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Deals & Dealmakers

Real Estate Tech Week kicks off in NYC

Industry experts are gathering in New York City for Real Estate Tech Week.

The week encompasses 12 real estate tech events from Monday to Friday that includes panels and roundtables addressing how property tech is moving the industry forward. The weeklong event kicked off with the real estate tech media outlet Propmodo’s event with several panels and its keynote conversation with Bradley Tusk.

Tusk, the founder and CEO of Tusk Ventures and former political flack, is known for his work with startups in helping them cut through the red tape of government. Tusk has worked with Uber in its fight against New York City’s proposed limitations and other startups like online fantasy sports platform FanDuel and renters’ insurance company Lemonade. For the startup advisor and venture capitalist, there are similarities between getting what you want in the startup world and in the real estate industry.

“The vast majority of real estate people in New York are totally afraid and they said I don’t want to piss off this councilmember, the borough president, the community board,” Tusk said. “As a result, you’re just going to go through the system and it’s going to take forever.”

Instead, he offered a more aggressive strategy for developers or companies looking to face City Council. When asked how he would approach a controversial zoning change, he said it’s about convincing and coercion.

“You got to go and figure out how do I scare them enough that ultimately my interests are more important than the interests of the community board or whoever is opposed to this thing,” Tusk said. “In my mind, you got to be willing to figure out how to make my need politically relevant to the person in charge.”

While Tusk discussed how to get a project done, the following panel was dedicated on how to use all the data in the real estate industry in the proper way. As data has permeated all aspects of the industry, companies are now focusing on how to correctly apply the data to use themselves or offer to their clients.
The panelists included Altus Group’s Ross Litkenhous, John Fitzpatrick from Blackstone, Paul Massey from B6 Real Estate Advisors and CohnReznick’s Paul Ricci and was moderated by VTS’ Rick Ferrino.

Fitzpatrick said Blackstone has the benefit of a large amount of private data due to being a top player in the real estate management, debt and equity, and the hedge fund world. On top of their own information, Blackstone also accesses public databases to pull out relevant data. But one of the greatest challenges for them is figuring out how to marry both the information from public and their private databases and offer it up in a understandable manner.

“Data in general is just not easy to share,” FItzpartrick said. “At Blackstone, we take all data from our portfolios, create a central data hub, but at the end of the day, the core is getting data in a clean manner so you can use it for numerous things.”

Litkenhous added that Altus Group is dealing with a very similar issue.

“For us when we’re looking at data strategy, it’s inventorying everything you have, but also taking a step back and thinking about what you’re delivering with that data and what’s the use case,” Ross Litkenhous, a panelist and the global head of business development at Altus Group, said. “At the end of the day, are you collecting the data in the right way and the right type of data to deliver the right solution?”

While data has flooded the real estate world, Massey said it’s still important to remember the human element of the industry.

“We can jam all the data we want into our warehouse, dissect it, report on it, but ultimately it’s human judgement,” Massey said.

For B6, Massey said their goal with data is to help their agents work more efficiently and also to form partnerships with other companies.

With data and the means to decipher it available to the real estate market now, Litkenhous said the industry needs to bridge the gap between humans and the technology.

“Once we build these great tools that are built on top of data and analytics, you got to work on implementation and training to connect the dots,” Litkenhous said. “Because real estate is still very much art and not just science, so we talk a lot about technology, but you can’t forget the human component.”

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