The Real Deal New York

Real estate unplugged: Why do brokers forgo the latest technology?

By Yasmeen Qureshi | April 01, 2013 07:00AM

These days, a bewildering array of new real estate — related technologies, from iPads to “virtual staging,” are all but essential to doing business in New York.

Or are they?

Some successful real estate pros have just said “no” to all this technology, claiming it distracts them from the business at hand. Landlord Frank Ring, who owns some 15 office buildings, famously does not use email and prefers to be contacted by fax. Famed architect Robert A.M. Stern once told The Real Deal: “I don’t even know how to turn a computer on and I don’t want to.” And one New York landlord who requested anonymity said while he does do business over email, he hasn’t yet figured out how to send or receive attachments.

Adelaide Polsinelli, a senior director at Eastern Consolidated, said she devotes entire sections of her address book to New York building owners who can only be reached by phone or fax, while others “only embrace technology as much as their secretaries can do it.”

But avoiding technology doesn’t hurt them much in business, she said: In the face of New York City’s perpetual housing shortage, the onus is on brokers to get in touch with them. And for certain elements of real estate, “there’s nothing better than a face-to-face meeting,” said Edward Minskoff of Edward J. Minskoff Equities, developer of the under-construction office building 51 Astor Place. Things like assessing a building’s physical condition or visualizing an architect’s design, he said, simply can’t be done over email.

Minskoff does carry a BlackBerry, but said he deletes 70 percent of his email without opening it, because he can tell just from the subject line that it’s a “waste of time.”

The real estate industry overall tends to embrace technology less than other fields, said Doug Perlson, founder of the online brokerage RealDirect. Perlson, a former real estate lawyer and one-time CEO of the online advertising company Targetspot, said he started RealDirect in part because he felt brokers and developers were failing to capitalize on the Internet. “I felt like the best practices that we built in online advertising should be used in real estate,” he said.

And by skipping out on technology and especially social media, these players may be missing out on business opportunities, said David Maundrell, president of the brokerage Maundrell said that he frequently gets online queries for people who want to rent apartments, sight unseen.

“Social media is a great way to informally contact your target market,” he said.