WASHINGTON, DC-The Society of Industrial and Office Realtors Education Foundation has hired two Wharton professors to conduct a study on how Internet brokerage services can affect the commercial real estate brokerage industry.

While the study will investigate whether online services “disintermediate” brokers, it will be the first to make basic measurements of the fragmented brokerage industry. It will tackle questions such as how much space do brokers represent and how much value do brokers, and other real estate professionals, bring in the commercial real estate value chain, according to the Washington-based nonprofit trade association.

“It will be the first to define the metrics of the industry,” says Steve Blau, president-elect of SIOR and a trustee of the foundation. “There aren’t any good figures that says the commercial real estate industry or the property management segment or the asset management segment is a $10-billion or a $12-billion or a $42-billion industry.”

It’s necessary to pin down such facts in order to determine how technology can harm or help the industry.

“There’s quite a bit of speculation on the impact of technology on the commercial real estate industry, specifically the brokerage segment. No one has studied the industry with the kind of rigor that an institution like Wharton can that is necessary to prove or disprove such claims,” said Blau, vice president of GMH Capital Partners in Newtown Square, PA.

The study, budgeted in the six figures, will issue three white papers in stages during 2001. The first phase will describe the scope of the commercial brokerage industry. The second will survey online brokerage activities, identifying Internet sites and companies involved.

The third will analyze how brokerages will be affected–or “disintermediated”–by technology. This would assess how fees and value-added steps would be affected, breaking down the analysis as far as possible by property type and transaction type.

SIOR officials hope the study won’t just identify threats and risks, but also potential opportunities in how brokers can use online services.

“It can lay out where the industry goes with these technologies,” Blau says.

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