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New software gives real estate a view of the future

Technologically savvy marketing campaigns are changing the landscape of commercial real estate. No longer do companies have to fly in their clients from abroad or across the nation just to see the site of a new building. And commercial real estate clients no longer have to wait until the completion of a building to see the view from the 20th floor. Through sophisticated Websites and CD-ROMs, companies now can offer prospective clients virtual tours of properties and their neighborhoods, as well as time lapse animation films recreating construction from start to finish.

Pioneers of commercial real estate admit that high-tech marketing ventures can cost a pretty penny, but say the return on investment is well worth the effort.

"It's comparable to the cost of creating a really nice brochure. You can spend $10,000 to $250,000 on a Website, and some big real estate companies do spend up to $150,000. But it's a return-on-investment decision," says Paul Wintermute, vice president of Transamerica Realty Services (TRS), based in Los Angeles. "Not everyone is on the bandwagon yet, but it's a unique way of marketing your property."

Wintermute is playing an integral role in the creation of two new TRS Websites to promote the Transamerica Center, a three building office and retail complex in Los Angeles (, and the Transamerica Pyramid building in San Francisco ( At press time, the Transamerica Pyramid Website was still under construction but will be on the Internet at some point this month. Both sites will go through many phases, according to Wintermute, but if phase one results of are any indication, TRS certainly has a lot to boast about. Not only does the site offer dramatic views of downtown Los Angeles from the TA Center, it also allows surfers to view amenities in the buildings, see floor plans and use an area map of Los Angeles.

"Phase one (of focuses on brokers in Los Angeles. Clients, whether they are sitting in an office in Los Angeles or Atlanta, can view it [the building] together in real time. It's a unique advantage," Wintermute adds.

While Phase one of the Transamerica Pyramid site in San Francisco is being completed, Wintermute is planning phase two for the site, which will use a Web camera from the pyramid of the building. The top of the pyramid has cameras set up in a virtual observation deck. People will be able to adjust the cameras at computer terminals from the lobby of the building. "At the pyramid site you can see in real-time views of San Francisco. We've used JAVA applets to do this," Wintermute explains.

The Transamerica Pyramid site also will cater to tenants by allowing them to download the Tenant Handbook, the Emergency Procedures Manual and a quarterly newsletter by using Adobe Acrobat - saving TRS expensive printing fees.

Other real estate companies also are using the Internet to promote projects. According to Amy McBroom, vice president of communications for The John Akridge Cos. of Washington, D.C., the return on investment from utilizing high technology in marketing can sometimes reap quick rewards.

The John Akridge Cos.' first CD- ROM, highlighting Presidents Park, a commercial office development in Herndon, Va., won a runner's up award this year from the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP).

McBroom says the company took architectural animation from a rendering of the project and worked with a computer firm to incorporate it into a marketing tool. "The CD is packaged in a cover that displays the project logo on the front, the site plan and various selling points on the back, and instructions on how to load the CD on the inside front cover," she adds. "Once loaded, the viewer is taken on a tour of the property."

The virtual tour begins much like a video, with an animation of the logo, accompanied by music and a voice-over introducing Presidents Park. From there, a series of maps and amenity information are presented and viewers are "driven" to the lobby of the building for a look inside. Then, viewers are lifted on a virtual flight over the building, allowing them aerial views of the surrounding areas.

"It was a real success, a hit. We were really breaking ground here. We were trying to appeal to the high-tech folks of the Dulles Toll Road Corridor, and the CD was a real driving force," McBroom says, adding that the company is currently creating a Website that will enable visitors to see similar animated projects, as well as more CDs for other buildings.

While the John Akridge Cos. was busy trying to simulate views from the top floor of a building not yet built, Batson-Cook Co. ( was taking the opposite approach.

Using a time-lapse camera positioned near the Galleria 400 building in Atlanta, the general contracting and construction company will be able to recreate the entire construction of the building in future marketing tools and on its Website.

According to Ann Glover, creative director for Batson-Cook in Atlanta, the video camera is set up to take time- lapse pictures every three seconds. The complete time-lapse film should take all of two to three minutes. The Galleria 400 is being built on the Galleria Office Complex near Cobb Parkway and I-285 in Atlanta and is expected to be completed by February.

MindsEye Media, (, an Atlanta-based company, will create the time-lapse video for the CD for Batson-Cook, as well as all other high-tech marketing projects.

"We have partnered with MindsEye Media for all of our projects. They are revamping our Website and creating our intranet," Glover adds.

The company's revamped Website will include more information in an "In the News" section highlighting stories, new projects and ground breakings, and new footage will be used to create CDs to be sent to existing and prospective clients, sub contractors and prospective employees.

Dominick DeFrank, sales and marketing director for MindsEye Media, says his creative team is working with other clients on a variety of projects from time-lapse to real-time cameras and animation.

"It's all possible now. We have a proposal in to a Florida architecture company to use a remote helicopter, attached with a camera, to fly up the column of a 20-story building that is not built yet in order to get the skyline view," DeFrank says. "In an interactive CD-ROM, you can go into the elevator and push any floor of an oval-shaped building and choose a room on the floor and see the view out the window, literally - all before it [the building] ever exists. You can start selling the building before it exists."

Meanwhile, Jeff Seal, graphics director of Colliers CRG ( of Salt Lake City, Utah, is forging ahead into new territory for most in the real estate industry.

On the Colliers Web site, people can download QuickTime VR software necessary to view the "VR tours" of the Bountiful Town Center, which is located at

Once on the site, a map of the town center is shown with five spots that can be viewed. Once clicked, with the appropriate browser and plug in, a picture will appear. While what appears looks like a typical image, it can actually be viewed at 360-degree angles from anywhere on the property.

While Seal acknowledges that not everyone will be able to view his 3D "panoramic movies," he says that Colliers has decided that it just can't cater to everyone. "The technology is still so new and people are conservative. Everyone plays to the lowest common denominator, but they have to stop being dinosaurs. Get an updated browser - it's free," Seal adds.

Pictures are a crucial component on real estate Websites, and making this process simple is what PictureWorks Technology Inc. strives to do. The Danville, Calif.-based provider of digital imaging tools has recently teamed with Moore Data Management Services ( based in Minneapolis.

MDMS will be the first multiple listing service to utilize Picture Works' "Prepare and Post" technology - giving subscribers the ability to quickly post multiple pictures on their Websites. While this partnership is brand new, Moore's MLS/Xplorer with Prepare & Post would, according to Lori Brostrom, vice president of marketing for the company, give brokers and agents the ability to market their listings to other agents via the Internet more easily and effectively than ever before.

"It hasn't been developed yet. But PictureWorks technology works well with browser-based technology like ours. They can export up to four photos, interior shots, or exterior shots, and have more control in terms of what the pictures look like," Brostrom says, adding that those who subscribe to or will appreciate the ease this technology provides.

Essentially, members now will be able to take pictures of their properties with a digital camera and then save them onto discs. These images will then be saved to a dedicated server that forwards the images to the PictureWorks server for editing. The PictureWorks server already has the specifications for each picture and can crop them to fit a particular site. Once edited, these images will then be available through MLS files, allowing clients to download the images by clicking and dragging. This process only takes a matter of minutes, according to Brostrom.

The PictureWorks technology should be available to MDMS clients early next year. For more information about what PictureWorks has to offer, visit its Website at:

"These [images] can then be exported to Websites or to newspapers for advertisements more easily," Brostrom adds. "It saves an immense amount of time and there's no fear of mixing up pictures or losing them. They are all stored on the MLS server. It's really a slick program."

San Francisco company leads the way in virtual reality While some companies are just beginning to establish a presence on the Web, San Francisco-based Starboard Commercial Real Estate (, was the first commercial real estate Website on the Internet in 1995, according to Paul Steffen, director of marketing and Web master for Starboard.

"We were actually the first commercial real estate Website on Yahoo in North America in spring 1995. We were using the Internet as a marketing tool to target software firms we wanted to work with - to go after a particular group and pick them up. It was very successful in the beginning," Steffen says.

With its early emergence on the Internet, Starboard was highlighted in the PikeNet Directory of Commercial Real Estate (, an e-mail newsletter profiling unique sites and features by various real estate companies. Starboard was commended for its October launch of an e-mail "newsflash service" to keep brokers and any interested parties in the loop the minute a property became available. To subscribe to this service, just send a message with "subscribe" in the body or subject of the e-mail to [email protected].

But e-mail news flashes are not the only highlight of Starboard's technological marketing ability. On its corporate Website, viewers can not only find pertinent real estate information, but they also can take a virtual tour of San Francisco and find information on relocating.

Although Starboard uses its Website for a lot of marketing, it still wants to do more, but Steffen says they must wait for many in the industry to catch up."Our problem is that a lot of people in the brokerage community are not online and a lot of people are running old versions of software," he explains.

With those brokers in mind, Steffen has designed the Starboard site for everyone, even those who still think a mouse is something you find on the farm. "We've made our site simple to work with the lowest common denominator. Just about any browser and any machine can use it," he adds.

Keeping the site simple, however, is hard when there is so much technology available. Steffen and his colleagues are currently working with video and streaming three-dimensional photographs over the Internet. With PhotoVista or Quick Time software, Steffen can now publish Quick Time VTR 3D spin around, or 360 degree views of rooms and buildings online, as well as adding features that will allow viewers to jump into the next room and move forward and backward.

But Steffen says he doesn't want to put anything on the Website that clients and other brokers would not be able to view."Next year or so, you will be able to see this on our Website. We're waiting for the browsers to offer all the plug ins to view 3D photos," he says. "Right now, it [Starboard software] looks at all of the machines that have browsed our site and e-mails me detailed information every morning at 6 a.m. It tells me exactly what browsers people are using, whether they are using Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator and what version - either 2.0 or 4.0."

While Steffen admits that this software is a "bit like Big Brother," he says that the daily statistics allow him to design the site according to people's needs. But in the next year, Steffen predicts that the Starboard site will include much more technology."The next thing we'll do is 3D photos and provide complete flyers either in Adobe Acrobat or HTML. We will provide complete document packages on each property including photographs and mapping information," he adds.

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