Week of July 3, 2000
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
   of the Week

NAI's Upgrade: Will the Physical Site Visit
Go the Way of the Dinosaur?

This week's Web site review isn't really a Web site review per se. In fact, it centers on a site we've previously reviewed. Nonetheless, this site's latest developments raise some intriguing questions about where Internet-age real estate is headed.

Those questions revolve around the site visit, a veritable fixture in searching for, finding, and ultimately occupying space. But in today's Web world, is the site visit becoming obsolete? One major outfit that seems intent on paving that path is New America International Inc. (NAI at www.naidirect.com), one of the world's largest commercial property brokerages.

We reviewed the NAI site way back in the February 21st edition of "The SiteNet Dispatch." We liked the site, noting that "[only] a handful of [real estate service provider] 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."

NAI Trumpets Market's 'Transition
From a Paper-Based Era to a Digital One"

We'll stand by that assessment.

What's intrigues us in this week's Dispatch is NAIdirect.com's recent announcement that it's launched what company officials are calling a "fully integrated online commercial real estate service." NAI, in fact, is now trumpeting its Web site as an online prototype for "the commercial property market's transition from a paper-based era to a digital one."

The market certainly seems headed in that direction. What NAI officials are saying now, though, clearly goes a step beyond the legions of real estate-centered Web sites now multiplying like rabbits on steroids.

But most of those sites offer only the now-standard listings, photos and contact information.

With its recent announcement, though, NAI promises to put a major dent in the considerable resources often expended in site visits.

Official: Online Process Can Cut 'Weeks,
If Not Months' Off Transaction Cycle Times

As Jeffrey M. Finn, NAIdirect.com president and chief operating officer, explained as the company launched its update, "Traditional commercial real estate operations can be quite costly in terms of time and money. NAIdirect.com stands poised to revolutionize the commercial real estate industry by eliminating many of today's costly practices -- such as flying from site to potential site."

"By combining our online technology with our global team of professionals on the ground, the NAIdirect.com process can cut weeks, if not months, off the cycle time for a commercial real estate transaction. This means substantial financial benefits . . . ," Finn added.

And this observation doesn't come from some wide-eyed real estate neophyte. NAIdirect.com, in fact, currently claims more than 200 corporate accounts. And company officials say that NAIdirect.com "facilitates, completely online, the initiation and management of commercial property transactions" for those 200 accounts.

Significantly, the "completely online" aspect is what the market is demanding, according to Finn.

"Existing customers regularly request that all property submissions be done electronically, complete with virtual tours and due diligence packages, in order to save travel time prior to making decisions," Finn explains.

Process More Likely to Reduce,
Not Eliminate, Many Site Visits

The view from this corner (and probably from NAI, too) is that physical site visits won't simply go away. There's simply too much riding on how space serves mission-critical corporate goals like employee recruitment, retention, productivity and communication.

Accordingly, barring some great technological leap forward, the property selection process will still have to satisfy the tactile needs to see, feel, touch and smell the space.

Consider the online car buying market. Buyers may go online to make the deal; many, though, still amble down to their local dealer to test-drive a model before making the buy decision.

At least for the moment, then, top-of-the-line sites' big upside here seems to be their potential to considerably reduce the number of physical sites that need to be visited. That alone could add speed and cut costs in a very wide range of projects.

And the fact that NAI is venturing out into this turf is no easily dismissed piffle. NAI has some 230 worldwide offices with 3,000-plus real estate professionals. And NAIdirect.com last year became a joint venture between NAI and WorldWide Web NetworX (WWWX), which specializes in business-to-business e-commerce.

In short, this could be big noise. Physical site visits may not go away. But if sites like NIAdirect.com simply substantially reduce the number of visits, that alone will mark a substantial step forward for online real estate.



©2000 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.