Week of February 21, 2000
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
   of the Week

NAIdirect: A Strong Online Argument for Single-Source Services

"A vision to become the world's premier global portal for online commercial real estate services."

That's the lofty goal limed on the home page of NAIdirect.com (www.naidirect.com). Granted, the hype in cyberspace gets very heavy very fast. NAIdirect.com, though, is, indeed, a quality site - and one with a legit shot at its exalted goal.

A huge number of property listing sites (a considerable number of them fairly high quality) have come online. But though NAIdirect.com also offers property listings, this site is about much, much more than listings.


Site Menu Reflects NAI's Scope

You'd expect that from NAI (which now apparently prefers the acronym, rather than the New American Network moniker under which it began operations in 1978).

NAI bills itself as "the leading single source for international commercial real estate with the local touch," as well as "the largest real estate organization in the world," with 3,000-plus real estate professionals in more than 230 worldwide offices.

Of course, with the merger mania that continues to sweep through the real estate service provider industry, it's hard to say exactly which organization now wears than mantle. And whoever it is, in today's climate, they won't likely wear it for too terribly long.

For sure, though, NAI is one of the biggest real estate operations around. For example, NAI's services include multi-market transactions, portfolio management, demographic analyses, site searches, subleasing, tenant representation, financing for major expansion programs, investing and multi-site acquisitions and dispositions.

NAI's broad reach is reflected in NAIdirect.com's very, very broad menu of online offerings. Major subject areas for the site include "Brokerage," "Communities & News," "Corporate," "Due Diligence and Project Management Services," "Investing," "Lending," and "Market Intelligence."


Site Mirrors Global-Local Hybrid

When it comes to how real estate services are best provided, the local-vs.-global-(or-national) argument has, of course, been raging on for what seems like forever. More and more, though, it seems that many companies, particularly corporate big boys with sizeable portfolios, are looking toward single-source providers.

Also pushing the profitability potential for sites like this one is the now overwhelming tendency to emphasize core corporate competencies and outsource a lot of real estate work. NAIdirect.com reflects both those consolidations. And the site comes down on the local-vs.-global argument with an appealing hybrid. All members of the consortium were established local real estate firms before they became part of the NAI umbrella. Most of the network, as the site explains, is made up of small, local organizations.

NAI, however, retains a considerable degree of oversight over that local network.

For example, if a client's having a problem, he can call or e-mail his NAI account executive at the company's headquarters in Hightstown, N.J. (where NAI retains a staff of some 50 employees). The account rep remains the single source for the client even after the work has been farmed out to a rep. And member firms are evaluated annually. They're only re-certified for another year of NAI membership if they pass muster. Those that don't are dropped.


Strong Cyberspace Credentials

NAIdirect.com also comes with some strong cyberspace credentials.

Last year, the Web site became a joint venture between NAI and WorldWide Web NetworX (WWWX). WWWX specializes in business-to-business e-commerce solutions, with operations including ATMcenter.com, its Internet wholesaler and re-marketing operation.

And NAIdirect.com also has its own proprietary software: REALTrac, a password-protected transaction management system through which users can track activity plans and results. The software also allows NAIdirect.com to compile and deliver project specifics in one concise portfolio report, which includes the status of individual projects, timelines and completion schedules.

All of NAI's offices are electronically linked to the consortium network, and any member office can access the system in managing client projects.

And the amount of online project data is rather considerable. For example, each new project starts with a full, online "assignment initiation package" that includes all documents, specifications, checklists, timelines, benchmarks, project objectives and detailed response formats.


Site Shows Growing Globalization

NAIdirect.com reflects the long, long way that NAI has come since its founding more than two decades ago. Back then, more than a few in the industry regarded the idea of a bunch of local and regional real estate service providers combining forces and interacting as more than a little farfetched.

Today's real estate industry still remains far too fragmented. Umbrella efforts like NAI's, however, have proven their worth. And the Web, given its supremely boundary-less nature, is the prefect vehicle to extend such efforts.

Not so long ago, however, NAI was a fairly U.S.-centric operation. Since then, however, the organization has considerably bulked up its global presence, just as it said it would eventually do way back in 1978. Last year NAI opened arms in the Asia-Pacific, Canada, Europe and South America, a far more global perspective that's reflected on NAIdirect.com.

NAI President & Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey M. Finn has said that the company can act as "a client's virtual real estate department." (In a wise and politic observation, Finn, added, however, that corporate real estate strategy should remain an in-house function.)

The way the service provider industry is going, only a handful of firms are going to be left standing when the industry's consolidation dust settles. NAIdirect.com suggests that NAI will be among those still standing.


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