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Armed only with his iPhone, Andy Burnett finalized negotiations on a $132 million apartment portfolio sale in 2008 while traveling in Europe.
Jeremy Branecky and Phillip Jackson
Armed only with his iPhone, Andy Burnett finalized negotiations on a $132 million apartment portfolio sale in 2008 while traveling in Europe. The deal closed shortly thereafter while he was in New York City. Thanks to the device, he didn’t miss a single call or email, despite being thousands of miles from his office in Oklahoma City.
Commercial real estate firms and their brokers are using technology, including smartphones and their applications, to market and sell properties from the comfort of any place with a wireless signal. But some caution that while technology can be a broker’s greatest tool, it also can be his or her worst nightmare, making it difficult to not always be tethered to work.
Burnett, an adviser with Sperry Van Ness/William T. Strange and Associates, had been working on the 1,325-unit Legacy apartment portfolio for more than a year. With a vacation already planned for Europe, followed by his wife’s medical rotations in New York City, Burnett reluctantly decided to go on both trips with the deal pending.
While in Sorrento, Italy, he found that his work on the Legacy portfolio was beginning to pay off. Rather than hop on a plane and head home to close the deal, he worked day and night from his iPhone. All the while, his seller was in Oklahoma, and his buyer was in Illinois.
“My phone bill was a bit outrageous,” he says. “But I could access everything about the properties, take calls and check my email from Europe.”
When he began seven years ago in commercial real estate, he described his mobile technology as a cheap flip phone. When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, he upgraded, and says it changed everything about the way he did business.
“Just having everything at my fingertips — from email to a wireless Internet connection — with me at all times made me more mobile,” he says. “Now I can do everything from a phone that I could do from my desk.”
When Marc Weinmeister began selling commercial real estate in the mid-1990s, it wasn’t exactly the dark ages in terms of technology, but cellphones were rare, and the fax machine could be a broker’s best friend.
Still, even with the latest devices, Weinmeister says one always must be prepared for technology to break down or prove unreliable. His current smartphone of choice is the Android by Google. While he can access the Internet, maps and data, the device won’t retrieve his business emails.
“The Internet is like shortwave radio,” he says. “It’s awesome when it works, and it’s totally unpredictable.”
Weinmeister also frets over the oddity that nearly everyone has a phone on his or her hip, yet rarely answers them. He says the brokerage business is aided by technology, but at the end of the day, it is still about relationships.
“In the old days, we’d call 100 people, and most of them would answer their (landline) phone or call you back,” he says. “Now that everybody has a cellphone, nobody answers them.”
Oklahoma City-based Price Edwards & Co. has taken technology one step further with the introduction of two apps created in-house.
At the end of 2010, the company launched a free iPhone app that allows users to retrieve property information, data and photos of properties for sale or lease around the metro. The idea came about when the firm’s co-founder, Ford Price, had an idea, and emailed the company’s chief information officer last summer.
“It was one of those out of left-field, Saturday-morning emails,” Price says. “I saw a restaurant that had an app and asked, ‘Can we have an app?’” Price asked CIO Phillip Jackson, who had been overseeing technology at the firm since its first website in the late 1990s, to explore the notion.
Jackson brought in Jeremy Branecky as web developer. While some national firms have apps, along with the commercial real estate service Loopnet, Price wanted something that focused exclusively on the local market.
Six months after that idea, the app was finished, approved by Apple Inc., and available in the App Store. To submit the app was only $100, but Price cannot put a dollar amount on the time, effort and hours his team poured into creating it.
Looking to be relevant on other devices, Price Edwards launched an iPad app in March. And Branecky now is at work on an app for Android devices.
“We are always looking for ways to make our company better through technology,” Jackson says.
Price says brokers and clients have praised the app, and found it useful.
“Having this information at our brokers’ fingertips is a great tool,” he says. “Everyone internally uses it and promotes it to clients.”
But while technology can be a broker’s best resource, it also makes it hard to not be a broker off the clock.
“With technology, the upside is you can be anywhere and do your work,” Burnett says. “The negative is you can be anywhere and do your work.”