September 11, 2009

Texas Firm Launches Online Commercial Property Development Tool

by Tracy Ostroff
Contributing Editor

How do you . . . connect professionals online to execute commercial real estate development projects?

Summary: Moman Architects, Round Rock, Tex., launched in July a new Web-based tool to aggregate industry professionals and resources related to commercial property development and help make connections among them. John Moman, AIA, principal and owner of Moman Architects, says the Property Investment Connection™ (PIC) Web site brings together in one place resources for commercial property development, answering a need for such an online community of related professionals.

The firm says PIC, provides the real estate industry’s only interactive cross-platform resource tool solely dedicated to commercial development. Although people looking for such information could do it piecemeal through other Web sites, Moman notes, PIC brings together developers, investors, architects, real estate agents and brokers, financial institutions, title companies, engineers/consultants and investors in one place.

ORBITing commercial development
“It is not modeled on anything we know of. It is a different way of doing business,” Moman says. The impetus for the idea was to generate site plans as part of a larger marketing effort the firm trademarked as “ORBIT,” which maximizes investments by forging collaborations with commercial lending institutions and development brokers to pursue regional development projects. The ORBIT process stands for “Opportunities in the Region for Brokers and Institutions through Test-fits.”

The architects have found that getting involved with banks and title companies on the front end of deals offers the opportunity to take advantage of untapped resources that can provide history and information about properties in the area, Moman says. The new data points, along with reports from the more typical up-front partners, like MEP and civil engineers, can get work off the ground, help facilitate program decisions, and move projects forward.

As a result, they saw they could bring heretofore related but unconnected people together through the Web site and get architects involved early on in the commercial development process. “We realized we didn’t see a single source that brought businesses centered on real estate together,” Moman says, “and do it from start to finish efficiently and cost-effectively.”

Project Team Builder
Registration is now free. Moman is unsure when and if the decision will be made to require paid subscriptions. He says that will be when there is a critical mass of participants and when members can see the value in it. started with 22 registrations, many from Moman’s own firm. It has now surpassed 75 users. Recently, he notes, it attracted a structural engineer registered in 48 states.

Moman highlights Project Team Builder™, an application that allows users to search 20 categories of industry professionals. The search can be limited by target area, project type, size, construction budget, funding needs, and other specific keywords. Multiple teams and searches can be saved and updated.

PIC gives members a custom company/professional profile pages to showcase their work history and experience, and a members-only bulletin board and in-network messaging.

Moman also hopes to build up the commercial real estate listing and networking service. The site links properties to Google Maps, something new for the industry in central Texas. Users can bookmark listings, see photos, and get more detailed property information.

The project is growing by word of mouth, press, and seminars. So far, the most populous user group is architects, followed by real estate agents and brokers.

Personal connections
The firm spent a year thinking through the project. The Web site went through a rigorous beta-testing phase. An outside company programmed, but Moman says the firm has devoted much of its own time to it, practice hours that he and colleagues are making up elsewhere.

Susan Harris, AIA, principal of Harris Welker Architects in Austin, says she signed up after seeing an article in the local newspaper and recalling working with John Moman through a local AIA program.

“As architects, we need to be more at the top of the list when projects and things are happening,” Welker says. “More and more we are seeing architects on the business side. As architects, we have the vision, but we also have to have the confidence to know we can do this.” She likens PIC to other marketing efforts in the struggling economy. “Some of these things are seeds we plant now that will flower later.”

Andy Albin, director of Marketing and Business Development for Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects, Austin, filled out a profile for his firm. “In theory it’s an interesting idea. Even though the economy is in a downturn, firms and individuals are trying new things. Developers typically know who they want to work with, as do architects, but maybe a developer from out of town could get a roster of appropriate people.”

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