When people begin the search for a new home, whether the goal is a house, a condominium, or an apartment, the chances are that many of them will start by looking either at a print publication, like the Renters’ Guide that they find outside supermarkets, or one of the many online resources, such as Zillow, Trulia, or Realtor.com. The commercial real estate sector does not yet have those kinds of resources to help buyers, but that might soon change.

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Traditionally, the residential real estate market has been the focus of many of the real estate directories and search websites, possibly because many residential buyers lack the knowledge of and interest in the real estate market necessary to navigate its intricacies. Perhaps it is also because, as Josh Guttman notes in his February 10, 2015 post in Tech Crunch, the residential market is the “low-hanging fruit of the real estate vertical,” while commercial listings require information that is “tedious to gather and ‘dirty’ – making it challenging to use.”

This challenge also presents an exciting opportunity, according to Guttman. Multiple participants in each transaction mean that realtors might have to target the needs and interests of everyone from mortgage brokers and developers to appraisers and builders.

Making better use of technology through similar websites targeted to the commercial real estate market is an idea that is starting to generate discussion in the industry. Norma Jean Walton, a real estate investment executive, co-founder of Rocket Property Ltd. and leader in several other companies, believes that technology can be as beneficial in the commercial real estate sector, as it has been in the residential sector.

“Part of the key [is] … creating an environment that is impressive for prospective buyers,” says Norma Walton in regard to selling property. The same can apply to the use of technology.

The business website at Rocket Property Ltd. is a good example of the kind of information that could be useful for people working in this industry. Besides providing information on the founders and portfolio of the company, the website includes an informative blog dealing with such topics as “The Nine Different Types of Real Estate” and other subjects of interest to new or returning property owners.

For people with the time and inclination to spend time searching, limited information regarding commercial properties is available from sources such as the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Canada Real Estate Directory, and others. However, the vast and undefined nature of commercial property, ranging from tiny boutique shop spaces to massive factory complexes, makes it difficult for any single resource to fill all of the needs.
Despite the challenges, the commercial real estate business can still benefit from implementing directories and search websites such as the ones that are available for residential properties. The prevalence of the Internet and the convenience of modern electronic technology all make the implementation of online resources feasible.

Creativity is necessary in the commercial real estate industry, especially given the growth of suburbs and the decline of downtown areas in recent decades. As the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s website notes, “Retail uses combined with residential units on upper floors along main streets is being promoted in many of Canada’s towns and cities as a component of downtown revitalization strategies.”

An effective resource for real estate information would highlight these types of opportunities, giving creative solutions to problems such as urban sprawl and decaying infrastructure. This kind of technology can make a formerly arduous process much easier.

As Josh Guttman says, “The real estate industry is vast and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface when it comes to opportunity for technology-enabled innovation.”

Improved access to information through technological innovations has already been helping buyers and sellers in the residential real estate market connect with each other, and it can do the same in the commercial market. With comprehensive and accessible sources of information such as websites and databases, business and factory owners might soon find their task of buying and selling property much easier than it has been so far.