As a first-time attendee at the CREtech Global Summit, I was anxious to immerse myself in the real estate tech world at a conference center in Austin, TX. As with every other event like this, postponing and then eventually switching it to online-only was the safest choice. Fortunately, the organizers did a good job by putting together a schedule of top-notch speakers. This review focuses on the US sessions in days 3 and 4. (I wasn’t willing to get up at 2 am to catch the UK sessions).
When I think about how the commercial real estate world is changing, it’s broad. There were a few very popular themes but the biggest of course, was COVID-19 and the future of work. There was a ton of content on tenant amenities, pandemic best practices, and smart-building tech to address both. After that, there was much prognostication. For example, “Will we abandon cities for the ‘burbs?”, “Will remote work create mass, permanent office vacancies?” (The answers are “No” and “No”.)
It was encouraging to hear from executives in asset and property management. They have been leading their companies to do whatever it takes to increase the real and perceived sense of security tenants feel. They’ve had to work with evolving guidance from disease experts and every possible variation in public policy across markets. Tenant rent non-payment plus eviction moratoriums. All while their own teams scramble to work remotely with kids at home. And, that’s just a sample.
Further, Wall Street Journal reporter Konrad Putzier led a discussion with Cushman and Wakefield’s CEO Brett White and Global CIO Adam Stanley on real estate’s digital revolution amid the pandemic. While C&W is watching its expenses like everyone else, they are focused on making smart investments in real estate where it makes sense. They’ve accumulated a pool of funding in order to “…be in a position of offense, not defense.” This matches what’s been reported elsewhere. CRE investors have nearly record-breaking cash on hand, estimated at $173B in the US as of May 2020. Once buyers and sellers gain a little market understanding, this will create deals and speed a recovery.
Additionally, JLL executives talked about the course of every recession that causes new innovation and creates new opportunities as successful companies get leaner and smarter. “Why CIOs Need PropTech Now More Than Ever” was a panel that included Kitty Sullivan, Lynn Patzner, and Edward Wagoner of JLL Technologies. It also included Dan Ryan of VergeSense, a JLL portfolio startup that counts people and can sense work activities. Useful for COVID-19 social distancing, but…maybe a little creepy? You decide.
In short, there were also a multitude of demo sessions and quick pitches from multiple PropTech startups across the globe. As a part of realquantum, it was energizing to see so much dynamic activity in the CRE technology domain. It was also very encouraging because at times, it can be easy to get down about the pandemic and the recession affecting the entire world while the US has the added challenge of social upheaval. There are a lot of smart people working hard to create new businesses, new ways of working, and new opportunities. So, even though it wasn’t possible to immerse myself for two days in Austin, the CREtech Global Summit was worth it.
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