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July 2001
Broker Designs System to Track Sublease Space
Source: Austin Business Journal
Mike Buls, commercial real estate broker, market researcher and principal of Austin's Buls Hodge Consulting, turned to his competitors this February in an effort to improve knowledge and awareness of the real estate market. Knowing 70 percent of available office space is sublease space, Buls began tracking that sector of the real estate market.

On Feb. 2, he sent an email query to 850 brokers to learn more about the availability of sublease space.

Sublease space is considered a shadow market -- a gray area in which tenants are trying to find other tenants to take over space. Since few realtors were aware of all of the properties available, it was a very difficult market to capture. Buls' goal in sending this email request was to create a situation so all brokers would have knowledge of all listings.

He says his first email attempt received positive responses from other area realtors. They expressed enthusiasm for his effort and a desire to learn more about 1 million-plus square feet of vacant sublease space.

Buls then converted this information into a spreadsheet so other brokers would be able to access and use the information. Today, he emails updated information to the brokerage community every two weeks.

Buls' tracking shows a 300,000-square-feet vacancy growth over each two-week period for the last eight weeks.

"Not only does everybody have all of the listings," Buls says, "but, this list has made everybody benefit from the market research so that we can all become an expert in the field."

Buls used Web-based knowledge management to create this sublease clearinghouse. The commodity exchange he created now allows for vacancies to be more readily seen and helps create a market for those vacancies.

How did Buls think of using this clearinghouse tactic?

Perhaps it was the analytical reasoning he developed on his way to his master's degree in counseling. Maybe the business savvy he acquired while earning an MBA at the University of Texas had something to do with it as well. Buls suggests the idea of knowledge consolidation is not a new one and is typical within large companies.

In 1998 and 1999, Buls took a sabbatical from the real estate market to work as a strategy consultant with a large oil and gas business. There, in addition to determining its long-term plan, he also figured out how the business could operate more efficiently on a day-to-day basis. Buls believes his experience developing the business plan later helped him look at the real state market more strategically.

He says the experience also taught him how to always look forward by benchmarking himself against his competitors. Having this link with other area realtors keeps Buls in touch with all sorts of new developments in his field.

Buls shares an interest in the arts with his bride of three months, Beth Fowler. Although he is a potter and she a writer, he suggests his wife, author of Could You Love Me Like My Dog? and In the Weeds greeting cards, is more interesting and is the one who should be interviewed.

Although Buls means business when it comes to real estate, in the evening he can often be found at Earth and Fire Studios throwing pottery on the wheel for his own line, Clear Flame Pottery.

In addition to handling his responsibilities as a real estate agent -- which now includes his bi-weekly email reports of vacant subleases -- he takes daily swims at Deep Eddy pool, spends time at the art studio and is a dad to daughter Katherine, age 13.

Not concerned at all with an increase in competition within Austin's real estate market due to his new system, Buls sees the sublease tracking as a win/win situation.

"I get clients; they get clients," Buls says.

When talking about the system and other brokers, Buls says, "They call me and ask me questions and it is really nice to be open. And, we are not giving up any strategic information."

Buls says he is excited by the possibilities of new technology and believes the tracking system is a prime example of how to create a community on the Web. Brokers and prospective clients can sign on and "surf" ( for more information on the sublease real estate market.

Dad, husband, real estate broker, swimmer, artist, counselor, a Renaissance man -- Michael Buls developed a communication niche.

Randi Beth Beckman is an Austin-based freelance writer.

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The Buls Hodge team was accurate, dedicated, and professional in fulfilling our company's real estate needs. We couldn't have asked for a better firm to represent us in such a critical decision in our company's expansion.
- Richard Williams, Vice-President of Operations

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