Internet Making Headway In Commercial Real Estate

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The changes the Internet brought to residential real estate during the past half-decade are beginning to filter into the commercial side of the business.

A growing number of commercial real estate firms is now putting property listings online and looking to the Internet to help manage transactions, said Bonnie Gottlieb, senior vice president of commercial real estate for the National Association of Realtors.

The commercial real estate industry has been slow to follow the lead of its residential counterpart in embracing the Internet, Gottlieb said, largely because firms have been hesitant to part with and share property listings. That’s begun to change in the last year or two, she said.

“I would say the commercial side is years behind the residential side,” Gottlieb said. “But it’s moving faster and faster now.”

Firms are realizing that it makes sense to share their data through Web sites because it gives potential clients faster access to property listings, she said.

Part of the reason commercial real estate has lagged behind residential is that the industry is more complex than residential and brokers are still sorting out exactly what role the Internet will play in their business, said Mike Bowen chief executive officer of The Westwood Group, a Muskegon firm that manages 500,000 square feet of retail space in Michigan.

“The industry is still trying to figure out what is its best use. It will still have a great impact in commercial land, I’m sure, but nobody’s quite yet sure (how),” Bowen said.

Brian Silvernail, president of Grand Rapids Real Estate, said he has worked hard to harness the Internet as a sales tool.

Silvernail, who serves on the technology committee of the Greater Grand Rapids Real Estate Board, claims that he has put tens of thousands of dollars into his Web site and countless hours of work. The payoff, he said, is that somewhere near 50 search engines now will put “Grand Rapids Real Estate” in the No. 1 slot when surfers are browsing the Web.

“We think it’s worth it,” said Silvernail, who gives his properties more play on the Internet than with traditional listing services.

Likewise for Bowen, who markets Westwood’s properties online and even headquarters his company is a downtown Muskegon office, the Hume Building, that he first found on a national commercial real estate site, www.loopnet.com

“It’s been a great benefit to us,” Bowen said.

The Internet initially has provided commercial real estate brokers a new medium to list and market properties on their own Web sites. The listings can offer detail of the properties available and their amenities, images of the site, and details on the proximity to transportation links and public utilities such as sewer and water service, and links to Web sites detailing the community and its demographics.

When a potential client calls for information on what’s available in the market, a broker can initially direct them to their Web site for listings. That will enable a party to at least learn about the market and perhaps narrow their search before they do a site visit to inspect the properties that interest them, Gottlieb said.

Online listings, like the residential side of the business, often include a mechanism that enables a person to type in their parameters and narrow their search for industrial, retail or commercial properties within a given market, she said.

Despite the time and paperwork that online real estate listings can save, many people still prefer to have information sent to them, Bowen said.

“For the most part, it’s still a send-me-the-package business,” Bowen said.

Other benefits the Internet offers the industry is transaction-management software that better enable parties to keep updated on the progress of a deal and exchange documents through private, secured Web sites, Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb sees the time is coming relatively soon where commercial real estate’s view of the Internet will change from “’I don’t want to do this,’ to ‘Oh my, we have to do this.’”

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