These Three Commercial Real Estate Tech Companies Are All About Connections

This week on the CRT Labs blog, Jacob Knabb from NAR’s Commercial division writes about some much-needed advancements in commercial real estate technology.

For years the commercial real estate sector has been allergic to technological advances. Data-sharing and easy access to listing information made no sense in a business where proprietary information, in-house data, and brokers who are hush-hush about who might be in their rolodex were the norm. This reputation for lagging behind the field is fast becoming obsolete, however, as commercial real estate has proven ripe for disruption. Over the past few years tech startups have been breaking into this market, changing the status quo and capitalizing on weaknesses in protocol and needlessly opaque communications between investors, brokers, and client reps. It’s suddenly fun to follow the commercial real estate tech market.

Floating Through Space by Ryan Tang

Today I want to look at three of the more exciting, noteworthy commercial real estate tech companies that have come onto my radar recently: VTS, WeWork, and CommissionTrac. The common theme for each of these products is a dynamic ability to leverage technology to speed up traditionally time-consuming, costly processes and to facilitate connections.

Let’s start with VTS, a platform Forbes touted for its ability to enable “real estate professionals [to] track deals and manage space in real-time, and collaboratively.” VTS is made for property managers, brokers, and tenant reps. This is what makes it revolutionary: VTS centralizes property portfolios, making them accessible to all of the key players in real time. “High quality, visual, actionable data gold,” as Duke Long called it in NAR’s magazine Commercial Connections earlier this year. Leasing data is delivered in an intuitive, visually pleasing display. Even for massive portfolios or team members spread around the globe.

WeWork excels because it can “[b]uild, acquire, and manage assets with technology” by streamlining construction, acquisition, and asset management. I attended a panel discussion on technologies serving the built environment at DisruptCRE in Chicago this May that featured Megan Dodds, WeWork’s Midwest director of community. Dodds was able to convey WeWork’s focus on maximizing square footage by creating shared office scenarios that are proving to be quite appealing to millennials eager for community and companies hungry for space to house their untethered workforce. In other words: they create killer office environments that hum along at maximum occupancy, generating strong ROI for investors. WeWork will be exhibiting in the Commercial Marketplace at NAR’s REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Chicago and I can’t wait to learn more about them in November.

I’m going to end this with a bang by taking a quick jaunt into bookkeeping technology. Almost lost you there, didn’t I? Most commercial practitioners detest this part of the job for a reason. It’s complicated to do and expansive to pay to have done. Atlanta-based ComissionTrac is disrupting accounting by providing a platform able to handle invoicing, deposits, commission distributions, and general ledger reports. You send them copies of all the paperwork, or your Quickbooks files, and they do all the heavy-lifting. You can run reports on any device from any location with a signal. CommissionTrac is customizable for agents, ‘back office,’ and principals and the full-service package is $9.99 a head (aka: affordable).

Commercial real estate pros love monitoring trends and here the lines are fairly straightforward: technology will only continue to blossom and grow. Baby Boomers are aging out of the workforce and notions of proprietary data and technology are becoming increasingly obsolete. With IoT establishing a firm foothold in commercial real estate, the next round of breakthroughs are likely to address security solutions. But for the time being connectivity is the word of the hour, and just like with other industries, the commercial real estate industry will thrive as it keeps that connectivity at the forefront of its technological advances.

Jacob S. Knabb is Commercial Communications & Member Services Associate for the National Association of REALTORS®. He works frequently with CRT Labs, keeping us informed of the latest and greatest in commercial real estate technology trends.

Smile for the Camera? Considerations for Using Surveillance Technology

Our next guest blogger is Jessica Edgerton, associate counsel at the National Association of REALTORS®. Following Lee Adkins’ post about voice assistant hubs, we wanted to share a look at the legality of having cameras and microphones in homes for sale.

Real estate agents and sellers sometimes use video recording devices to monitor open houses and walk-throughs. The motivations for surveillance are varied, and can be compelling. Video recording can offer an added layer of security for real estate agents conducting solo showings or open houses in remote areas. A prominently posted notice that security cameras are in place may act as a deterrent for physical attacks, theft, and vandalism. Some sellers and real estate agents may even use recordings to gain insight into a home’s marketability.

Canary Camera set up in CRT Labs

Canary Camera set up in CRT Labs

While surveillance technology can offer many benefits during the home-selling process, it is important to consider the possible legal implications. In general, individuals have the right to control legal activities within their own home. However, every state has privacy laws addressing the ways in which people may be permissibly recorded, and these laws vary widely. In addition, the laws governing audio surveillance versus video surveillance are not the same. It is therefore essential that homeowners and real estate professionals consult with an attorney prior to setting up any surveillance as part of a sales plan.

Video-Only Surveillance

Video surveillance is generally permissible in any situation where an individual does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Because it would be unreasonable to expect privacy while one is in public, the ubiquitous presence of video cameras on street corners, at banks, and in public transportation is entirely within the bounds of the law. Similarly, if a video camera records a prospective buyer walking into a home’s entryway with her real estate agent during an open house, she would have a difficult time claiming that she had had a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, if the buyer steps into a bathroom to use the facilities, she would almost certainly – and reasonably – expect privacy. Therefore, homeowners should avoid installing cameras in bathrooms, even if the homeowner’s intent in doing so is both reasonable and innocent – for example, as an effort to prevent the theft of prescription drugs. (Instead, sellers should always make sure that medicines, weapons, and valuables are securely locked up or taken off-site during showings.)

Audio Surveillance

With very limited exceptions, audio surveillance laws in every state require the consent of one or all parties to a recorded conversation. Know your state laws prior to utilizing any recording device that captures audio.

Ethical Considerations

In addition to legal considerations, sellers and real estate agents should consider the ethical and reputational implications of making surreptitious recordings. The following best practices can help avoid reputational debacles involving recording devices:

  • Provide Notice. Consider providing prior notice when recordings may be made during a showing. You can post the notice in the MLS or on the property, or send notification via email prior to showings and open houses. In addition, if any cameras have an audio recording function, be sure to disable the audio function or get all necessary consents pursuant to your state’s laws.
  • Keep Recordings To Yourself. Never publish or share any recording you make of other people without their consent. The only exception to this is if you happen to record possible criminal activity – in that case, you should discuss the incident with the police, and provide them with the recording upon their request.

A Note to Buyers’ Agents: Don’t Take Privacy For Granted

Buyers and their agents should keep in mind that nanny-cams, surveillance cameras, mobile phones, laptops, and tablets are all capable of recording video and, in many cases, audio. Prior to any walk-through or open house, buyers’ agents should consider advising their clients of the possibility of hidden recording devices. A good practice is to simply save all thoughts on a house until everyone is back on the sidewalk.

Jessica Edgerton is associate counsel at NAR. Her work includes extensive membership education and outreach. She is a regular speaker on the subjects of cyber fraud, cybersecurity, and legal risk mitigation for real estate professionals. She contributes to REALTOR® Magazine, AE Magazine, and RIS Media on a wide range of risk management topics.

Smart Home Compatibility FAQs (Part 2)

Today’s post is written by Lee Adkins, founder of Amplified Solutions, and continues with his series about Smart Home Tips for REALTORS® with information about setting up smart home devices, and for REALTORS® who encounter these devices when buying and selling homes.

Smart home devices are fun and trendy now, but this trend is here to stay. As a REALTOR®, you should have a basic familiarity with these devices, what they do and how that affects your clients and your clients’ transactions. The two devices here are generally what we would call voice assistant hubs. They are fully functional on their own, but also work with and to control other devices as well. There are a lot of similarities, but they do have differences in their speech patterns and tempos and their general compatibilities. Amazon Echo allows 3rd party developers to add “Skills” for Alexa (think Apps) and Google Home is actually a more of a closed system at this time (with developers creating apps, but having a more limited number at the moment). BOTH devices currently only can be connected to one account at a time – eventually, it would be great to see them be able to recognize the users voice and access their specific calendar, music and other accounts.

Pro Tips:

  • Both these devices record data when activated AND both show requests to the owner via an app. While it might be fun to play with someone else’s toys while in a home, be respectful and be careful what you or your clients say
  • On a similar note, cameras and microphones, in general, are cheaper and easier to set up than ever before. Be mindful when showing homes (ed. note: more about that below).
  • CRT Labs has recently published Smart Home Simplified guides to help you learn more about possible smart home devices and what makes each type unique.

 

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

What does it do?
The Amazon Echo is a voice controlled “hub” that can answer questions, tell you about your day/schedule. It can also control a number of devices by other manufacturers.

What is needed to run it?
AC (wall) power, wi-fi network and app on your phone for setup.

Can you “relocate” it?
YES! It is completely mobile and generally wouldn’t be included in a home purchase/sale, but would remain with owner unless documented otherwise.

Difficulty of set up:
The Amazon Echo is very easy to set up. It will basically walks you through a wizard on the app when you first plug it in.

Cost:
Currently $179 on Amazon with free 2-day shipping for Prime members.

General uses and compatibility tips:

  • Personally, I use mine for a fun fact in the mornings (just say, “Alexa, Good morning”) and then ask about the weather, in my city or wherever I’m traveling to
  • Scheduling or just getting a “daily briefing” on your calendar
  • Answers to general questions
  • Using the grocery/shopping list feature
  • Using the timer or other hands-free options while cooking or otherwise involved in something else.Playing music via Amazon Prime (commercial free, your playlists, etc)

Here is a complete list of devices that are compatible with Amazon Echo.

Google Home

What does it do?
Google Home is a voice controlled “hub” that can answer questions, tell you about your day/schedule. It of course works very well with the data you already have in your google account. It can also control a number of devices by other manufacturers.

What is needed to run it?
AC (wall) power, wi-fi network and app on your phone for setup.

Can you “relocate” it?
YES! It is completely mobile and generally wouldn’t be included in a home purchase/sale, but would remain with owner unless documented otherwise.

Difficulty of set up:
Very Easy – Google Home will walk you through a wizard on the app when you first plug it in.

Cost:
Currently $129 in the Google store and available at several major retailers.

General uses and compatibility tips:

  • Reviewing or adding items to your Calendar (obviously, connected to your Google account)
  • Answers to general questions, powered by Google
  • Basically searching Google – local restaurants, traffic, etc.
  • Play songs from Google Play or Spotify account (even filter explicit songs)
  • It of course works well with Chromecast and YouTube as well as Nest products (since they are all also owned by Google)
  • Play podcasts (a little better than Echo for this)
  • It also has a shopping list feature

Additional Thoughts:
Google Home isn’t currently compatible fully with G Suite (paid Google account, previously known as Google Apps for Business) – Calendar, Google Payments and Uber features currently don’t work with G Suite accounts, but do work with free Gmail accounts. The easiest remedy would be to connect to a free Google account, which might be better if you don’t own the G suite organization you are connecting anyway. However, there’s an extra step if you are the super admin to allow your G Suite account to work – that info is can be found here

Here is a complete list of devices that are compatible with Google Home.

Adrienne from CRT Labs here! I wanted to add some information to Lee’s post about homes that are for sale and have a voice hub inside them. The Amazon Echo and Google Home both are always listening, and thus capable of easy recording – they are programmed to function so that when a “wake word” is spoken, the device will be active, but the device is always passively listening for their specific wake words. If you and your clients are uncomfortable having a recording device on, please speak with the listing agent of the home about turning these devices off when the home is being shown. This is very simple on both devices – the Echo has a button on top, and the Google Home on the side, for turning off the microphone, and both devices have visual feedback to confirm that the microphones are indeed off. NAR’s Jessica Edgerton has written a blog post for us, coming later this week, about security devices such as cameras in homes for sale, and goes into depth on the legal aspects of them; we will link to that blog post when it’s live, as it will cover some of the same issues microphones have.

Lee Adkins is the Founder of Amplified Solutions – a consulting company focused on operational excellence for real estate teams and brokerages. He has served in many leadership and committee roles at the State and Local Associations and is currently a Vice President at the Atlanta REALTORS Association. He frequently teaches and speaks at various conferences around the country. Visit www.PoweringRealEstate.com to learn more or find free resources, tools and suggested reading list.

Smart Home Compatibility FAQs (Part 1)

Today’s post is written by Lee Adkins, founder of Amplified Solutions, continues with his series about Smart Home Tips for REALTORS® with information about setting up smart home devices, and for REALTORS® who encounter these devices when buying and selling homes.

Smart home devices are fun and trendy now, but this trend is here to stay. As a REALTOR®, you should have a basic familiarity with these devices, what they do and how that affects your clients and your clients’ transactions. These devices not only offer convenience for a home, but they also provide safety, security and data that can help us conserve energy use.

Pro Tips:
• Be sure it’s clear – in writing – if (and which) devices are included in the sale of the home.
• Be sure that all devices included in the sale are reset or wiped of any personal data – including the previous owner’s ability to control or monitor the devices. For more info, check out this handy Smart Home Checklist for resetting devices.
• CRT Labs has recently published Smart Home Simplified guides to help you learn more about possible smart home devices and what makes each type unique.

Nest Thermostat

What does it do?
Controls the temperature of your home – automatically or based on when you are home or come and go or on energy usage. Also provides historical energy usage data and compares to other users (anonymously of course) and even the local weather.

What is needed to run it?
The Nest thermostat communicates with your phone and the Nest servers via your wi-fi, so having a wi-fi connection is generally the only requirement beyond HVAC system compatibility.

Can you “relocate” it?
Yes. There is fairly nominal work to remove the thermostat if you are moving. Just be sure to keep the “old” thermostat if this is a possibility so you have something to replace it with. Generally speaking, there is no modification to the wall area around the thermostat needed.

Difficulty of set up:
The Nest thermostat is pretty easy to install – it basically walks you through setup once powered up. Everything you need is in the box including a wall plate in case your older thermostat is larger and you need to cover up an unpainted area or larger holes visible beyond the size of the Nest thermostat. I would highly recommend using this wall plate you are installing it knowing you will move it later.

Cost:
$250 one time for the 3rd generation (newest) model

General compatibility tips:
Nest in generally compatible with most modern HVAC systems. Full compatibility information at: https://nest.com/support/article/How-do-I-know-if-my-heating-and-cooling-system-works-with-Nest (click the link towards the bottom for an easy guide specific to your system)

Nest Protect Smoke and CO2 detector

What does it do?
Alerts you to smoke or carbon monoxide in the home or area you put it in – even remotely via your phone if you are not present at the time.

What is needed to run it?
The Nest Protect communicates with your phone and the Nest servers via your wi-fi, so having a wi-fi connection is generally the only requirement.

Can you “relocate” it?
Yes, relocation is very easy – please be sure to comply with local laws and fire code when removing any type of smoke or carbon monoxide detectors

Difficulty of set up:
Very simple to install – essentially replaces your old smoke detector, including hooking up via the backplate.

Cost:
$99 for the latest model

General compatibility tips:
The Nest Protect can be used by itself and is also compatible with a number of other devices and all other Nest products. Comes in both wired and battery varieties, so make sure you pick up the right one for your needs!

 

SmartThings System

What does it do?
Controls lights and plugs in your home, monitor doors and/or windows, monitor temperature and/or moisture.

What is needed to run it?
A wi-fi network and a device to run the app on (iOS or Android).

Can you “relocate” it?
Yes, pretty easily. For the most part, the system is not permanently installed. A double-sided tape is used for the door/window sensors that is pretty easy to remove or relocate those devices. Many of the rest of the devices are not permanently installed at all – such as outlet switches that just plug into outlets, then devices plug into them.

Difficulty of set up:
A kit is very easy to set up and the app will help walk you through the process of connecting and installing each component.

Cost:
Basic kits start at $199. A hub ($99 for most recent model) is needed to control the devices, which can be purchased separately. A starter kit is highly recommended for cost effectiveness and to understand the full ability of a system.

General compatibility tips:
SmartThings runs on Z-Wave technology which makes it compatible with any other Z-wave devices. There are no specific compatibility requirements for the home.

TP-link smart plugs and switches

What does it do?
TP Smart Plugs can control outlets in your home via an app. You can set a timer that runs consistently, check the status of an outlet (is it off or on) and turn any item plugged into them off or on from anywhere in the world.

What is needed to run it?
Wi-fi and a device to run the app (iOS or Android)

Can you “relocate” it?
Yes! Just unplug and take with you – nominal setup if your wi-fi network changes names or settings.

Difficulty of set up:
Just plug back in (possibly rename outlets in app) and go!

Cost:
Currently selling around $25-35 for a single plug and a 4-pack for $120

General compatibility tips:
Fully compatible with any setup – very simple to use and setup (also works great with Amazon Echo, but works as standalone device)

Lee Adkins is the Founder of Amplified Solutions – a consulting company focused on operational excellence for real estate teams and brokerages. He has served in many leadership and committee roles at the State and Local Associations and is currently a Vice President at the Atlanta REALTORS Association. He frequently teaches and speaks at various conferences around the country. Visit www.AmplifiedSolutions.co to learn more or find free resources, tools and suggested reading list.

How to be Smarter than the Homes You Sell

Today’s post is the first of many written by guest bloggers for CRT Labs. We’re working with industry insiders all the time, so we are teaming up to give readers first-hand information on how technology is shaping real estate. First up is Lee Adkins, founder of Amplified Solutions

Smart home technology is a relatively new industry, but it’s impact on real estate is here to stay. It is more important than ever that as a Realtor you understand the basics of this technology and how it will impact our industry and daily lives.

Here are my top 5 points to help you better understand smart home technology.

1) Control the temperature and environment of the home
This is probably what most people think of first when you mention a smart home; Devices can adjust lights, outlets, other devices and temperature either on a schedule or by certain criteria you can set. This can both save energy and provide convenience and even measure air quality. These devices can also provide historical data to help you save money by providing information such as peak times of energy use or totally monthly energy consumption.
Common devices: Nest thermostat, SmartThings, TP-link smart plugs and switches, Belkin WeMo devices, Philips Hue devices
(Some utility companies offer discounts for various devices that help save on energy usage, check specifics of your areas and wow your clients!)

2) Provide safety (alarms, lights on while gone or when returning)
In addition to energy monitoring and efficiency, there are many safety features of smart home technology. One of the easiest and more affordable complete systems is the SmartThings system. SmartThings offers a few packages to get you started – no special installation needed and no monthly fees, and the system works with many other devices from other companies. You can control exterior lights for safety – on a schedule (that can even change automatically with the seasons), manually or when a certain event happens, such as you return home after dark. The systems also has separate “modes” so that you can create an out of town mode where a different set of rules happen – such as an interior light on or to alert you if a door opens or a certain high or low temperature occurs. Nest also offers a camera and smoke alarm/CO2 alarm that work together with thermostat as a good system.
Common devices: SmartThings, Nest

3) Provide convenience, voice activated answers and commands
The Amazon Echo (Alexa) is probably the most common and comprehensive device in this space. This is largely because it has been around longer and they have allowed outside developers to create “skills” that you can add to the Echo. Amazon has also released the Echo Dot, which is just a smaller and less expensive version, with a less powerful speaker – designed to be connected to another speaker or sound device, but sufficient to operate without an extra speaker. Google Home is a newer player here, but basically like searching Google with your voice. Google also owns Nest, so it plays nicely with all the Nest devices as well. Voice Activation is here to stay. You can set a timer while cooking something, ask for conversions or even just how many days until a certain date. You can of course also order items from Amazon via the Echo. You can ask, “What time is the Falcons game?” or “What channel are the Grammys on?” or “What time is it in Australia?” or whatever you want to know – or ask Alexa to tell you a joke…
Common devices: Amazon Echo, Google Home, Siri, Apple Home App

4) Help the family communicate and work together towards a happy home
This is something I think we’ll see more adoption of soon. It’s easy to have each family member set up with their phone as a “presence” sensor which allows the devices (and or other family members) to know if someone is home or when they came and went. Great for teenagers or young drivers and certainly there are convenience components to this – like keeping the air or heat at a certain level if everyone is gone all day, but having it turn back on when someone arrives home or at a specific, consistent time each day. You can also have lights turn on automatically if someone comes home after dark. I’m sure you’ll soon be able to easily leave voice memos for family remembers that can be played or updated as people arrive home or even play a video message on a TV or phone.

5) Be aware of privacy issues – devices watching, listening, recording
Certainly there are viable concerns that these devices are always watching, listening and possibly recording. It’s known that many of these do record commands and send to the manufacturers for improvement. Adding cameras and/or microphones to a home is easier and cheaper than ever before. I have heard several stories already of home sellers hearing conversations by potential buyers about levels of interest in the home or “we’re making an offer ASAP” which is something to be cautious of as well – if only just from a negotiation standpoint. 

On a recent trip to NAR in Chicago, I got to visit CRT Labs and learned that the Amazon Echo (Alexa) was likely the device most likely to “play nice” with the majority of the popular devices and platforms. I have played a bit with Google Home as well and it works well too with some devices, especially Nest which is owned by Google. The Amazon Echo (with a Prime membership) has an astonishing amount of free (and commercial free!) music and shows and movies that push it over the top for me at this time. Samsung purchased SmartThings in 2014 and I’m sure they have big plans to integrate with their existing product lines. Think that your phone will remind you to pick up a new water filter for your Samsung refrigerator next time you’re at a place that sells them or a reminder that the lightbulb inside has 5% left, or a smart TV that reminds you that you have laundry still in the washing machine.

If you wanted to get started, I would recommend a SmartThings system (easy to install and relatively inexpensive) and an Amazon Echo as an add on to that. A Nest thermostat is another good layer and all three of these devices can work together pretty well with no special technological knowledge.There is no one right way and more of these devices seems to be working together in the Internet of Things. I would encourage you to venture into it – it’s a pretty cool place…

Lee Adkins is the Founder of Amplified Solutions – a consulting company focused on operational excellence for real estate teams and brokerages. He has served in many leadership and committee roles at the State and Local Associations and is currently a Vice President at the Atlanta REALTORS Association. He frequently teaches and speaks at various conferences around the country. Visit www.AmplifiedSolutions.co to learn more or find free resources, tools and suggested reading list.