The Art of Shaping the Story

CRE service providers and the current technology revolution.

When I bought and refinanced my home, I opted for a lender who provided an online experience, and it was pretty painless. It was clear to me during the process that the world of residential real estate has undergone a technological transformation, and I think most consumers have embraced that change or at least benefited from it whether they noticed or not (and maybe that is the best measure of an industry’s success at implementing technology).

Commercial real estate? We have some catching up to do. Why have we not embraced technology at the same pace as our residential peers? Well, like many things in life, it’s a numbers game. To oversimplify, our residential counterparts have large numbers in the amount of transactions and we tend to have large numbers in the dollar volume of transactions. Technology can do wonders for process and efficiency, and the residential world, with its long tail of high transaction volume, had more to gain from early investments in technology. Most in CRE believe that the personal touch of an old-fashioned phone call or in person lunch (pre-2020) carries with it a sort of cache. And I tend to agree, but technology is entering our industry at a rapid pace and it’s not replacing the old ways as much as allowing everyone to elevate their game (lenders and brokers included).

“No deal is the same, and every deal has a story. I work for a commercial mortgage brokerage, and our goal is to find the most efficient way to get a property’s (and borrower’s) story to the widest audience of lenders possible.”

There’s no doubt that CRE loans will never be as easily standardized as residential ones. I like to say that in the world of CRE the true value of a building really comes down to 3 things: what it costs to build, what the neighboring building sold for, and what the tenants are paying in rent. No deal is the same, and every deal has a story.

I work for a commercial mortgage brokerage, and our goal is to find the most efficient way to get a property’s (and borrower’s) story to the widest audience of lenders possible. Remember the pre-pandemic days when we all used to shop around for airfare to travel somewhere? You weren’t just looking for the cheapest price to fly. Based on departure dates/times, airlines and even airports, it’s likely that you decided on a flight based on more than just price. In our industry, there are a lot more variables than just destination and travel dates. A borrower may in fact be able to walk into a bank, advocate for their deal and get a loan quote, but a broker will give them a whole matrix of options with different features – the majority of which they wouldn’t have found on their own due to time constraints and access to capital providers.

Therefore, a broker’s job is to look at a loan and put it into a format that best tells its individual story. As we know, much of that work is done very manually today and involves pulling reports, formatting data, and constantly updating our analysis as new information arrives. Brokers also have to do the soft marketing, with analysts using design software to format everything into official presentations and loan packages. The point is, it’s very manual, and we’re often starting every story over each time with “once upon a time…” with a pen on a blank notepad.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s a great time for the commercial side of the real estate industry to embrace the technological advancements of the last few years. Many of us have pushed PowerPoint templates, Excel macros and PDFs to their limits, after all. But I’m not just looking for an automated process for creating nice looking presentations – it’s a lot more than that. Integrations with data partners through API’s and financial spreading through document recognition truly are game changers in my mind. When the info, like comps, market narratives, and property data can be gathered and entered via machine, the analysts can focus on analyzing that data and shaping it into a compelling narrative.

In other words, an analyst’s job can move from pulling reports, entering data and formatting documents to truly analyzing deals. When I was working as an analyst this would have been a game changer, and my productivity would have multiplied (not to mention my job satisfaction). I’m sure my team would have loved the gains in productivity, and I know our clients would have loved rapid turnaround times. When it comes to technology, I think everyone can be a winner.

Still, technology isn’t going to revolutionize the industry overnight. Not every client wants to use their phone to get a CRE loan while in their pajamas, but that’s ok – I believe some will. In the meantime, my team is embracing the latest advancements in a lot of ways, but we still prioritize a personal phone call when it comes to getting deals done. It’s just that we can make a lot more of those phone calls and tell the individual stories of a lot more deals when technology has given us so much time back.