A Turn To Digital Streaming

August 1, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Brian Silvernail, the principal of Grand Rapids Real Estate, has been a residential and commercial real estate agent and developer for about 15 years now.

But this year something different has galvanized his business interest.

Silvernail told the Business Journal his historic personal interest has been residential development on the south side of town as indicated by the name of his first firm, Byron Center Real Estate.

But though the residential end of the business was his primary interest, his modus operandi usually has been to deal with vacant tracts that happen to adjoin major emerging public improvements, such as, say, the South Beltline.

In fact, he said he and his staff early this year did a five-year survey of residential building permits in municipalities adjoining the beltline’s route and were surprised to find that close to 10,000 homes have been built in those environs.

As far as he’s concerned, this makes the M-6 area the focus of growth in metro Grand Rapids for some time to come.

He said the pace of residential development has generated opportunities, too, in industrial and commercial development. That’s why he currently is promoting an industrial-commercial center near Dorr off U.S. 131, and why he is still known informally by an unofficial title the Business Journal gave him three years ago: “King of the (Dorr commercial) Corridor.”

But that’s all background.

Silvernail said his interest in communications — through his church he became a self-trained video and TV crew — has caused him to stumble upon something almost surreal that is creating a new and practical niche in the real estate industry.

Basically, he says he has found a way — thanks to his firm’s proprietary I-CAST software mated to enhanced satellite photography — to put immense amounts of data into easy-to-visualize packages.

And it’s Silvernail’s notion, rather than giving a verbal pitch and lots of paperwork about Parcel A to Client B, to shorten and greatly simplify the distance between buyers and sellers by becoming the industry’s local digital nervous system. 

Silvernail said he put the nervous system — a term coined by a Microsoft executive — to the test in May at the spring convention of the International Counsel of Shopping Centers in Las Vegas.

While other participants in the convention had big, expensive booths, he represented his firm simply by strolling around showing material on his laptop screen and handing out DVD’s crammed with information.

“We were the small fish in a sea of industry giants,” he said. “But it didn’t matter.

“Grand Rapids has what they wanted,” he said, “and we packaged it in a fashion that piqued their interest, for now or two to three years down the road.” 

He said he presented West Michigan’s hottest real estate properties in an easily digestible form that the big retail players wanted to know about.

“To make a sizable impact on our target prospects,” he said, “we used our digital edge to entice them.”

The digital edge, as he terms it, was cutting edge three years ago: 360-degree views of property and high definition satellite photography together with topographic enhancement.

Silvernail said he offers those items — and a few other bells and whistles.

Instead of handing out property specification leaflets with bad Polaroid photos, his software offers a three-tier series concerning each property.

The site furnishes standard data regarding size, location, price, amenities and the like.

Then, with a mouse click, one can undertake: a virtual drive-by viewing (the digital equivalent of the Polaroid shot); a virtual showing (with 360-degree view and overhead view), and, if still interested, a virtual meeting (containing the preceding material plus a spoken narrative).

But beyond that, the software potentially can provide the seller not just with the number of “hits,” but the identity of prospectors and a strong indication of the prospects’ interest levels.

“That’s what I mean about ‘nervous system,’” he said. “When someone makes a contact, you get feedback. It registers with you not just as a hit, but information about who makes the hit comes back to you.”

It makes sense to him, he said. “The trouble with sales of all kinds,” he said, “is that there’s so much that keeps buyer and seller apart. What this does is make it possible for them to discover each other very quickly.”

He contrasts the digital nervous system with the one-way form of contact known as the traditional advertisement.

“You put it out there,” he said. “And you just don’t know how many people are looking at it or whether it’s registering at all. Likewise when you hand out DVDs.”

The appealing thing about providing the industry with a digital nervous system, he said, is that if it works, he won’t ever have to engage in the rough and tumble part of the business again.

“You just do the research — you show them that this parcel lies within 10 minutes of X thousand homes, 15 minutes of Y thousand, near the highway, handy to the airport and so on — you compile the data and put it out there on the Net.

“That way somebody else can worry about all the due diligence and permitting, and the public hearings and the presentations. Then at the close, you collect a 2 percent fee, and that doesn’t bother anybody because you’ve simplified the process and taken a lot of research off their hands.”           

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