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Assessing a storm's damage to a house; responding to a prospective buyer's concerns about a property; designing offices that suit the needs of its tenants—all are key tasks of the real estate business that are rapidly being made faster and less expensive as the industry adopts lessons from technology, lessons that have already dramatically changed industries such as finance and health care.
In other words, big data is transforming real estate.
"Big data is making the commercial real estate industry more transparent," said Ely Razin, CEO of CrediFi, a big data platform for the commercial real estate finance market. "It becomes a partner to the players to the community, whether they're brokers, lenders, investors or owners."
In commercial real estate finance, number crunching from public and private data sources is already helping potential investors make better decisions.
CrediFi's Razin said the company's platform uses credit risk algorithms to analyze huge amounts of data from public and licensed sources, which then produce risk scores for regional real estate.
For example, prospective investors analyze how sound a physical structure is, when it was last renovated or if the prospective owner is financially reliable—all important factors that impact their decision.
Companies can also assess a building's finance, like the details of a prospective building's loans and investment platform.
Real estate start-up VTS (stands for "View the Space") is a smartphone app hoping to transform real estate sales by enabling owners to better assess the reactions of prospective buyers, said Ryan Masiello, co-founder and chief revenue officer of VTS.
The platform aims to speed up the process of getting feedback from prospective tenants to owners, and to help the negotiating process. It recently raised $21 million.
"If 80 percent of prospective tenants aren't moving forward and giving you a proposal because they feel the space is priced too high, or the image of the space is wrong for them, like issues with the height of a ceiling or the size of a room, we capture that information directly," said Masiello
Big data is also changing how buildings are managed. David Kollmorgen, international director and head of business intelligence at Jones Lang LaSalle, said the emerging "the Internet of things" is making certain management tasks easier.
"We've put sensors on the equipment in a building, for example, and every 15 seconds we get a read on the air temperature, if the fan is on or off. Then we can feed data into algorithms, like if this fan is working, then it shouldn't generate a work order to fix it. We can also figure out, is weather data correlating to x, y or z."
That can reduce expenses and the wait time in fixing problems in a building, said Kollmorgen.
But the costs of implementing sensor systems takes a lot of money and planning.
"If you look at the Manhattan skyline at night, you see lots and lots of lights on even in downtown buildings, where most of the offices are closed. Just because people have the ability to improve, by retrofitting their actual electrical systems, it would be very expensive," said Keith Outlaw, licensed real estate agent at Highline Residential in New York.
Despite the initial challenge of such a large investment, making buildings "smarter" would greatly reduce waste and spending, said Outlaw.