In a Canadian commercial real estate market facing bearish conditions across most asset classes, any advantage that can improve asset performance becomes increasingly essential to withstand the economic challenges.
The CRE industry is typically awash in data, but the extent to which that data is leveraged by asset owners has not always kept pace, especially when it comes to occupier data.
Toronto-based firm simplydbs has developed a series of data products built for real estate owners, operators and developers to make them more responsive to the needs of occupiers — and therefore more successful. The suite of tools launched commercially about a year ago.
Mainly, simplydbs provides what its founders call “circular surveys” through its product Shape Your Space, which gathers data on preferences and satisfaction from tenants and residents via custom surveys that are regular and adaptive.
“There's actually nothing like this currently as a solution for users of space,” said simplydbs CEO Sarah Segal, who co-founded the company with COO Katherine Radziszewski. “Traditional surveys are done in a linear fashion.”
Segal said that means typical user surveys in the CRE space are one-directional and close-ended, and not conducted frequently so “there's no way to form that relationship with the people in the buildings.”
Better data collection and analytics
Canada’s commercial real estate firms lag global peers in adopting, and adapting, data science into their investment strategies, according to Altus Group's The State of Data Science in Commercial Real Estate Investing report.
The report stated 93 per cent of Canadian firms use analytics, but only 35 per cent employed data science to properly interpret and leverage that data.
"simplydbs uses both feedback programs and ESG solutions as much as a data science methodology to power decisions for the industry as a whole," Segal said.
"By combining math and statistics, advanced analytics with industry expertise, our products are able to provide actionable insights for our clients.”
Segal said these occupier-centric insights are used to guide strategic planning and decision-making for all areas of an organization, including leasing, property management, asset management and investor relations.
Surveys on the Shape Your Space platform are updated or changed every 30 days and provide opportunity for granular or personal feedback. Segal said the team filters the data to provide reports and visualizations.
"The industry now has a tool to know what people are thinking every day with our circular and relationship-driven survey and feedback platform, Shape Your Space,” Segal said, adding that in challenging economic times, information is more important than ever to validate and inform decisions.
Survey data can unlock interesting revelations
simplydbs has performed surveys, for example, that revealed people feel less safe in their parking area than they do in other areas of the building.
"We asked what would make you feel more safe in your parking area? It turns out that (it’s) not on-site attendants, but actually video cameras. So now we're able to go back to our clients and say, 'What is the signage like? Do you have cameras? If you have them, make sure people know you have cameras.' ”
As with most survey data, the larger the response pool, the better the results.
"Our national multifamily survey that we just finished (included) some 20,000 responses," Segal said. “With 20,000 responses we achieved a 95-99% confidence level, meaning if we ran the survey again, the likelihood we would receive the same results is 95-99 per cent.”
One of the main takeaways from that national survey was that 46 per cent of renters said they were renters out of preference. (Sixteen per cent of those respondents said renting was a better fit for their budget, meaning 30 per cent preferred renting for other reasons).
simplydbs is working with clients including Canadian Apartment Properties REIT, Cushman & Wakefield, Fiera Real Estate and Starlight. The company is also an official partner with GRESB Real Estate.
Segal said residential, office and retail owners have been driving the most demand for the products.
Other simplydbs products
In addition to Shape Your Space, the company has other products including Activate This Space, which gathers demand-side data ahead of creative placemaking and activations, capital expenditure programs, new developments and/or redevelopments; and SDBS Engagement Index, which measures creative activations, placemaking and events.
simplydbs then provides an overall activation score and a broader building/portfolio score for benchmarking.
Most of the data the firm provides is national- or broad-based-level data, Segal said. It's not about asking a single building's tenants if they want food trucks on Thursdays.
"It's about (surveying) all users of that asset class; all office employees; all retail shoppers; all retail employees.”
The surveys function by "layering on to existing communications," Segal said. That could be a digital sign or a QR code, an app, or any type of regular building communications channels.
"We understand where the responses are coming from, (but we also don’t) burden property management teams with a lot of extra work."
Segal said the voices of building users or residents should be used to inform ownership and management.
“Demand data informs ROI assumptions from validating capital and technological decisions, benchmarking satisfaction and services to predictive analytics and more,” Segal said.
“Understanding what people in our spaces want and need is invaluable.”