Connecting and innovating digital CRE
Linda Day Harrison, Founder of theBrokerList, talks about challenges surrounding commercial real estate (CRE) networking and the value of data and artificial intelligence (AI) for industry professionals.
As easy as it has become for business professionals to connect and network through various digital platforms, there are many people who still don’t take full advantage of their value. In an industry as complex and multi-faceted as CRE, this is an especially important piece of the puzzle which can lead to new opportunities that deals often arise from.
It’s an overall change in mentality for CRE professionals and something of which Linda Day Harrison has been an advocate of for years. As Founder of theBrokerList, she is a concierge to the CRE industry and connects brokers, deals, services, and vendors through her platform. She also promotes a deeper understanding of technologies such as data and artificial intelligence (AI) for CRE professionals and sees networking as the common denominator for continued success and innovation.
What gap did you identify in the way CRE professionals were connecting that inspired you to start theBrokerList?
Day Harrison: It was basically the result of disparate databases and incredible segregations due to specialties and geographies. In other words, it was so painful to source a B2B resource because everyone was separate.
We’ve been around since 2011, which is about a million years ago compared to where we are today. Back then, the only thing out there was LinkedIn. In my mind, I thought of us a very important industry that needed each other. We’re a B2B industry, but we’re specialized. The concept was to have a database that was just for CRE brokers to save time. That was the gap I saw.
The other side of it was that if you are a property trying to get in front of brokers, it was so painful because you had to find them. That’s very difficult to do because real estate is lumped into one giant category. When you look at the numbers, the percentage of people who focus on CRE is tiny compared to residential.
You mentioned separation among CRE professionals, do you feel as though there is a general lack of quality networking in the industry? What do you think could be done to remedy that?
Day Harrison: If I belong to the “XYZ” organization in Idaho, those are the only people I talk to. Those are the only people I’m networking with. It’s so narrow with a local focus and that’s fine, but guess what? Buyers and tenants aren’t sitting in your backyard. They could be from anywhere in the world.
I think so many people stay in their own backyard and don’t break out into areas that are not the same as theirs. They stick to what’s familiar and I think networking should be about venturing into other areas of expertise in CRE for different referrals. If you’re always in your own backyard, aren’t you just shaking hands with your competitors every day?
I have a great example. We do a cocktail party every year at ICSC RECon in Las Vegas, which is a large conference for the retail industry. We welcome attendees from all over the country and world. There are a couple of very sharp office brokers Natalie Wainwright and Dan Palmeri from Cushman & Wakefield, who I highly regard. They’re office people, but they want to host the party. Other office brokers might say that it’s retail and they’re not interested. Natalie and Dan come to this party, shake hands with hundreds of people outside their immediate industry and comfort zone, expand their network, and they don’t even do retail. That’s what sets them apart as CRE networkers.
In terms of industry specializations, where are you currently finding the biggest need for CRE professionals?
Day Harrison: It is so market-driven. If you’re asking me about industry specialization, there’s so many layers to that onion. In fact, you actually have three onions. One onion is geography and there’s tons of layers and all kinds of markets. Another onion is what role you play. Are you tenant representation? Landlord representation? Do you work directly for the building owner? Are you a developer? What part of the CRE ecosystem are you in? The third onion is property type. Is it industrial? Is it retail? Is it office? What is it?
The only thing I can say and use as statistics are from our DNA of #CRE survey report which gives us some insight. Last year, 35 percent of our respondents did seller representation, 17 percent did landlord representation, 15 percent did tenant representation, and 19 percent were generalists. A generalist means someone who wears every hat because they have to eat. They’ll be a tenant rep today and a landlord rep tomorrow — they do it all.
The geographic element is a whole other animal and it’s been this way for the past several years. Interestingly enough, the warmer climates seem to be doing more deals than most other areas of the country. I don’t know if it’s actually because of the weather, but that’s where most of the deals were done according to our survey.
What’s on the minds of CRE professionals right now? Are there any emerging trends everyone should be aware or stay on top of?
Day Harrison: I think CRE professionals should be jumping in full guns to learn how to use data and AI tools. Get in early. Start to master it. Data is everything and AI gives you the time-saving tools once you learn how to use them properly. Start thinking about everything you do and how you can get the most accurate data as well as what AI can do for you.
In a more general sense, embrace technology so that you can do more with less and keep your overhead down. Most of what CRE professionals are doing is still manual. Learn about these technologies and understand the basics. People are scrambling with how to utilize these things, but they have to sit down and really focus. There are so many pieces and the average person doesn’t even understand how everything is connected.
To wrap things up, what kind of advice would you give someone who is just starting out in CRE and looking to break into the industry?
Day Harrison: Number one is to find out what is truly possible and most feasible in your market. My advice would be to go into it as your own business, not a job. It’s not a job. Look at the feasibility of your business. Most brokers are independent and they don’t get a regular paycheck. There are obviously exceptions, but most of them make a commission. That means it’s their business. As a side note: one of our bloggers, Mark Chase, gave us a fabulous one-page business plan for CRE brokers.
Couple that thought with finding the best mentor possible. Find a mentor that is the smartest, most connected, talented teacher who has been in the business for a long time and try as hard as you can to get them to help you. A lot of young people make the mistake of thinking they can simply do everything on their own and not ask anybody for help. I find that to be the wrong approach, but the most common. If you’re smart, you’re going to try to learn from someone else to fast-track your career. Can you do it without a mentor? Absolutely. That said, you’ll get there faster, meet more people in the industry, and hear the stories that can give you insight into other deals.