Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Day the Product Broker Died

Today I reviewed the same 15 emails that I receive from the same 15 brokers every Wednesday. I’m sure I’ll do the same tomorrow. They are very nicely done. Some take you to lovely web sites which extol the values of the property. Some lead you to floor plans. All list 3 or 4 brokers ready and waiting to answer your call. The vacancy never changes.

Product brokerage is dead, and it is the entire landlord community that has allowed it. The typical broker feels that he is actually marketing and leasing a property if he or she does four things:

1. Stick a listing on CoStar.

2. Send the same lame email out weekly.

3. Present his or her client with a list culled from any responses to the above together with the classic and useless “tenants in the market.”

4. Wait for the phone to ring.

Product brokerage is a discipline that brokerage has given up on. The discipline is really quite simple but requires hard work. And the “big houses” don’t like hard work anymore as long as nobody demands hard work from them.

Product brokerage requires that a broker fully assess the attributes of the property-its location and neighboring submarket; the current tenant roster and why those tenants chose the property; its perceived class in the market—A, B, or premier; the reputation of ownership and management; all of its physical attributes from floor plate size to HVAC capacity.

From knowledge of the property attributes, a true product broker will match these against the tenants most likely to have an interest in the property. But a good broker can only do this if he or she maintains a detailed database of all tenants in the Boston market, appropriately categorized by submarket, lease expiration, preferred building quality, industry, and history of relocation, among other attributes, and the contacts at each firm.

Brokerage houses don’t have this information and that’s my challenge to the entire brokerage community. And my challenge to the entire landlord community. Tomorrow, ask your broker to provide you with his or her own list of the target tenants he or she is pursuing, EXCLUDING calls from CoStar, calls from emails, and the ubiquitous but useless “tenants in the market.” Your broker will not have a list. I guarantee it. They do not have demand side information that they have developed themselves. They may ask for a few hours but don’t give it to them.

Then the landlord community may just realize that, in their broker’s opinion, no matter how slick their latest email may be, or how fascinating their web site may appear, that you’re just another building with a “for lease” sign on it. Along with the other 10 buildings they’ve hung a shingle on.

Wouldn’t it be nice if brokers actually marketed your buildings?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Why urban Planning Fails--especially in Boston

The Boston Globe’s article “Urban Analysis” (Monday, October 3, 2011) is another self-indulgent look at what urban planners want to do and what urban planners can do. And none of it is new or cutting edge.

The Romans were perhaps the world’s most successful urban planners. Why—because Rome, at the height of its power, was an absolute dictatorship, with a Senate thrown in for good looks. It was a lot like Mayor Menino’s Boston with the City Council along for the ride. Urban planners hold tight to the belief that a good plan creates good development. The problem with that thinking is that there is a complete lack of recognition that land transfer and ownership in this country is private. Yes, government must and should control infrastructure and common land uses such as parks and recreation. But you can plan your heart away and if the CEO of a company doesn’t agree that point x generated by some type of Urban Network Analysis toolbox, the game’s up. Planners cannot execute.

And adding more and more data does not help. Nigel Jacob, in the Mayor’s office, who, by the way, needs to realize he works for a man who gives lip service to urban planning but absolute interest in Menino planning, needs to take a serious course in what is and is not “revolutionary” in urban planning. Nigel and the weekend data warriors should stop playing with numbers first and spend some time realizing they are not urban planning revolutionaries. Some suggestions: Ptolemy, Erastotshenes, Alexander von Humboldt, William Hunt Morris, and Robert Moses. Phone apps for removing graffiti and choosing great spots for bike racks is not exactly the stuff of revolution.

There is a fine line between setting a context for development and developing. Vornado and Filene’s come to mind. Ouch, that hurts. The planner and his toolbox are on the context side. Private capital, motivated by no set rules, is on the other. I have a good sense of this. I studied geography and economic development in college and have practiced commercial real estate for 29 years in Boston.

I must say I didn’t foresee “Occupy Boston” as a land use for the so-called Greenway. Was that in the plan?