It’s a fact of life in commercial property development that infrastructure must keep up with new construction. Value of new construction approaches zero when connectivity to that property – transportation, electrical, telecom, water – is not available.
The obligation to run internet connectivity to remote locations is a huge challenge that brings a capital-intensive need up against a vast physical frontier. When pushing data or telecom cabling into that frontier, costs can be astronomical and networks can be physically fragile.
But one project at Google is imagining a way to change all that.
Meet Google Loon: a technology project that aims to bring internet access to remote areas not by running cable on or below the surface of the earth, but instead by sending hot-air balloons over the surface, parking them in more or less fixed locations, and tricking them out with solar-powered LTE radios similar to the towers that power the data connections on your smart mobile devices.
The result: a data network floating 20KM over the ground, providing connectivity to areas that will not see a fiber optic cable for decades, if ever, thanks to the crushing economics of physical network construction.
Infrastructure that floats above is infrastructure that spreads on-the-ground property value faster and farther than ever before. That’s why Loon is worth watching. Follow this amazing project here.
A look at the SEC Form 8K they’ve filed telling stakeholders about the restructuring contains only a few clues. Their plan to create a holding company called Alphabet appears to accomplish a milestone separation. The core web and advertising services (which would include YouTube, Search, Maps, Android, and others) would remain within Google while the company’s major recent moves into biotech (Calico), internet service provision (Google Fiber), environmental controls (Nest), cutting-edge research and development (Google[X]) will be brought into Alphabet and under the direct financial guidance of founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. At the same time, Larry and Sergey will hand the CEO role of Google to Sundar Pichai.
I see in this a classic sorting of business lines where the most capital-intensive and most speculative ventures are being pulled closer to the founding executives, making it so that an investment in Alphabet is a more direct investment in the vision of those executives.
While there’s no way to tell what direction Alphabet will take in space acquisition, I believe the loudest signals would come in the form of successes in its projects for driverless cars and national fiber optic rollout. Viable automotive designs mean industrial real estate in Alphabet’s future, and probably lots of it. And the more fiber Google can provide, the greater expansion demand for its own already-large data center construction.
It’s monumentally important for any business open to the public to make sure it appears on Google Maps. It’s such a big deal that property management and commercial leasing professionals are adding consulting and value-added services to help tenants get that critical chore accomplished. It’s not a fire-and-forget process, either: keeping your Google presence in presentable shape is tightly tied to maintaining a business’s general online presence. It goes far beyond filling out forms and establishing accounts — online presence management is a holistic, ongoing maintenance process that touches everything your business does online and off. That is, if you’re doing it right.
What Are The Rules?
There are guidelines for online presence management in Google both published and unpublished. Let’s look at what Google’s published:
Guidelines For Representing Your Business On Google is the essential starting point for getting things right with “The Big G”. A look at this set of steps will show an important concept in obtaining decent local Google ranking, a concept that you should carry with you for the entire lifecycle of your business. That concept is: assume nothing. Here’s what I mean:
Google is not an army of people reading web pages and making determinations about what’s on them. That job falls to software that Google has developed for the purpose. The software is built more for speed and handling huge volume of pages than it is for understanding the implications of your business. You should not assume that Google understands plain English and will display your search results the way you want: you have to tell it, using keywords and highly specific and accurate information, about your business.
Commercial Real Estate Practice
Consider the overwhelmingly common case of the tertiary-market or small town real estate agent whose business is mainly residential but also handles the commercial property transactions in her territory. When the time comes to develop her website and reflect her practice in Google, should there be different pages for her residential practice and her commercial practice? Generally, no. Here’s what Google advises:
Individual practitioners (e.g. doctors, lawyers, real estate agents)
An individual practitioner is a public facing professional, typically with his or her own customer base. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, financial planners, and insurance or real estate agents all are individual practitioners. Pages for practitioners may include title or degree certification (e.g. Dr., MD, JD, Esq., CFA).
An individual practitioner should create his or her own dedicated page if:
He or she operates in a public-facing role. Support staff should not create their own page.
He or she is directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours.
A practitioner should not have multiple pages to cover all of his or her specializations.
Why Is This?
The exact specifics of why Google wants what it wants are known only to Google’s own software engineers and management: we users of Google are advised about best practices but only to a point. Which leaves plenty of questions unanswered: why shouldn’t a real estate pro with different practices represent those practices separately in Google?
The common consensus about this concerns the control of spam — unwanted communication, duplicated endlessly, clogging up systems. The Google Webspam team, led by Matt Cutts, is a major source of best practices on the web for best Google results, and I’ve noticed over the years that when duplication of information is the topic, even if it’s innocent duplication, the uniform response from the Google webspam team is a frown.
That means that Jane Realestate, REALTOR, should list her commercial practice in the context of a single page outlining her general real estate practice, rather than construct a second Jane Realestate page focused on her commercial work — in short because two Jane Realestates at 123 Main St. would be seen by Google as spam or potential spam, and will be correspondingly ranked lower.
Despite its obvious problems, the open-office model has continued to encroach on workers across the country. Now, about 70 percent of U.S. offices have no or low partitions, according to the International Facility Management Association. Silicon Valley has been the leader in bringing down the dividers. Google, Yahoo, eBay, Goldman Sachs and American Express are all adherents. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enlisted famed architect Frank Gehry to design the largest open floor plan in the world, housing nearly 3,000 engineers. And as a businessman, Michael Bloomberg was an early adopter of the open-space trend, saying it promoted transparency and fairness. He famously carried the model into city hall when he became mayor of New York, making “the Bullpen” a symbol of open communication and accessibility to the city’s chief.
Calling out the “false sense of improved productivity” that bosses take away from office layouts lacking dividers and partitions, Kaufman cites a study published last year in the Journal of Environmental Psychology that finds nearly half of all office workers attribute lack of sound privacy to frustrating distractions leading to poorer performance.
Further, the study finds that the open office provides a solution to a problem that basically nobody ever had — ease of interaction with colleagues. As anybody who’s heard the pitch on the open office layout can recall, office layouts that divide workspaces with walls or partitions tend to interfere with “collaboration” and “the free exchange of information and ideas” about the workplace mission. Hogwash, says Kaufman:
The New Yorker, in a review of research on this nouveau workplace design, determined that the benefits in building camaraderie simply mask the negative effects on work performance. While employees feel like they’re part of a laid-back, innovative enterprise, the environment ultimately damages workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Furthermore, a sense of privacy boosts job performance, while the opposite can cause feelings of helplessness. In addition to the distractions, my colleagues and I have been more vulnerable to illness. Last flu season took down a succession of my co-workers like dominoes.
As the new space intended, I’ve formed interesting, unexpected bonds with my cohorts. But my personal performance at work has hit an all-time low. Each day, my associates and I are seated at a table staring at each other, having an ongoing 12-person conversation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s like being in middle school with a bunch of adults. Those who have worked in private offices for decades have proven to be the most vociferous and rowdy. They haven’t had to consider how their loud habits affect others, so they shout ideas at each other across the table and rehash jokes of yore. As a result, I can only work effectively during times when no one else is around, or if I isolate myself in one of the small, constantly sought-after, glass-windowed meeting rooms around the perimeter.
Driven by major expansions of tech companies including Apple, Dell, Samsung and Google, the demand for office space in the area has been nothing less than white-hot. Reports from a year ago indicated Apple was in the market for up to 800,000 square feet of office space to allow room for approximately 3,000 employees. This takes place against the backdrop of Apple’s construction for 2015 opening of its “mothership” Apple Campus 2 headquarters building in Cupertino, shown in development proposals as a giant ring with 2.8 million square feet supporting 13,000 employees.
The package of office properties, many in prime locations, was purchased by a partnership of real estate firms from Canada (Ivanhoe Cambridge) , San Francisco (DivCo West) and Texas (TPG Real Estate). The new partnership operates as M West Properties.
The seller was Mission West properties, headed by developer Carl Berg. The buyers paid $400 million in cash and assumed $400 million in debt. A press release from Mission West at the time of the deal closing announced a $1.3 billion “enterprise value” to the deal, vaulting the really big number to a really really big number.
Deal partner Ivanhoe Cambridge is a Montreal-based pension fund who aims at Silicon Valley office and apartments as its investment strategy, saying in a statement “The $400-million-plus investment covers all aspects of the acquisition transaction and is a further step in building up Ivanhoe Cambridge‘s critical mass of assets in the Valley in the office and multiresidential segments.”
Not Multifamily, Multiresidential
Emphasis above is my own, notable for disappearance of the word “multiamily” when talking about investment in Silicon Valley’s apartment buildings. As deal partner Ivanhoe Cambridge is a pension fund, I was reminded of the cultural reasons pension funds have traditionally shied away from multifamily investments – the prospect of a benefits provider, as a landlord, forced to evict one of its own beneficiaries, was according to some perceived as a public relations nightmare, and kept pension funds away from “buildings with beds in them” as a result.
But pensioners aren’t mainly the tenants in Silicon Valley’s apartments. Nor are, it would seem families – the tech industry employee working at Apple or Google is typically young and childless and spends most time in the office – hence the back rubs, basketball courts and gourmet food perks of such jobs. How long can that work/life culture and the resultant property mix last in San Jose and environs? Watch the market to find out.
Time to indulge in a little blatant localism. Just a short trip along the river from NAR’s downtown Chicago headquarters downtown is the Merchandise Mart, that massive 1930 monument to merchandising and architecture of the early 20th century. Its four million square feet see 20,000 visitors and tenants passing through its art deco doors every day, most in the retail and wholesale business. But a recent 15-year, 600,000 sq. ft. deal involving a technology giant creates a lot of upheaval, changing the mix significantly while it projects the Mart well into the 21st century.
Motorola Mobility’s Reverse Migration
In the largest single employer influx to Chicago in decades, cellphone and communications technology maker Motorola Mobility announced a move of their operation with its 3,000 employees away from suburban Libertyville to the Mart. A rare reverse of the decades-long commercial trend emptying city centers in favor of suburban locales, the move came soon after the company had been acquired in a $12 billion deal by internet search engine and applications giant Google. The moving and build-out costs alone are $300 million, as the merged company’s product design and hardware engineers. More or less, this means Motorola’s efforts in the rapidly-changing mobile device market will be footed in downtown Chicago, suggesting that 3,000 jobs could be just the ground floor number.
Make Room, Make Room
When a single-building tenant needs 600,000 square feet, chances are that means changes for existing tenants. No exception in this deal, as debt collection firm Harris & Harris can attest. The deal pushed an early end to their lease in the Mart, occupying 68,000 sq. ft. of office space, said Harris & Harris CEO Arnie Harris. The firm received a “substantial” sum to terminate the lease early according to Harris, and the company quickly found new digs about one mile south at 111 W. Jackson, a 24-story tower brought out of foreclosure in March of last year.
Downtown Chicago Picking Up Steam
Downtown Chicago vacancy overall fell to 14.8 percent at midyear, down from 15.9 percent a year earlier, according to CBRE Inc. Like most urban centers in the US, downtown remains a tenants’ market, but some feel this is changing as suggested by the Mart upheaval. The 88.5% occupied Mart itself is expected by some to be in the news again soon as the subject of another blockbuster deal: its own sale.
“If you were going to decide that you wanted to sell the building, doing it with some big, positive momentum is the time to do it,” said Bruce Miller, a managing director at Chicago-based real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., who sells office buildings.
The Merchandise Mart was 88.5 percent occupied at the end of the second quarter, according to a Vornado quarterly report.
Vornado almost sold the building two years ago, and lately has been shedding properties to streamline its portfolio. In September 2010, Vornado confirmed it wanted to unload the property as part of a sale of its Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. division. But a $1.25 billion deal for the business fell apart.
Vornado in January sold the property next to the Mart, the former Apparel Center at 350 N. Orleans St., to San Francisco-based private real estate company Shorenstein Properties LLC for $228 million. But the company has said it plans to hold onto the Mart for the time being.
Adaptive re-use, technology, commercial property and jobs. Thus is a 21st century economy made.
Note: no software reviews here at The Source constitute a recommendation of any product or service by NAR.
The Android Market website has gotten a facelift. It’s now called Google Play, and if you ask me, it bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain “App Store” run by a company whose name rhymes with chapel.
I prefer the Android platform for the phone. Why? Better hardware, roughly the same software offerings for business use, and all without an insulting price tag. But that’s me. What about the commercial property pro on the hunt for news on industry trends?
NREI Android App
I’ve follow National Real Estate Investor as part of my daily research and was interested to see they had published an NREI Android app. After a bit of a test, I can recommend it if you’re in the market for a bunch of high-quality CRE content at your fingertips. It’s nice to have an icon devoted to a quick update on the industry.
One nice feature of this app is the button for Retail Traffic that allows quick focus on retail. Another button brings you headlines and posts from various blogs. Items can be easily shared with a share button located along the bottom. The app works well and earns a couple of punches of the icon a week on my HTC EVO.
My only complaints are minor: a shortage of content under the blogs category – our industry’s corner of the blogosphere updates more often that this app might suggest. The other is a senseless number of permissions. In my opinion, a news aggregator application doesn’t need and shouldn’t want to be able to read your phone’s state and identity, but that is the default with NREI’s Android app. (Android users can always check what an app is doing under the hood by clicking the “Permissions” tab on any app’s download page.
When it comes to desktop operating systems in the financial and real estate space, Microsoft Windows remains king. In commercial real estate’s many businesses, contact and email management more often than not means Outlook. And there’s great value in getting feeds of the business news you need piped right into the same environment you have open on your desktop to handle your communications and schedule.
Blogs have feeds of their content available — it’s one of the features that makes a blog a blog. Sometimes they’re called RSS feeds, mainly because without using lots of three-letter acronyms, your company’s computer people wouldn’t feel as superior. No matter the name, think of a feed as a conversation between machines. And what runs on machines? Software. So feeds are a way for different pieces of software to have a conversation.
It’s really a one-way conversation when it comes to blog feeds. Through its feed, the blog is announcing what’s already on it as well as what just got added to the blog.
So how do we get The Source — or any blog — to announce to Outlook? That is, how do we get Outlook to display the content and new items in a blog we need to follow for our business?
Easy, once we hop a small hurdle Outlook puts in front of us for absolutely no good reason. (Outlook users, I feel your pain.)
Blogs have feeds…
We’re a blog. So we’ve got a feed. The plain old RSS feed at The Source is here:
Click this and you won’t get far — just get the raw feed data on your screen. That click causes our blog to labor under the mistaken presumption that you’re a machine, and so tries to talk to you like a machine. Most software that can read a feed can read this stuff. But not Outlook, as far as I can tell.
…But Outlook needs special blog feeds
One of our readers asked today what was up with Outlook ’07 and getting our feed. It turns out that Outlook doesn’t like plain RSS feeds, it likes Feedburner feeds.
What’s Feedburner? Think of it as a thing Google bought for a lot of money, because that’s what it is. It’s a big collection of blog feeds formatted a special way.
And Outlook is so very special it needs a special formatting to be able to read a feed.
If you copy this link, then paste it into the Feed menu of Outlook (help with this can be found in this video) you will have our content delivered right into Outlook.
If you use the other, plain-vanilla RSS feed, that won’t work. At least with Outlook ’07.
This holds true for other blogs
If you have a Gmail or other Google account, you can easily do this conversion of a plain feed to a Feedburner feed with any blog feed you find. They call it “burning” a feed. Head over to feedburner.google.com to start.
Once, CRE pros thought of video as a “someday” feature to add to online property marketing. Someday is now, because prospects and landlords expect video on their desktop and mobile screens, embedded in listings. promoted with social media links, showing, selling and solving problems around the world and around the clock.
Once you’ve created the walkthrough videos and showcased your space’s benefits, amenities, location and improvements, the task of hosting the clips presents itself. Video isn’t like photos — playback, (aka streaming), raises technical issues that images don’t. Video files are far larger in data size than images, not as easily resized as images are on the screen, and not every device or browser supports playback of every video format. Compared to video, photos are a cakewalk to handle.
Naturally, the software and services industry is working hard to take the hassle out of online video hosting. New and established companies and services are here and more are coming. Here’s a comparison of YouTube and Wistia, two video hosting options evaluated with an eye toward commercial real estate:
The War Horse: YouTube
YouTube remains the leader in hosted video online, serving an enormously high and growing number of video streams every second of every day. Size and variety of content is one reason YouTube is the world’s second most popular search engine, (with parent company Google as the first). As with every piece of content you put on the web, you need to make sure the YT video page’s text pieces – the video’s title and other data – all point cleanly to the subject so that searchers will find it.
YouTube works best for a “fire and forget” video hosting solution for property marketing. Once uploaded, a clip gives a viewing user basic playback control, popover text overlays, reports on playbacks, optional comments, basic embedding and other features. It’s a plain-vanilla war horse, and is free, but could be too crude a solution for property marketers. A walkthrough video for a property can benefits from features that YouTube doesn’t offer.
Wistia – Not Just Playback
Wistia is a paid video hosting solution. With the cost comes extra features that can help property marketers. In addition to the fire-and0-forget basics offered by YouTube – hosting, the ability to embed in any web page, overlays – Wistia can do a little more:
Multiple Videos In One Player – Have a property with multiple vacancies? Want to show the next vacancy right away without making the user leave the page, or the video? The playlist feature has you covered.
Video Transcripts – Wistia supports the presentation of the video’s spoken audio track as text on the web page. This is a giant benefit for searchers in finding the video as well as viewers of that video, because the transcript can be clicked on and used as a playback control. Let a user skip to the warehouse part of a clip, or the parking, or the environmental controls portion.
Call To Action In-Player – Once the clip is through, a rich interactive call-to-action takes up the player.
Private Video Sharing – Easy to provide private, password-protected video content to clients or investors.
Customizability – Sporting a ton of customizing features that require no programming, just about any idea you have concerning presentation – triggering things on the web page at a particular point in the video, for example – can be built by a programmer.
So what’s your experience with online video hosting?