Due Diligence Automation in Commercial Real Estate

Published by
Marc Rutzen
November 8, 2023
Due Diligence Automation in Commercial Real Estate

Due diligence is a critical step in any business transaction, acting as a safeguard against potential risks and ensuring a thorough understanding of all parties involved. A staggering 40% of M&A deals fall through because of insufficient due diligence, according to McKinsey. At HelloData.ai, we use AI to assist with surveying comps, determining market rents, and underwriting expenses - all critical steps in the due diligence process. This article will explore what due diligence is, how it can be automated, and the multifaceted benefits of this approach.

What is Due Diligence?

Originating from the Securities Act of 1933, due diligence was institutionalized as a response to the financial market's failings during the Great Depression. It mandated a rigorous investigation — or due diligence — by investors into securities before any commitment of funds. It consists of a comprehensive appraisal of a business or person prior to signing a contract, or an act with a certain standard of care. It can be a legal obligation, but the term will more commonly apply to voluntary investigations. A common example is in a commercial transaction, where due diligence involves a thorough investigation into all relevant aspects of the past, present, and predictable future of the business being purchased.

In the context of various fields, due diligence takes on slightly different meanings:

  1. In Finance and Investing: It involves an examination of financial records before entering into a proposed transaction with another party.
  2. In Business: It refers to the process of investigating a business or person prior to signing a contract. It can involve a variety of tasks such as reviewing financial records, compliance with legal obligations, and evaluating the management team.
  3. In Real Estate: Due diligence is the investigation and review of a property to assess its legal, financial, and physical condition. This process often includes reviewing leases, zoning laws, environmental reports, and the title of the property.
  4. In Employment: Employers may perform due diligence before hiring a candidate, which can include verifying employment history, education credentials, and references.
  5. In Product Development: Companies perform due diligence when developing new products to ensure that they are safe and meet all regulatory requirements.

The due diligence process is designed to protect both parties in a transaction by providing full transparency and preventing unexpected liabilities. It is essentially a way of preventing unnecessary harm to either party involved in a transaction.

What is Due Diligence in Commercial Real Estate?

Due diligence in commercial real estate refers to the comprehensive and critical analysis performed by a buyer before purchasing a property. This process involves evaluating all aspects of the property to ensure it meets the buyer's needs, complies with regulations, and is a sound financial investment. The due diligence period is typically outlined in the purchase agreement and allows the buyer to confirm the details provided by the seller and to uncover any potential issues with the property.

Here are key components of due diligence in commercial real estate:

  1. Physical Inspection: This involves a thorough examination of the physical state of the property, including its structure, systems like HVAC, roof, electrical, and plumbing, and any necessary repairs or maintenance.
  2. Title Review: The buyer examines the title to ensure there are no liens, encumbrances, or legal issues that would impede the sale or limit the use of the property.
  3. Environmental Assessment: A review is done to identify any environmental hazards or contamination that could affect the property's value or use.
  4. Property and Area Analysis: This includes researching local market conditions, zoning laws, and future developments that may impact the property's functionality and value.
  5. Lease Review: If the property is leased, the buyer will review the lease agreements to understand the rental income, lease terms, tenant mix, and any obligations that will transfer with the property.
  6. Financial Analysis: A detailed look at the property's financial records, including income, expenses, taxes, and projected cash flow, to assess the property's profitability.
  7. Legal Compliance: Ensuring that the property complies with all relevant laws, including building codes, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, and fair housing regulations.
  8. Survey and Appraisal: Getting an updated survey of the property to confirm its boundaries and an appraisal to determine its value.

Due diligence is a vital part of commercial real estate transactions as it minimizes risks and helps the buyer make an informed decision. It requires a diligent review of numerous documents, reports, and legal aspects, often with the help of professionals such as lawyers, accountants, and commercial real estate brokers.

The Evolution to Due Diligence Automation

With the advent of technology, due diligence has evolved. Automation using software robots, or 'bots', introduces a new level of efficiency and accuracy. These bots can swiftly review documents, identify pertinent information, and carry out analysis with a precision that mitigates human error.

Instruments of Automation in Due Diligence

Several tools are instrumental in the automation process:

  • OCR (Optical Character Recognition): Scans and extracts data from documents.
  • NLP (Natural Language Processing): Interprets and structures data into a machine-readable format. With the advent of OpenAI, these algorithms have become significantly more efficient over time, able to extract specific data from even large PDFs.
  • RPA (Robotic Process Automation): Utilizes the data to perform rule-based assessments and compiles findings into standardized reports.
  • Web Scrapers: Collect public data online, providing a comprehensive background on business entities. This is part of what HelloData.ai does to analyze multifamily market rents in real time.

The Advantages of Automating Due Diligence

Automated due diligence offers a host of benefits:

  1. Precision in Risk Identification: With the ability to meticulously review extensive financial statements and other corporate materials, automated systems reduce the chance of oversight and enhance risk detection.
  2. Regulatory Compliance: Automated tools are equipped with functions to cross-verify company data with legal standards, ensuring compliance.
  3. Time Efficiency: Automation can condense the due diligence timeframe, which manually might take months, to a fraction of the time.
  4. Team Collaboration: It fosters better communication among various departments by providing real-time updates on the due diligence process.
  5. Cost Reduction: While initial setup costs may seem high, automated due diligence can prevent costly post-acquisition surprises, as was the case with HP's acquisition of Autonomy.
  6. Expanded Information Access: The internet's vast resources are leveraged to amass a thorough profile of target companies.
  7. Accurate Valuation: Automation helps avoid the pitfalls of human-analyzed valuations by providing a more objective analysis.
  8. Elimination of Human Bias: AI tools can approach valuation without the cognitive biases that can skew human judgment.
  9. Comprehensive Coverage: Digital solutions work within a structured framework, ensuring no critical step or document is overlooked, thus safeguarding the investment's future.

Exploring Due Diligence Automation Further

For those interested in the broader applications of process automation, resources are available to delve into use cases within private equity, treasury management, and hiring processes.

For organizations considering investment in process automation solutions, guidance is available to navigate through the selection of the best-suited tools.

Due diligence, when automated, becomes a powerful ally in business transactions, enabling a level of scrutiny and foresight that manual processes can rarely match. It's an investment in clarity, compliance, and ultimately, confidence in your business decisions.

Property managers, investors, brokers and appraisers all use HelloData to analyze multifamily comps, optimize rents, and increase deal flow.

Marc Rutzen

Marc worked in real estate for 5 years before launching multifamily analytics startup Enodo, which he sold to Walker & Dunlop (NYSE: WD) in 2019. At W&D, he served as Chief Product Officer, developing products that helped source billions in loan volume. Outside of work, he enjoys reading, running, and spending time with family.

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