As part of my job, I evaluate technology for a commercial real estate brokerage and its agents. Five years ago, there seemed to be so much potential. I looked forward to finally having apps that really worked for CRE.
Five years later, I’m bored. Besides seeing clone after clone of the same old thing, when I do see something that looks promising, there’s always a sticking point.
The apps may be new, but there are still the same old issues that keep me from making a commitment much less a recommendation. And I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.
On the outside chance that developers are taking note, here’s my list of gripes. Maybe you can do something about them. Maybe not. But until then, I’m sticking with non-CRE apps.
Pay Per User Pricing
CRE has the oddly unique practice of forcing brokerages to pay for users who don’t actually use their app. You can create a log in for anyone but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will come. This type of pricing keeps brokerages from purchasing apps they want to limit to a group – like just the marketing team – because they see no value in paying for every agent in the company when they don’t ever intend for them to use it.
What developers don’t seem to understand is that number of users is not a value metric especially when most of the users aren’t active. From a brokerage or user perspective, the value of your app is in how successfully it solves a problem or makes work easier.
Have some faith in your app. Let brokerages start by paying for those who will use the app. If it’s valuable, they’ll buy more.
Pricing Part 2
What’s with pricing by the square foot with no regard for the market? That 80,000 SF industrial building in small markets goes for a lot less than it does in major markets, so why do they have to pay the same price? Charging a cut of the commission doesn’t work too well either. Twenty percent of half a million might not hurt a Westchester agent, but an agent getting a third of that for a transaction of that size that happens once every few years will balk.
I guarantee you; a transaction in a smaller market rarely takes the time or eats the storage or bandwidth that one in a larger market will. And truth be told, there’s not much interest in these apps in smaller markets anyway. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
I suppose you can’t blame American developers for thinking a better standalone app or portal is the answer to everything. Unlike those from other countries, we’ve been chained to computers for decades with software designed on a filing cabinet model.
It wasn’t a problem when you were only switching between a few apps. But now there are apps all over the place – on computers, mobile devices and in the cloud. No one wants to have to log into yet another app or portal to get their work done.
Users are looking for a better way to bring order to all this stuff. Compartmentalization is out and integration is in. CRE developers need to read that memo.
Portals Part 2
If you look at most CRE apps, they seem to think a file cabinet in the sky with a task list is the best way to keep everyone in the loop. Organization is great but it’s a lousy way to communicate especially when you’re asking users to enter data, upload docs or record conversations that have been captured, created or transpired outside of the portal. It’s all so backwards…
Agents tell me life would be good if they could do everything from their email app or phone. Send emails or swipe call records to folders on a server, their own drive or to a CRM (though why CRM isn’t integrated with every email app is beyond me…). A mirror of every project on a tab or sidebar in their email app. An agent’s work mainly revolves around communication. Portals don’t.
It’s ironic that most CRE apps touted as being disruptive build their interfaces the same way as those they’re trying to displace. Explorer type lists on the right, some tabs at the top. Maybe that’s fine for a desktop app but the squashed mobile version is a nightmare.
On mobile, icons, cards and swiping work best. And with better touch screen technology and monitors on the rise, those will work on a desktop too. Why not think outside of more than one box?
The Data Entry Bottleneck
If your app requires that an agent has to enter data, don’t contact me, especially if you’re pricing per agent. If you don’t price per agent, I’ll consider it because I’d have trained data entry people doing that job. Agents have better things to do.
And don’t contact me if you don’t have a way to migrate data from disparate systems into yours. Don’t tell me we need to start from scratch. Don’t tell me it will all be “worth it.” You’re supposed to be solving problems – not making more. But it’s easier to make the agent or brokerage the bad guy instead of doing your homework. Because there are all sorts of digital capture technologies out there. There are lots of ways to migrate data if you bother to understand where it’s coming from. Read up on all that before you build your app.