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Commercial Real Estate

Property Managers Must Provide a Blend of Services, Expertise

High-Tech Amenities Are Necessary to Compete in Market

he real estate property management profession is changing because of technology, but customer service is still an important part of the business, several local building managers said recently.

The impact of such new technology as fiber-optic data transmission, broadband Internet access and computerized building monitoring can make an office building without features noncompetitive, the managers said.

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Not only can owners not charge as much rent per square foot, if they are unwilling or unable to spend the money to upgrade the building, it suffers from a higher vacancy rate, according to Jason Hughes, a principal in the Irving-Hughes Group, a tenant representation real estate brokerage based Downtown.

Property management has become more than just providing service to business tenants. Landlords are demanding new expertise as well, the property managers said.

“To remain competitive, I’m going to have to be able to provide to my owners a method of increasing their rate of return , that means spending capital intelligently,” said Sonia Perry of Colliers International, who manages the 610 W. Ash Street Building, a 20-story, 353,000-square-foot high rise owned by Maier & Siebel Inc. of San Francisco.

She stressed the need for property managers to keep abreast of the new technology that tenants might demand.

“Making sure your building can provide infrastructure that allows companies to transmit communications quickly , high-speed Internet access, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), fiber-optics , is crucial,” she said.

– Managers Stay In Step With Technology

“What I have to do as a property manager is stay up to date and stay ahead of the technology curve.”

Not only are technologically savvy tenants demanding the latest in equipment for their business, but landlords as well are coming to expect that a high-tech real estate brokerage serve their needs as well, she said.

In a business that has gone in a little more than 10 years from couriers hand-carrying documents, to fax machines and now to E-mail, it’s also important to use time- and contact-management software to get the job done faster than before, she added.

“As a professional, it’s important that I maximize the available organizational tools to keep track of my clients and vendors so I can respond as quickly as possible,” Perry said. “Now, I can click my mouse three times and bring up all the phone numbers as opposed to walking over to a filing cabinet, getting the file, and then walking back to my desk to call.”

It isn’t just commercial buildings and real estate brokerages being influenced by the technology explosion. Upscale apartment complexes, such as Regents Park Place at 9253 Regents Road in University Towne Centre, are designed to cater to the entrepreneur or telecommuter through high-tech features, said Tina West, property manager for the apartment complex.

– Everyone Tries to Keep Up the Pace

That apartment complex features a fiber-optic T-1 line that allows high-speed data transmittal and a server for tenants’ Web pages.

It’s one of several apartment complexes recently completed or under construction in the county that features the latest communications technology, according to George Carlson, an executive vice president at Burnham Real Estate Services in San Diego.

Not only property managers, but also vendors and contractors need to keep up to speed and have the same type of technology, she said.

Technology will make communication much cheaper and Web access free some day, she predicted.

James Tostado, who manages Cambridge Medical Center, a five-building medical office in the 7900 block of Frost Street in Kearny Mesa, echoed those comments. His building is a 225,000-square-foot complex owned by Prentiss Properties, a Dallas-based real estate investment trust.

“The biggest challenge is keeping up with and understanding new technology,” Tostado said. “With advances in satellite and wireless communications, I foresee that there will be more use of teleconferencing.”

– Managers Expect to See Personalized Devices

In addition to advances in communications, Tostado also predicted the day will come soon when computer monitoring of climate in each individual cubicle will be standard. More intensive use of each building suite will also be seen in the future, he said.

“As a way to streamline overhead, businesses will operate 24 hours a day,” Tostado said. “When I managed One America Plaza in Downtown, we had tenants’ employees using the same work station on different shifts.”

Energy conservation awareness is also leading to a new trend in office space planning, he said. Rather than light an entire office suite with overhead lighting, the latest designs incorporate individually controlled lights at each work station, he said.

Evelyn Shields, business development manager for D.A. Shields Construction Inc. of San Diego, a tenant improvement contractor, agreed with him.

“Lighting is a big, big issue. You can get refined lighting that is exquisite, but also complies with federal Title 24 energy conservation requirements,” she said.

Increased access to information and being able to communicate quickly with subcontractors in the field with cellular telephones has also revolutionized her business, she said.

Use of laser transits and levels in the building process has made the builder’s work more precise, and digital cameras that enable the builder to E-mail design flaws to architects also help to resolve problems quickly, she said.

Medical professionals face some of the same communications problems other industries face, Tostado said. They also need faster and more accurate information transfer and communication.

For example, a general practitioner takes an electrocardiogram of one of his patients, then transmits the information via E-mail to a cardiologist, who reads it, and then sends back his diagnosis.

Cybele Thompson, manager for La Jolla Executive Tower at 4225 Executive Square in University Towne Centre, said high-tech communications facilities in a building are now almost as important to tenants as its location.

“You can actually eliminate yourself from the competition by not providing state-of-the art facilities,” Thompson said.

The local chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association offers classes in the latest technology for property managers so they can make informed decisions for their clients, she said.

– Going Beyond Basic

Property Management

“So there are no real installation costs, just what they charge the tenants for service fees,” Thompson said. “It’s a matter of limiting the number of telecommunications providers because you only have a limited amount of conduit space in the building.

“Managers now need to be a lot more finance-oriented.”

While technology has changed many aspects of the property management business, customer service and knowing what owners and tenants want is still paramount to success in property management, the professionals agreed.

“I think the one thing we have to remember is that as fast as telecommunications and technology are advancing, we can’t forget the basics,” said Perry of Colliers International.

“That is, we are service providers and our job is to provide an environment where tenants can conduct business as easily as possible. That means improved amenities such as ample parking and responding to tenant complaints quickly.

“Property managers in the future will have to look outside their buildings and they will have to figure out what the neighborhood is going to be doing,” she said. “That means knowing when new businesses such as restaurants are going in and whether or not they’re going to be working on the streets for the next two months.”

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