By Jack Stubbs
In the current boom of commercial real estate tech, many companies are looking to bring new platforms to the market that streamline the property management industry. iDevelop.city, a platform founded in Palo Alto, California in May 2017, seeks to provide a nationwide unified zoning viewer and search tool for commercial and multifamily properties.
We recently spoke with Stas Alexandrov, founder and CEO of the platform, about how it aims to impact the multifamily market and the tools it provides industry professionals with, and broader trends influencing the industry.
What can you tell me about the iDevelop.city (where and when the company was founded, current goals of the platform, etc.)? Where does the platform operate, both demographically and geographically?
We started from few cities in the Valley and expanded to the largest cities in California and Texas. Since the zoning code is the first building block in any real estate development phase, it’s invaluable to have it digitized in a single format, on demand, for any city in the country.
Information is the most vital component in any deal. Knowing that the property one is selling as a duplex can be developed into 12 units multi-family dwelling will multiply the land value. Entering the deal room, one should have all the information in the palm of one’s hands. To receive a notification that a developer rezoned a lot can significantly ease the rezoning of parcels which are next to it.
What are some of the practical day-to-day services that iDevelop.city provides its clients? Specifically, how does the platform aim to increase transparency and efficiency between brokers and developers?
Our product allows any real estate professional or even a homeowner to see its zoning and all the restrictions filtered by use as [simply] as [searching] for an address in Google maps. Just type in the address or an APN, or simply select the lot on map, and one will have all the restrictions, allowed and conditional uses, and even a 3D rendering of max buildable area one can put on the lot. Now, brokers can provide much more information to the developers, land sellers or buyers, or even the home owners and provide them with the whole picture about their property.
To what degree does the platform address a “broken workflow” in the commercial real estate industry, and how does it seek to build upon older more outdated methods of communication and data synthesis?
[This is a] time when cities that are within the zoning code are zone-focused (industrial/ commercial/residential etc.) and the entire industry is use-oriented. Each zone and its code does not only varies from city to city, but also includes dozens of uses which have completely different restrictions from use to use.
Commercial zones can include up to 70 uses while each one of them have a different set of restrictions. All this information is spread in hundreds of pages of a PDF, in the best case, with links upon links that takes days to digest and come up with the answer for a single use. iDevelop.city instantly provides the relevant extract of all the information per desired use for any lot in the city.
How does the company’s location in Palo Alto inform its day-to-day operations and strategies? What is the current state of the Bay Area real estate market, and how do some of these regional trends map onto broader national trends in the industry?
The Bay Area, and San Francisco in particular, is considered to be one of the most expensive zip codes in the nation and the hottest market for development. The combination of those two factors makes the accessibility of the zoning information and highest and best use of the land invaluable. The real estate market is extremely competitive but has a high ROI.
In the current era of commercial real estate tech, are clients looking for more transparency and efficiency throughout the property-searching process? How is the platform looking to participate in broader market trends defining the industry?
Accessibility to information, speed, and knowledge are essential for success in any industry, especially in real estate where the stakes are high [and] the projects come with high risks and long- term investments. With accelerated urbanization, ridiculously high land prices and construction and labor costs, any developer is trying to maximize and squeeze the maximum on any piece of land. To be able to search the entire city for lots that meet one’s criteria in a fraction of a second is a key for success for any broker or developer. Nowadays, there is no tool that enables to search the entire city for lots based on use, lot side, transaction dates and other parameters. iDevelop.city allows the brokers to search and create off-market deals, and [allows] the developers [to] find hidden gems that can be developed into magnificent jewelry.
Now so more than ever, there are an abundance of tech-based platforms that do what iDevelop.city does (streamlining communication between brokers and developers, synthesizing and centralizing property data, and generally simplifying the process across the board). Why should investors choose iDevelop.city over other platforms? What makes the platform stand out from the crowd?
At the time when all of the tech-based platforms just scrap and aggregate the same public information and pack it in a different way, iDevelop.city is the only platform that actually did a deep analysis of the zoning code and broke it down not only to permitted or conditional use level, but as deep as to the restriction level.
We provide information as detailed as how much area one should reserve for parking or pervious area. We allow to search based on use or current footprint on site, construction date or last transaction date. After one narrows his search to a few potential lots, we instantly generate a 3D rendering for any use on the desired lot, saving thousands of dollars and, even more importantly, weeks of iterations with architects.
Specifically, can you elaborate on the building code search-function of the platform? How does the platform aim to bridge the gap between public and private documents available to industry professionals?
The planning departments in the cities are zone-oriented, while the entire industry doesn’t care about the zone but [rather] the actual use of the structure. The vast majority of the cities publish the zoning code in a PDF format, which can be thousands of pages summarizing hundreds of different zones and uses. Most of the cities do not have web maps that show the different zones for their users. The developers have to actually go to the planning department to figure out the zone and then scrap through the code and extract the information for the desired use.
iDevelop.city operates in the commercial and residential markets. Are there any plans to expand in the future into other sectors (e.g. healthcare, retail, education)? Which of these sectors do you think will gain added importance over the next 12 to 18 months? Why?
Zoning code is the first building block in any real estate transaction, whether it is development, investment, re-re-entitlement, house flip or renovation or adding an additional dwelling unit. We have a few verticals and clients who need the data we are collecting, digitizing, reorganizing and bridging the gap between the policy makers and the private sector. The ability to visualize the zoning and its impact on investments, development or an urban planning is of the highest importance.
Is there anything that concerns you about the state of the industry moving forward? Conversely, what are you most excited about? What lies ahead for the platform?
The real estate industry is the last of the mohicans. Inevitably, it will have to adopt to the disruptive technological innovations. The ones who figure out how to utilize technology to their advantage, rather than reject it, will rise and benefit from higher ROI and better and faster deal flow. What excites me is that the time for information monopoly is ending. Co-Star and other firms can’t hold the entire industry by the belt.
Down the road, since we already digitized the zoning and added a lot of other publicly available information, we allow our users to run “what if scenarios”—to combine multiple lots into single polygon, split lots, modify zones and generate a modified 3D rendering. We’ve just saved our users weeks of iterations with an architect, dozens of thousands of dollars and enabled them to create an investment opportunity that was hidden from their [view].