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Making Commercial Real Estate A People Business Again With PropTech


PropTech continues to reshape how agents, landlords and investors manage, buy and sell commercial real estate. Major agencies have begun to incorporate the technology into how they monitor leasing campaigns and interact with clients.

Global brokerage firm Knight Frank and leading leasing and asset management technology provider VTS announced a partnership this past July, combining Knight Frank's decades of experience in the London market with VTS's powerful analytic software.

Bisnow sat down with Knight Frank Head of West End Agency Ian McCarter and VTS U.K. Managing Director Charlie Wade to talk about the role PropTech is playing in the industry. 

Bisnow: How are you seeing technology impact the industry?

McCarter: It’s a competitive world out there, and these platforms allow you to have more up-to-date, real-time information. Technology is giving clients real-time updates. People also expect an immediate response when they send an email. But the biggest advantage of VTS is putting all of our market information in one place, so we as a team can be far more analytical on the levels of activity in the market and specific assets. I can get a barometer on viewing levels, and see what the activity is like. Is it good or bad and is that related to any economic trends? It’s about the use of the information. It has always been there, but what this platform does is make it easier to interrogate it.

Wade: Ian is spot on, the industry already generates a huge amount of data, but in most cases, this data is siloed or difficult to access, and only becomes available to agents after days, weeks or some months have passed. This makes it impossible to analyse or use in a meaningful way. Technology is knocking down this barrier and not only is it making data easier to aggregate and share in real time but it is also presenting it to the agents in a more manageable way. This allows agents to act on information and trends faster, using that gut feel and experience, backed up by good data, to make strategic leasing decisions and provide quality advice to their clients.    

Bisnow: What was the leasing process like before integrating property technology?

McCarter: Let’s say there are 50 enquiries and we have 40 properties on our book. We are all probably speaking to the same person running the search. To me it just seemed crazy that 10 people on my team were all phoning the same person within five minutes of each other. Using technology is about creating time for people to generate work, create leads, speak to other people and focus on client care. 

Wade: Coming from the agency world myself, I experienced the inefficiencies that exist in the current process firsthand. In fact, this was one of the main reasons I believed the opportunity to join VTS and develop a solution for the industry was such a powerful one. I genuinely believe our technology will enable the smart players in the market to do their job more efficiently and enhance the existing relationship between landlord and agent.

Economic storm clouds over London?

Bisnow: What makes VTS appealing for Knight Frank?

McCarter: VTS has some wonderful analytical tools that we can use to help inform clients, rather than spending days and days cutting data that goes into an Excel spreadsheet, which takes time and clients often want this immediately. VTS allows us to do that easily, and the clients can do it themselves. Traditionally, most marketing campaigns meet every two weeks. With VTS, we still have a meeting every two weeks, but your client stays informed during that time period as to what is happening.  

Bisnow: How have you integrated VTS with Knight Frank’s existing database?

McCarter: We were looking at three different platforms, and it was the discussions with Charlie [Wade] where we talked about how the platform is fine now, but what happens in the future? It was their adaptability about letting us create an API, which means that all of the data being recorded with VTS will go easily into our research platform. VTS has only just come in and we have a number of years of data on our systems that is used to write about the market. What we couldn’t do was just drop our database and go solely to VTS. So what we have now is a system that allows information relevant to the researchers to be downloaded through VTS and onto our database, which allows the researchers to interpret more accurate information.

Wade: The goal is to make VTS the mobile-enabled front-end system of engagement and day-to-day leasing tool for the Knight Frank agency team. This will enable them to operate more efficiently and share real-time information between one another and their clients. We are excited to be able to connect to their existing database to ensure that we are complementing and enriching the preexisting wealth of data, which in turn can be leveraged by the wider Knight Frank business to provide clients with market-leading advice. 

London's South Bank

Bisnow: How is the role of the agent changing now that technology has impacted the industry?

McCarter: People hide behind emails and they hide behind technology. The beauty of the VTS platform is that we are recording all of the information and we are not wasting time making 25 different schedules. Rather than hiding behind the email, VTS as a platform is giving us information and analysis to be able to have more meaningful conversations with clients, agents and occupiers.

Wade: I would say that agents also need to realise that technology is not just impacting the leasing process, it's also becoming an expectation on the side of the occupier and across the landlords' wider business as well. I suspect the days of the 20-page interest schedule that you review every two weeks won't cut it for much longer. Everyone is now used to getting instant information, with the click of a button and via their smartphone. Why should accessing property information or details be any different? If a client asks you for a report, you can't say, "I'll get it to you in a week." They will expect it now. The forward-thinking agents are using this shift to their advantage and applying technology to really up the level of service they provide, aligning themselves to the client's wider business goals, enhancing their existing relationship and becoming a true partner to their clients. They’re sending that report when the urgent request comes through at 10 p.m. because they can generate it at the click of a button. 

Bisnow: How are VTS and Knight Frank working together to improve PropTech?

McCarter: We are very keen to make sure it is a partnership. We also accepted this as an American system that is being brought to the London real estate market. The market in London is heavily agent-led, whereas in the U.S. the clients are more in control. So VTS has been good at adapting their systems to be helpful to agents, which is helpful to the clients. We want to help develop the product with VTS.

Wade: From the outset of our talks with Ian and the team, it was clear that Knight Frank recognised the importance of technology, be it VTS or other software, to the growth of their business. This perspective and willingness to collaborate has made them an exceptional partner and gives us an immense opportunity to continue to develop products that really make life easier for their agents. We’re excited not just to have them on board as a client, but as a valuable contributor to the development process. As well as hiring people from the industry to join the VTS team, our partnership approach with the wider market is what differentiates us from other technology solutions.  

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