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Developers Say Fancy PropTech May Be Missing The Point

Be careful chasing the fanciest app or newest technology when catering to the commercial real estate industry, because to the average professional, it is still about what it will do for the customer.

Cortland Partners Chief Experience Officer Mike Gomes

“It's not the flashiest, newest smart home technology that's cool,” Cortland Partners Chief Experience Officer Mike Gomes said. “We're not seeing a lot of pounding of our residents on the doors wanting something more. They just want to make sure the basics are met.”

Those basics are pretty straightforward and universal: safety, security and reliable connectivity.

Gomes, who Cortland hired earlier this year away from an executive role with AMB Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, is in charge of the apartment investor's customer experiences at its properties, a role that focuses on everything from marketing and communications to interior design and architecture.

Gomes spoke on a panel of technology and venture capital executives at Bisnow's Future of Development & UrbanTech event at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta Wednesday morning, where speakers speculated on what technologies were primed to transform the commercial real estate industry.

North American Properties Vice President Liz Gillespie, Georgia Power Executive Vice President Pedro Cherry and Shadow Ventures founder K.P. Reddy

North American Properties Vice President Liz Gillespie said app developers and other tech companies are continuously approaching her about the latest and greatest tech gizmo that could be rolled out in the firm's properties. Many of those firms fail to show if that technology makes any practical sense in the day-to-day operations of commercial real estate, she said.

“I spend a lot of time throwing something back to an app developer and say, 'Have you actually shared this with a building owner?' Most of the time they haven't, so it's untested,” she said. “Just because it's new and flashy doesn't mean it works.”

As building owners create public gathering spaces and nap rooms in office towers, or pool halls and bars in apartment lobbies, Zinwave CEO Scott Willis warned that even commercial property landlords may be failing to acknowledge a more fundamental need among tenants: Their cellphones better work in the building.

“We're mowing down half our lobby and we're creating a meeting place, but when I go up to my floor, my phone doesn't work,” Willis said, adding that landlords need to focus on the basic infrastructure that includes connectivity.

Willis echoed a recent comment made by Gables Residential Chief Operating Officer Cris Sullivan at another Bisnow event, about connectivity being the key to the success of an apartment project, beyond all the other amenities.

“When people come into leasing offices, what [do] they care most about? They're walking around with their cellphones to see if they get a signal,” Sullivan said.

CPROP co-founder Sandy Selman

Gomes said this is the same attitude seen among Cortland's apartment renters.

“You will move out if, at the end of the day, you say, 'I can't stay connected in my home,'” he said.

Real estate companies and landlords are really focused on what to do with all the data they have gathered and landlords are trying to figure out what to do with all the data they have gathered and how best to turn it into things people want. That may be the next big evolution with CRE tech, CPROP co-founder Sandy Selman said.

“Data is the key that is really going to be the mover to impact business models of legacy industries” such as insurance companies, lenders and title companies, Selman said.