Services, specializes in investment sales of self-storage properties in Arizona. “If you’re not a specialist,” Gorden says, “it’s hard to know who your customers are in any sort of manageable way, and even harder to know who the counterparty might be in a transaction.”

Gorden uses Apto’s relational database to help his team “manage the market” by linking information on properties, contacts, comps, sale proposals and more, which can be accessed anytime from anywhere.

There are “process builders baked into the software that show you the next 10 tasks to complete relative to a particular workflow, such as emailing potential buyers or checking loan application or appraisal status,” Gorden says. As of result of using technology to manage and track process steps and details, “your brain is then freed up to handle emergencies and creative thinking, including solving problems that are unique to each transaction.”

Getting to close

How about using technology to automate the closing of deals? Are we there yet?

Nagel notes that the closing process is simultaneously the most straightforward and potentially uncertain step in the entire property sale. “Certainly there is room for automation in the closing process, particularly in terms of pushing out and maintaining documents and tracking dates, but to the extent anything uncertain happens, the broker needs to be available and prepared to step in personally to resolve issues or deal with anything emotional that comes up among the parties. That’s a critical piece of the broker value proposition that cannot be automated,” Nagel says.

Vin Basa, vice president of commercial and multifamily mortgage firm Tower Capital, agrees that robots are not likely to take his job soon, either. “Technology, including data from third party information services online, makes the process more efficient fast and helps us bring new people on board at our company. But we still have to do our own underwriting for every deal, debt or equity. That won’t change anytime soon. Deals are too specific with details and nuance that only people can render determinations on.”