June 5, 2018 / 6:51 PM / 2 months ago

'Proptech' firms angle for riches in U.S. real estate market

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New technology such as machine-learning algorithms coupled with improved heating and cooling units that can be controlled by software helped cut electricity consumption at Rudin Management, a large New York City landlord, by 41 percent since 2005.

Rudin’s Nantum operating system can now predict when to adjust building temperatures according to the flow of people leaving and entering a property because it stores information instead of dumping all the data at day’s end.

The advent of smart building technology is one of the ways scores of property-focused start-ups known as “proptech” firms are trying to tap growing reams of data in commercial real estate to increase productivity.

Venture capital in recent years has plowed more than $2 billion into proptech firms that cull data from leasing contracts, capital projects, public records or a building’s infrastructure.

John Gilbert, chief operating officer at Rudin and executive chairman at Prescriptive Data, which owns Nantum and is controlled by the Rudin family, said the tools to efficiently manage a building did not exist until a few years ago.

The drop in electricity consumption at Rudin’s 16 office towers - including usage for everything ranging from heating and air-conditioning to operating the elevators - occurred even as the individual tenants boosted usage in their own offices over the past dozen years by 11 percent, data from Rudin that has not been reported before show.

A more thorough collection of data that can be analyzed with better software and the use of variable speed fans in HVAC systems have opened a new frontier in building systems, he said.

“Simply by correlating two data sets that never talked to each other, (such as) population occupancy and modulated fan speed, I can have huge electricity savings in the middle of the day,” Gilbert said.

NEW FRONTIER FOR DATA

Real estate services firm CBRE Group Inc estimates utility savings of 5 to 15 percent annually at the more than 22,000 properties it has helped convert to smart status.

Energy Technology Savings Inc, a smart building services provider based in Livingston, New Jersey, on Tuesday said it had raised $1.8 million as part of a $3 million preferred share offering for its “SmartKit AI” mobile software suite.

Converting properties into smart buildings has been a large focus in commercial real estate because of their massive energy consumption.

Better, cheaper and longer-lasting sensors such as those made by Norway’s Disruptive Technologies Research AS promise further efficiency gains in monitoring temperature and the movement of people.

Prescriptive Data and Disruptive Technologies plan a joint U.S. launch once the Federal Communications Commission grants certification of coin-sized wireless sensors, which install in seconds and immediately transmit data, the companies said.

LaSalle Investment Management, a big U.S. property owner, credits start-ups such as VTS, a leasing tool, for increased efficiency by no longer wasting time to gather data that is now available in real-time.

LaSalle, a unit of Jones Lang LaSalle Inc, has tracked about 190 proptech companies launched over the past three to four years.

Brookfield Property Partners, one of the largest real estate owners, estimates use of start-up Honest Buildings has reduced the cost of a typical capital project by 6.3 percent and cut administrative labor by 80 percent - to 18 hours from 92.

Both Brookfield and Rudin have invested in Honest Buildings, a firm that helps companies tackle capital planning by putting data on a single platform for both clients’ and internal use.

Collecting and analyzing data has been hindered in the mostly privately-owned commercial real estate industry, which closely guards information.

Various computer protocols have also made it hard to unify data from scattered databases, said Richard Sarkis, co-founder and chief executive of analytics firm Reonomy.

“It sounds like a trivial problem, but it is both very difficult to solve and it is universal for everybody who cares about commercial real estate,” Sarkis said.

SEEKING AN EDGE

Data about commercial properties that was inaccessible is now available and can be used in creative ways, said Charlie Oshman, chief operating officer of Delshah Capital, an investor in New York commercial real estate.

Mortgage broker Eastern Union Funding credits a jump in business at a time when commercial loan originations industry-wide are down to an app that allows investors to peruse properties, find the most active brokers and view data on mortgages coming due and the banks that made those loans, among other features.

The tool is free because Eastern Union wants to attract customers as it expands nationally, said Ira Zlotowitz, president of the Brooklyn, New York-based company.

“This is what helped boost the sales,” said Zlotowitz, who recognizes any edge in data he may have now will soon evaporate. “What’s really going to happen now over the next 12 to 18 months is not having the data, it’s how to use the data,” he said.

Reporting by Herbert Lash; Editing by Daniel Bases, Nick Zieminski and Leslie Adler

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