Today’s guest post is by Leigh Budlong, founder of Zonability. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at [email protected]
The purpose of formal due diligence is well known to all real estate professionals. We’ve all experienced either the first-hand hiring of experts to help mitigate risks or advising clients to do so. It takes time and money with results often bringing up more questions than answers.
In this age of technology, a new approach for gaining insight into important issues that can impact real estate deals quickly and efficiently is now a reality. It means leveraging technology assets to quickly and inexpensively ascertain initial answers to questions that would typically require extensive time and money during a formal due diligence process.
This stage is called pre-due diligence and can help to quickly evaluate a listing you might find on CommercialSearch. Pre-due diligence sacrifices accuracy in return for speed, but that tradeoff is perfectly acceptable as long as everyone involved is clear about the objectives and capabilities of pre-due diligence vs formal due diligence which involve experts.
Consider what it would mean to have your own process around this stage of information gathering and property assessment. How can it be mined to improve your work and business relationships? Can it become your competitive edge?
Before going into more detail, my inspiration for this blog post came from a summer read, Phil Knight’s book, “Shoe Dog”. The memoire came recommended by a real estate data executive, and it has all the thrills – and letdowns – that come with building a business and the people you meet along the way.
Phil Knight talks about Steve Prefontaine, an American runner from Oregon known from the 1972 Olympics. Known as “Pre”, he was an early endorser of Nike shoes and a real athlete. According to Knight, Pre’s “competitive fire, gutsy race tactics and inherent charisma charmed crowds and inspired up-and-coming runners to stick with the sport and give it their all.”
Who doesn’t like to be inspired, or to inspire others? In reading these words I instantly recognized the traits that make a great athlete also make a successful real estate professional. It takes training, dedication and a positive “can-do” attitude. The training is what pays dividends during a race or match. The same is true for the real estate professional.
By being willing to train hard on honing your skills around pre due diligence, you can be better prepared to serve clients and help them succeed. As part of any training, it means approaching the learning curve. In this case, you’ll need to find those technology tools designed for efficiency and use them regularly to get in more reps, to get better in your role.
In my role as an inventor of real estate technology called Zonability, I focused on showcasing a method successfully employed when I practiced in real estate as a commercial real estate appraiser and broker (earning both the MAI and CCIM designations). Rather than spend hours piecing together, our customers instantly assess a property from a pre-due diligence perspective. It employs what I call “the PLE technique”.
P stands for physical, L for legal and E for economic. Together, the review of PLE on any property, at the pre due diligence level, provides a solid initial assessment.
- Physical – property strengths and weaknesses.
- Legal – find the hidden opportunities and risks.
- Economic – run numbers to test “what if” scenarios.
At Zonability, our role in pre-due diligence focuses on assessing untapped development potential and uncovering risks associated with zoning regulations which tie to some of the property’s physical attributes, legal and eventually, economic. How do they tie to economics? It is the combination of the land – its size and zoning relative to the existing improvements and what economic benefits they continue to offer in their market.
My years of experience as a commercial real estate appraiser and broker helped hone my skills to assess PLE opportunity and risk. I wanted to translate that when I had Zonability developed. Some call it a “highest and best use” starter, others see as a way to hone in on their to-do list – especially those who handle real estate development.
Here are highlights:
- Identify ALL kinds of regulations impacting the parcel. Yes, these fall under the L category (for legal). Our aim is to give these letter/numbers some meaning and include “future land use” plans which really start to touch on E for economics.
- Make it obvious what is the zoning landscape around the subject and showcase the parcels’ shapes – this gets into the P for physical as well as L for legal.
Quickly gather intelligence within a 1/4 mile of the property for existing conditions: zoning category distribution, building size and lot size. Use this information to size up the subject and the ideas about how it might be used which leads to point #3.
- Does the property have zotential? Zotential is our way of saying data-driven potential. The reason we opt to use this language is to make it abundantly clear, this is an interpretation, it is not documented in some city file or stamped and ready for approvals. No, it is very much in the early stage – or “pre” – realm where ideas are still being kicked around.
- Get the numbers running! Zonability also has a one click “pro forma” that generates an Excel using our zotential estimates. You can set the basics like monthly rent and cap rate range then iterate in Excel.
Real estate professionals have always had a unique opportunity to differentiate themselves from competitors by discussing untapped property potential with their clients. However, before Zonability, the process of calculating untapped potential was slow, frustrating, and expensive given the complexity of regulations involved.
The reality is that most people won’t make the effort to do this work manually. However, we’ve repeatedly found that there’s a direct correlation between the difficulty to obtain important data and the opportunity to deliver value to clients.
By having your process in place, quickly and inexpensively:
- Gauge demand, including current a highest and best use analysis.
- Develop initial marketing, including ballpark pricing and valuation considerations.
- Work with the owner/stakeholders to set expectations.
At the root of this process, is being able to decide if the deal is worth pursuing or will terms need to be changed as well as a focus on further evaluation?
In order to remember this concept, think of the long-distance runner, Pre, who had to often “dig deep” to find the energy reserve required for deals that take weeks and months to come together. Building relationships focused on problem-solving and not solely on closing the deal are worth the time. These are the types of deals that people walk away from satisfied and wanting to do again. Who doesn’t appreciate the chance to repeat a win?
In summary, offering fundamental real estate information that can’t easily be “googled” is a great way to establish expertise and build trust with clients. Tech driven pre-due diligence is a way to reduce the time and money required to deliver value to clients. Ultimately this leads to better relationships, which is still the basis for success in real estate.
Do you have success stories about having employed such a technique that saved you and your client time and money? If so, I’d like to hear about it.