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Technology's tools catching up with commercial real estate market

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It was an online revolution that began with residential real estate. Seemingly overnight, anyone could quickly access multiple listing services and pick out a house and neighborhood with a complete demographic picture of the area.

Now, the same kinds of technological advances are transforming commercial real estate. David Ahlgren of Fourth Utility Systems said brokers will be doing a disservice to their tenants if they put them into buildings that don't have broadband access.

Ahlgren said it is also necessary to convince landlords that their buildings need to have broadband so they are not only high-speed Internet ready, but connected as well.

"You can't have 30 different networks in the building," he said. "Today's data networks are a mess."

Ahlgren said it is possible to hook up an entire building to broadband for only about $2,000 a month. He added that even with a 400,000-square-foot building, wireless fidelity (WiFi) would only cost $36,000 per year. Given that the revenue from 40 tenants may be about $120,000 per year, Ahlgren said it is more than worth it for landlords to provide these amenities.

"WiFi is an amenity you need to give to your tenants for free," he said.

Ahlgren argues that smart buildings not only draw tenants because of their technological access, they may save 15 percent on operational expenses with computers working on the same broadband network, rather than independently.

This doesn't even include the savings that may be realized with a building whose climate is computer controlled. Ahlgren said firms such as Sentre Partners of San Diego, RealComm of Carlsbad and Equity Office Properties of Chicago have recognized how smart-building technology has made money for themselves and their clients.

Ahlgren said when all the labor is taken into account, it costs about $25,000 to fill a file cabinet with paper. Now, he creates backed up electronic file cabinets for next to nothing. That money could help tenants pay their rent.

As for commercial brokers, they may benefit by brokering leases completely electronically. This could go right down to the payments that could be electronically transferred. Taken together, Ahlgren said these systems are a lot less complicated than one might think.

"They are a lot simpler, and a lot less riskier than an elevator," he said.

Ahlgren and others spoke on just how technology is changing the commercial landscape and what tools are being employed at a Certified Commercial Investment Member-sponsored program at the Hilton on Mission Bay last month. Jack Peckham, Cyberspace Society executive director of real estate, has helped to create a host of computer databases to help the commercial real estate industry and addressed the meeting from Boston. Peckham, who has reportedly coordinated the sale of $1 billion worth of commercial real estate through electronic means, uses the Internet by placing extensive databases that are accessed by prospective clients.

"Asia is five to seven years ahead of us in the commercial real estate area," he said.

Among other programs, Peckham's firm has created the E-Mail Broadcast Wizard, which provides commercial brokers with everything from the property type to buyers profiles. This information is then shared through a subscription service that costs around $1,000 a year depending on what is ordered. Peckham said the data may be sent to as many as 40,000 commercial investment members at a time.

"In three hours we generated 40 possible buyers on one property," he said.

Peckham also employs a program called Remote Notified, which tracks the status of an e-mail, who reads it, and whether or not it was forwarded.

Chuck Wise of Wise Investments and IPC Commercial Real Estate, said CCIM's Web site is also an excellent resource for connecting a property with an investor. Wise said CCIM members can not only collect data on a property, but can customize an advertisement, complete with movie voices and music.

Steve Buice, a partner in the firm SmartMail, has developed something he likes to call the "electronic postcard." In this system, digital photographs are combined with Mapquest so people have a clear idea how to get to a property in which they are interested. A "contact me" button is then provided for further details. This program, co-sponsored by First American Title Corp., may be accessed for as little as $2 a month, but the pictures only remain on the screen a few seconds at a time.

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