The spreadsheets and other basic tools many universities use to inform real estate decisions often work well for the modest investment required. Yet solutions specifically designed to aid in real estate decisions offer some advantages:
- A glimpse at the future. “Spreadsheets tell you what you have,” says Mike Porritt, vice president for advisory services with The Scion Group, an owner, operator and advisor on student housing. “Modeling tools can look into the future.” They can also provide a more comprehensive picture of the market, for instance, by compiling details on potential properties.
- Data analysis. Spreadsheets aren’t databases, says Chris Keller, vice president of client services for Archibus, a provider of real estate and facilities systems. “They don’t have the ability to do data analytics.” While it’s possible to conduct analyses without analytics tools, it often requires a substantial manual effort.
- Administrative efficiencies. Many universities must extract information from multiple systems—say a GIS database and their own financial applications—to make informed real estate decisions. That’s often a largely manual, time-consuming process.
The hitch with more sophisticated tools? To date, many have been geared to and priced for organizations that engage in frequent real estate transactions.
Officials with Arizona State University, for instance, have talked with several providers of real estate database and analytics software, but found most were designed for large real estate firms or corporations. Along with initial investments topping six figures, the solutions carried monthly maintenance fees of several thousand dollars.
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“For a small operation like ours, they weren’t worthwhile,” says Patrick Panetta, director of project management, university real estate development at ASU.
That may be changing. Rob Barthelman, principal with architecture firm Steinberg Hart, says he works with several more affordable products, such as Onuma (Onuma.com) and Dabblefox (Dabblefox.com), that can help in decision-making.
Karen Kroll is a Minnesota-based writer.