The Future is Now
Alec Heffernan has been in the commercial real estate industry since 2011, and in the span of seven years, he’s already seen how much technology can affect the way we do business on a daily basis. “When I first started, technology was at the forefront of what we were doing back then, but even more so now,” Alec explains.
“The efficiency at which the real estate industry moves is largely driven by the quality of the IT, and the tech that we have access to.”
The pace at which technology has advanced over the past five to 10 years is remarkable, which is why Alec is the perfect person to discuss it with. He joined Canada ICI, and the commercial mortgage industry on the whole, just as a major technological revolution was changing the market landscape for the better. “When I first got started, if you wanted to find out what a property traded for, you’d have to pick up the phone and call someone that had some inside knowledge,” Alec recalls.
“Today, we can log onto various databases and in a matter of a few minutes, figure out what a property sold for, who it sold to, and who signed the sale document. The biggest change I’ve seen in the industry is definitely technology making things more streamlined and efficient.”
The influx of new technology into the commercial mortgage industry has increased even more in the last few years, as individual real estate firms have started investing seriously into their own IT structures. According to Alec, “in the last number of years, larger real estate companies are investing more and more heavily into both their internal IT, as well as subscription-based IT services.”
One surprising aspect of the new wave of commercial real estate tech has been how much different companies are willing to share data — at least for now. “We’re at a critical mass now where we have enough people feeding information into these systems — and more trust in them — that people are fairly freely sharing data,” he says. “There’s apps out there now that aggregate sales and lease information. They get that information from public sources, but then they actually have a whole call center set up to call brokers that are involved on that deal to ask, ‘I saw this property traded for $5 million, can you verify what the cap rate was? Can you tell me anything else about the sale? Was it motivated by future development?’”
Even as technology changes the way the industry operates, Alec is quick to point out that some aspects of commercial real estate will never change. “Real estate is such a personal business. I would say the lion’s share of work we do is with people that we know and like,” Alec explains. “Those relationships may start off in the boardroom, but they very quickly transition into much deeper relationships. The person you’re working on a deal with on a Tuesday afternoon is the same person you’re playing golf with on Thursday, who you may also bump into at a restaurant on Saturday night.” Clearly, these organic relationship-building opportunities are aspects of this industry that technology can’t easily replace or replicate.
Another human element of the commercial mortgage industry that automation has yet to threaten is the role of industry forums. These events are a great way to network and get new ideas, and they’re also a venue for Canada ICI to solidify their position at the top of the heap.
“It’s one thing to say that I’m from Canada ICI, but to say ‘I’m Alec from Canada ICI, and one of my peers is on the finance panel’ — those interactions build credibility. We have a lot of very intelligent, well-spoken people in this company that do the company proud when they’re on those panels.”
As ICI leads the Canadian commercial real estate industry into the future, they’ll do so with a combination of cutting-edge IT, tried-and-true personal relationships, and being on the forefront of industry thought — balancing both, technology and tradition.