Emerging tech and CRE: AI in CRE

AI in CRE: Beyond smart, and towards intelligence

Digital transformation as a concept incorporates advances in technology and how these are integrating into and changing all aspects of our work and personal lives. With commercial real estate (CRE), digital is truly transformational and CRE professionals and companies are grappling with the myriad ways that it is upending established processes.

This is the thinking behind a series of themed blogs, looking at the emerging technologies that have a bearing property specifically – right from construction all the way to property management. This is the second blog in the series and will delve into artificial intelligence (AI) in the context of CRE.

Understanding “intelligence”

AI is essentially machines and computer systems simulating “thinking” – not just recording and storing information, but analyzing that info and responding to it. This is built on a base of machine learning too, in which machines are “taught” what to search for and what kind of responses are required.

A practical example is a machine that is “taught” to recognize an object using a (large) database of photos. Another common type is a chatbot, a little piece of software – that has “learned” to recognize what is being asked, and has a system for deciding what info to provide in response. Siri is AI-powered too. There are plenty of other examples and nuances, but those are typical examples that most people have encountered.

Smart or intelligent?

For context, in the first blog in this series, we introduced the idea of “smart things” or the Internet of Things (IoT). A boiler that can be controlled remotely is “smart”. If that system dynamically controls itself, however, and produces insights into energy consumption correlated with use and weather patterns, then it’s crossed into AI territory.

According to Analytics Insight, AI has even been used to independently transact. Specifically, a “soon to market” algorithm that analyzed “large sums of data that included potential economic value, KPIs, property characteristics, and risk factors” selected and completed a property transaction, purchasing two buildings for $26 million.


Customer relationship management (CRM) and sales

The chatbot example mentioned above is one way in which AI can be used to manage and nurture your relationships with existing and potential clients. With both residential and commercial letting, a chatbot is a great early engagement tool as it can answer simple questions and even make appointments for viewings or meetings.

Not all chatbots are created equally, some simply are more capable than others, so be sure you understand what you’re buying before signing on the dotted line for implementation.

In the same vein, not all CRM packages have AI built into them, but as companies glean and store more customer info through their engagement with people, AI tools in CRM are expected to be more affordable and more mainstream. This includes things like lead qualification, credit memo creation, and sentiment analysis, where the system isn’t just capturing information but transforming it into useful and actionable insights.

Crunching numbers

It is precisely this – insight – where we see AI really shine, and why so many companies are investing in forms of AI on-premises and via the cloud. For example, AI tools can turn mounds of data into performance analytics for your properties. Combined with market conditions data, this can go from deep understanding to far foresight, through predictive analytics.

Furthermore, it is this kind of insight that many believe is needed, firstly to bolster post-pandemic recovery, but also to take CRE to the next level as a sector.


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Adaptive reuse is CRE’s sustainable darling

Your new build might pack the best-of-breed technologies and energy solutions – but did you know that it would take roughly 65 years for an energy-efficient new development (with as much as 40% recycled input materials) to save or recover the equivalent energy lost through demolishing? This is according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency

Viewed through that lens, our approach to green buildings and energy efficiency may need a serious rethink. There is another approach to take, of course, and that is adaptive reuse. A strategy that although not strictly new, is quickly becoming a conversation starter and “darling” of sustainable commercial real estate (CRE) circles.

On-site savings

Adaptive reuse is not just about redesigning or redeveloping, it can be viewed as breathing new life into buildings, updating their use case as much as their construction, and a smart green step to take. They can also be beautiful, and  simply “cool” – as this article in Architectural Digest details in its review on Cool Is Everywhere: New and Adaptive Design Across America, by photographer Michel Arnaud.

Starting green

With adaptive reuse, developers and architects are starting on a green foot – using an existing building shell, rather than having to construct right from scratch. That means less material use, often less waste, and can reduce the number of shipments of materials needed, which contributes significantly to a building’s carbon footprint.

Use cases

Adaptive reuse can also contribute to a neighborhood – in feel and in service provision – and is a popular way of making space for more offices and workplaces in an area with a declining manufacturing industry, or unlocking dining and entertainment offerings as the demographics in a neighborhood change. Urban Stack, for example, is the oldest standing building in Chattanooga. It was previously the Southern Railway Baggage Depot.

The old drill hall in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, is another such example. The local press describes it as “a building without a purpose – at least not a contemporary one”, in this report on the City’s plans to repurpose the building which has stood empty for over a decade.

And on campuses, like that of Boston University, adaptive reuse enables a strategy of densification and reuse, rather than trying to expand in this already bustling and developed city.

Inspiration here

Seeking inspiration? This list of 20 creative adaptive reuse projects from around the world is a great showcase of the possibilities this tactic can unlock.

‘I’m Alright’

Alec J. Pacella for July 2021 Properties Magazine

A standout memory of my youth was going to the movie theater to see “Caddyshack.” While I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes right now, others are smirking as you picture Judge Smails and the gang. The movie was one of the hits of 1980, grossing $40 million. Seeking to capitalize on this success, “Caddyshack II” was released a few years later. My memory of that was much different. To read the fully article, click here http://digital.propertiesmag.com/publication/?m=15890&i=714009&p=46&ver=html5

Green down under: Sydney’s ambitious eco targets

Australia is certainly feeling the effects of the global climate crisis in recent years. The sensitive and beautiful ecosystem enjoyed by the “Aussies” has been ravaged by heat waves and wildfires and drowned in record-breaking floods – not to mention the tragedy that is the widespread bleaching of corals on the Great Barrier Reef, the result of rising ocean temperatures.

Perhaps this is why Australians are getting serious about cracking down on common pollutants and regulating the ecological impact of the industry. The latest news in this regard is the tough energy standards introduced by the City of Sydney (the government of Australia’s most populous city), and support for these coming from the leading property companies in the region.

Zero net emissions

Commercial Real Estate Australia published an article in late May 2021 detailing how the commercial real estate (CRE) and property leaders in the city have come out in support of the tough new energy standards that will apply to all development applications – from as early as the start of 2023. Specifically, the City[MOU1]  is targeting zero net emissions for the entire local government area by 2035.

The report reads: “For the first time, City of Sydney is proposing that DAs to build or redevelop hotels and shopping centers must achieve a minimum National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) environmental rating, in this case, four stars. It also wants to increase the existing NABERS rating for office buildings from five stars to 5.5 stars by the start of 2023.”

Sydney Mayor Clover Moore says this makes economic sense, as well as environmental, and will help “save more than $ 1.3 billion on energy bills for investors, businesses and occupants between 2023 and 2040”.

Lead by the people

What’s particularly interesting about this, and other eco-friendly news emanating from Down Under, is that these gains appear to be driven at a regional and personal level, more than from the incumbent government which has been described as “one of the most climate-skeptical political groups in the developed world”.

For example, green energy is a big talking point in residential and commercial real estate (CRE) spheres, with considerable demand from consumers. One in four Australian homes now have rooftop solar energy supplies, says Recharge News. Clean energy is now almost a third of the power mix in the country.

Demand-side driven

The real estate industry is considered a thought leader in this space in Australia and has been recognized by bodies like the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), in which they have topped the charts for a decade.

Australia’s Green Building Council calls GRESB “the global benchmark for environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance of real assets, defining and measuring standards for sustainability performance”, explaining that this assessment metric includes not just property, but also real estate investment trusts (REITs), funds, and developers – representing assets in excess of AUD $6 trillion.

Australian companies are also prominent in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index – another indicator, perhaps, of how the [professional and personal] tail can wag [government] dog in pursuing greener CRE.


Pants on Fire

by Alec Pacella for February 2021, Properties Magazine, Financial Strategies

The 2020 election will long be remembered for a host of reasons. If you can put aside all of the noise and focus specifically on the numbers, an interesting thing occurred. The Republican candidate garnered over 72 million votes, which is the most votes ever cast in the history of the U.S. election. Except, of course, for the Democratic candidate in this year’s election, who garnered over 81 million votes.

Click here for the full article.