Real Estate Discovers CRM, Part 2: Trying Out the Tools

Part 1 of this two-part series examined the real estate industry’s emerging adoption of CRM tools, thanks largely to the newfound popularity of on-demand applications.

As more buyers and sellers look to the Web and as other parties in the real estate value chain move to Web-enabled business software platforms, the real estate industry has begun to embrace CRM as a sales tool. While enterprise-level leaders such as Oracle and SAP don’t have specific CRM offerings for real estate agents, they do offer real estate management tools for their clientele.

Meanwhile, development and growing use of Software as a Service (SaaS) CRM solutions is beginning to change the competitive landscape, and the way real estate agencies manage their sales and work forces.

Leading-edge CRM IT providers such as Salesforce.com are using SaaS — along with CRM applications developed by industry partners and offered via its AppExchange — to offer real estate industry professionals fully featured application services customized for their use that cost less upfront and carry subscription fees that scale according to usage.

Building CRM for the RE Industry

Regardless of size, industry or geography, Salesforce.com’s flagship Salesforce CRM application service enables organizations to manage and share vital customer information, and provides a complete view of customer records and real-time measures of organizational performance, Al Falcione, the company’s senior director of product marketing, told CRM Buyer.

“Real estate agents on both sides of the residential and commercial spectrum are on the lookout for applications that improve business and mobile operations, including managing referrals, listings, property and brokers. Real-time access and analysis of information for improved customer retention is critical in this customer service-based field,” he commented.

Real estate industry professionals can customize Salesforce CRM to meet their particular needs and business requirements, Falcione said.

“Force.com provides the building blocks necessary to build any kind of business app, simple or sophisticated, and automatically deploy them as a service to small teams or an entire enterprise,” Falcione elaborated. “Force.com gives customers the power to run multiple applications within the same Salesforce instance, allowing all of a company’s Salesforce applications to share a common security model, data model and user interface.”

A New Landscape

Web 2.0 technology is finding its way into Salesforce’s CRM platform. “In this age, the ability to collaborate in real-time and share information from any location and device is essential. Salesforce delivers Web 2.0 capabilities in its products to help agents and customers connect, share information and find information more quickly over the Internet using such capabilities as tagging, subscriptions, and rate and discuss relevant information in their community,” Falcione explained.

“Real-time insight into key deals, agency activity, as well as opportunities to build their pipelines is the lifeblood of [real estate agents’] business. Web-based technologies such as SaaS can improve their business and ultimately give them an advantage over their competitors because of the low cost, flexibility and ease of use of SaaS solutions versus traditional enterprise software,” he continued.

Little Lost in Translation

The company’s Force.com development toolkit also enables Salesforce.com’s partners to build industry-specific applications and solutions that benefit from being fully integrated with the Salesforce CRM platform.

For instance, “Saaspoint, MyLoanBiz and Contenium provide solutions specifically targeted to the needs of the real estate industry on Salesforce.com’s AppExchange marketplace, an online directory of more than 800 SaaS applications built by Salesforce.com and their ecosystem of customers and partners,” Falcione noted.

Another big advantage of using Force.com is its simplicity, said MyLoanBiz CEO George Kenessey. Kenessey and MyLoanBiz got on board the Salesforce.com wagon early, being one of the first three companies to partner with Salesforce.com to build customized CRM applications for the AppExchange.

“Salesforce has been a great company to partner with. A lot of [the application development work] I was able to do as a business user. We have two developers who mostly focused on the integration aspects. That’s what I think people will really appreciate about our application — there’s no loss in translation from the business to IT sides,” Kenessey said.

Managing Corporate Real Estate

While SAP has thus far shied away from developing a CRM platform for real estate agencies, it is leveraging its core expertise in providing integrated business software systems to large corporations and other large organizations.

Real estate is the largest asset, and second-largest expense, for many corporations, and things haven’t been getting any simpler, or easier, for those managing corporate real estate portfolios and seeing to facilities development and life cycle management needs, pointed out Julia Unser, solution principal for real estate management and business development, at SAP Deutschland.

“Ongoing economic globalization, stronger competition and an increase in mergers and acquisitions have increased the challenges of real estate and facilities life-cycle management,” she told CRM Buyer.

The SAP Real Estate Management application provides comprehensive support for real property development, construction, operation and deployment. Its broadly defined core business processes and software functions comprise portfolio management, commercial real estate management, corporate real estate management, facilities management and support processes to streamline workflow and gain greater control of records, documents and business data. Built on SAP’s NetWeaver platform, the application integrates seamlessly with the wide range of business software applications SAP offers, Unser explained.

Property Management for Everyday People

While SAP is busy helping large corporations manage their properties and facilities, entrepreneurial software system developers are working away on other facets of the real estate market.

With its Rentomatic and Rentometer Web services, Investment Instruments is appealing directly to investment property owners who have had a hard time finding cost-effective, manageable ways to find tenants and manage rental properties.

The former is an online rental property management service that both property owners and tenants can use to search for and rent properties, as well as make, record, track and organize all the associated invoices, documents and financial data and transactions through time. Complementary to this, Rent-o-meter provides comparative, locally specific information on rental properties and rents.

Survey Says …

Back in May, Investment Instruments released the results of a survey it conducted that suggests that the property rental market is ripe for a change. Through its Rentometer and Rentomatic Web services, the company surveyed 431 tenants and 256 landlords regarding their interactions with each other. Forty-five percent of tenants and 52 percent of landlords said they would like to use some form of electronic payment yet nearly 75 percent of tenants and 71 percent of landlords said that rent payments are still conducted using paper checks.

“Our research clearly indicates that it’s important for landlords to offer tenants a variety of payment options to better service their tenants,” CEO and cofounder Allison Atsiknoudas, said. “This means not only accepting paper checks, but having a way to process credit card and e-check payments in a way that is simple and cost-effective. As the market changes and becomes more competitive, offering this flexibility will become increasingly important.”

Rather than dealing with property managers, more than half the tenants who responded said they deal directly with their landlords. The problem is that 71 percent of the landlords surveyed own fewer than 10 rental units and an even larger majority owns less than 50, making the costs associated with processing credit card payments and e-checks prohibitive.

The fact that nearly 65 percent look after their rental properties on a part-time basis and for only part of their income means that they are only willing and able to devote a limited amount of time and effort to managing their rental properties.

Keeping It Simple and Direct

“One of the interesting things about our market is that the majority of investment and rental properties are not owned by large REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) but by people like you and me — individuals and partnerships,” Atsiknoudas told CRM Buyer.

“The interesting thing about that is that these people don’t want or have the time to get into all the nitty-gritty details. They’re interested in rental income and longer-term capital return on investment.

“We try to ease the pain of managing rental properties and tenant relations by providing a service through which [property owners] can manage them day to day in an enhanced way. If you’re an owner, your tenants are your customers, and if you own a small portfolio, you really don’t have the budget or the time to spend … so our services serve to help the relationship by improving communications and automating transactions and financial accounting and reporting,” Atsiknoudas said.

Real Estate Discovers CRM, Part 1: Embracing the Idea

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