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Andy Fuhrman has spent years promoting national and international standards for the commercial real estate industry. But even Fuhrman, the San Francisco-based CEO of the Washington, DC-based Open Standards Consortium for Real Estate (OSCRE), was surprised to discover the real-life standards were making their way into virtual worlds. “I was contacted by someone who wanted to use the OSCRE standards in Second Life,” he recalls, referencing the prominent virtual world launched by Linden Research Inc. five years ago. From Aug. 2006 to April 2007, statistics show Second Life’s population swelled from less than 100,000 to more than six million.

A downloadable program allows Second Life participants, called “residents”, to interact with each other through motional avatars or computer generated virtual representations. Residents can explore, meet other Residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, create and trade services and even buy virtual property. “I was told participants wanted to use our lease abstract, space classifications and information exchange standards to track property in virtual worlds,” he continues. “It just about blew the top of my head off.”

But he didn’t say no. Standards enable real estate professionals to speak the same language, from country to country or from one world to another. They’re a good thing, Fuhrman says, especially at a time when the line between virtual and real is increasingly blurred. For Fuhrman, the convergence of the tangible and the intangible is both exciting and challenging. Here’s what he had to say about standards, reality and the state of the real estate industry.

GlobeSt: What impact are virtual worlds having on traditional real estate and, more importantly, CRE professionals?

Fuhrman: People have invested real money in virtual worlds…not the millions of dollars people invest in brick-and-mortar properties, but a significant amount. Now they’re starting to use real world standards. Virtual worlds are also beginning to generate a tremendous amount of education and training by actual real estate firms that establish a presence within them. The newest generation, potential future real estate professionals, are working, talking and collaborating in these worlds. They’re used to working in the virtual environment.

Even in the real corporate world, people aren’t tethered to their desks anymore. Because of wireless technologies, they can create virtual offices. They can work from anywhere in the building…or anywhere on the campus, in the country or in the world. I’ve been doing it myself. I’ve been working out of my home office for 15 years and routinely interact with professionals globally.

GlobeSt: Do you think the increasing importance of virtual reality could have an adverse affect on brick-and-mortar real estate?

Fuhrman: I believe we’ll see office space and office space requirements start to shrink because of this kind of technology. Already, at typical peak occupancy times in mid-afternoon, many companies find their offices only 40% occupied. The changes are exciting. But I do have some concerns that if there’s a reduction in brick-and-mortar real estate then there could also be a reduction in real estate related jobs. What will the decrease in space do to jobs for brokers, lenders, architects, engineers and construction workers? I realize there could just be a job shift, or the creation of new types of jobs. Maybe more and more real estate professionals will transition from brick-and-mortar offices to virtual space. And maybe some of them will still want real world offices.

GlobeSt: So you don’t have any issues with the proliferation of virtual worlds or integrating OSCRE standards into virtual worlds?

Fuhrman: From my perspective as CEO of OSCRE, whether we’re talking about virtual worlds or real worlds, the objective is to help people in the real estate industry work more efficiently in terms of the quality of the data being exchanged. OSCRE exists to establish a common, industry wide business language that enables stakeholders throughout the supply chain to easily, quickly and cost effectively receive and send electronic business information, regardless of the technology, operating system or applications they employ.

In many cases, especially in high tech industries, product life cycles are only 18 months. It’s important for a company with a product such as that to expedite the real estate development process and get their property operational as soon as possible. OSCRE exists to facilitate those needs. We’ve developed commercial information exchange standards so sellers can move information quickly to brokers and the brokers, no matter what software or system they use, can seamlessly provide that information to listing exchanges. We’re working on data standards that will greatly reduce the cost companies incur for customized integrations, data scrubbing, manual data entry and re-entry. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a real world or a virtual one. Our goal is just to speed the flow of information among everyone in the real estate industry.

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