Cherre & Unacast discuss impacts of social distancing on CRE

L.D. Salmanson and Thomas Walle on human mobility, CRE turndowns, and the path to recovery

Late in 2019, NYC-based real estate data and analytics platform, Cherre, announced a new data partnership with Unacast, an industry leading location data and strategic insights company. In this partnership, Cherre integrate Unacast's Real World Graph® into its platform.

Combined with Cherre's existing 315,000 datasets and more than 2 billion connected data points, the partnership provides customers with enhanced location data to make investment or underwriting decisions.

L.D. Salmanson, CEO and co-founder of Cherre, and Thomas Walle, CEO and co-founder of Unacast, recently held a webinar to discuss Unacast’s Social Distancing Scorecard, Cherre’s analytical models, and some projections for COVID-19’s impact on the commercial real estate industry. Things got started with one simple question:

Why is location data important to the commercial real estate industry in the age of Covid-19?

Thomas Walle, Unacast

Thomas: It is very important to understand how people move round to help retailers and real estate executives make decisions. We provide meaningful insights to understand what is happening. The CDC has advice on social distancing and we do see that states are approaching social distancing very differently.

Our Social Distancing Scoreboard was developed a month ago. It provides interactive tools to look at location intelligence from across the U.S. to understand how mobility patterns are changing. Our goal was to create awareness around social distancing.

We are all waiting for an economic recovery.  We believe the scoreboard will allow retailers and commercial real estate to prepare for recovery we are all hoping for. Governors and mayors use our data and tools on a daily basis to help them with how to plan approach to policies. We've also seen a lot of interest from media and data researchers of all types.

L.D. Salmanson, Cherre

L.D.: Most of our clients are more focused on what opportunities there are now and what will be there when we come out of this pandemic. Our Cherre Model is straightforward and more driven around actions. We build a model for an event horizon and plan for the moment when recovery begins. We also hope to gauge how long the recovery will last.

If you take every factor and throw in to models it gets too hard. We know lots of people will lose jobs, and our hope is this recovery will be a V, or a U-shaped swoosh. During this period, we believe recovery won’t begin necessarily when all the Covid cases disappear; we think it will happen much earlier. NYC provides the best example so far and we will learn from all the various states

Thomas: Yes, each state was affected at a different rate. For some, it was a complete close-down. Activity dropped between 40 to 90 percent in the retail category. We have to be mindful how to understand data. What are the first signs of recovery? Is it a peak of cases? The obvious thing is peoples’ psychology -- when do we feel comfortable to leave the house. But the key data point for CRE is when do we feel comfortable enough to go back in to stores and malls?

Mobility patterns will start to go back to normal in the next week and we want to be mindful of opening business too quickly and starting the supply chain again. Because if a week later cases surge, it will be a full shutdown.

Which businesses will open up first? What retail segments are the most at-risk?

Thomas: Coffee shops, bars and others with limitations will provide the first signals of what to look for: The U.S. has really overbuilt in the world of retail. There isn’t going to be a ‘new normal’ –  everything is going to change after Covid. We have changed our consumer behavior overnight! Zoom, online shopping -- we have all been forced to do online shopping and some will find it is very convenient. We don’t really know what new normal will look like but working with different data sets allows us to start to see signs.

L.D.: I think we are more in the middle as to where this goes.  Major trends will accelerate.  I also think that as a species we’re not great at learning from our past. If we start going back in a few months, we’ll collectively become stupid again and stop social distancing protocol. Office life has all been at-home by force recently and a lot of us found out it’s not as hard as we thought. 

Thomas: Yes, people are now seeing how technology can work at home because social distancing is really physical distancing. We see that Teams are way more connected and way more social now. Based on what company you are working for, some are set up to work this way already. Some don’t have it in their DNA.

L.D.: One of the challenges we can’t solve working remotely is how to work collaboratively. Though you may have 70 people in the zoom, only one conversation can happen at a time.  Unfortunately, VR as a platform isn’t quite there.  You can’t completely overcome the physical. It is likely we will see more and more people moving into a hybrid office with more flex workplace than we have even now. 

The question is, will leasing prices of offices go down? Workers may need an office but maybe not that many square feet. This trend will impact demand.  

Thomas: That’s a good point.  When people look at change we tend to be black and white. There will probably be a slower process with more remote work especially as talent is more distributed over the country.  Also, we can see a change in where they think they have to work. Now working from home, I can live in the suburbs, and don’t have to be in that urban office as much, or at all. People will reconsider where they live and move to other places. Folks will go where their family is and maybe more rural areas. Will we see real estate change as talent will be more distributed.

Our behavioral learning curve has accelerated ten times. Right now, we have a massive spike in deliveries of all types, though presumably this will go down. We also have a sneak peek for the industrial sector about where to put warehouses in the next five years as more is on-shored.

From China we're learning from how they are starting back in recovery mode. Chinese and U.S. companies will learn from each other. Will see more collaboration between competitors. It doesn’t help to open just a few stores -- we will need a critical mass of open stores for recovery to be sustainable. It will be ‘let’s build together,’ and everybody opens at the same time.

L.D.: This is where we really saw that people knew how to execute and help the long-term plan with less involvement from management than I expected. The big question is when do we start to become really impatient? It’s longer term that concerns us. What will new occupancy levels look like? Pricing? Foreclosures?

Shorter term, lease providers will be pressured. Commercial Real Estate firms will let more people go. I think that 40 percent of properties in shorter term leasing may not meet their rents or terms.

This shortfall will be something we have to figure out. Even after we come back to work, it will not be full occupancy anyway. Social distancing will always be there, and we will see a second wave ,and a third wave and will need to monitor it all closely. We will need to understand people's mobility patterns. If it’s not a pandemic next time, it might be something else -- the wildfires in California and Australia changed how people were commuting and living, too. Understanding how people changing their behavior and how retail can plan accordingly is vital, and that comes from historical data. 

Thomas: Some of the answers lie in human psychology, too. When will people become comfortable enough to be outside and be around other people again?How will that be different than before? How will we create enough distance for people to feel safe and will companies pay for it? We need a scalable solution moving forward.

L.D.: There is no doubt 7 to 10-year leases will be broken apart with We Work and other office solutions. The flip side is that a vast majority people don’t want to work in a shared space. Capital markets tend to penalize companies with short term leases.  Banks need to get on board with flex deal structures. Co-working is a small part of the market actually.  The companies that need spaces for 10 to 100 are the ones we hope don’t get clobbered in this recession. In short, you need to know where people are opening up first and how it’s affecting prices to be ahead of these trend. If you are not doing this, your competitors will be.


Cherre provides investors, insurers, real estate advisors, and other large enterprises with a platform to collect, resolve, and augment real estate data from hundreds of thousands of public, private, and internal sources. By providing a unique “single source of truth,” Cherre empowers customers to evaluate opportunities and trends faster and more accurately, while saving millions of dollars in manual data collection and analytics costs. Cherre launched in 2016 and is located in New York City.


Unacast is the leading transparent and contextualized location data platform. We empower companies to make smarter decisions and build better products by providing the most accurate understanding of human activity through the Real World Graph®. We believe democratizing access to data is the currency of innovation and we're on a mission to fix inaccurate location data to deliver unparalleled transparency and accuracy to our partners.

RWG Staff

RWG staff report the latest news and and views from the location intelligence industry.