In a world where consumers have grown accustomed to streaming whatever movies they want on demand and having purchases delivered to their doorsteps the next day, commercial real estate needs to focus its efforts in innovation on providing better consumer experiences, panelists said at the “Innovative Trends in Commercial Real Estate” session Wednesday.

Rukevbe Esi, chief digital officer for AvalonBay Communities, highlighted several areas where this emphasis can be deployed. Residential rental consumers have “a desire for on-demand services, which dovetails into self-service [and] the desire to be able to do things on your own,” he said. They also want “flexibility—the ability to get what they want, when they want it.”

Understanding consumer wants and needs, rather than employing ingenious tech solutions, is the most effective way to improve processes, Esi said. “Every solution doesn’t have to be a digital solution,” he said. One example: potential renters love self-guided tours of apartments, which can be facilitated simply by directing them to a location where they can pick up a key.

Panelist Samir Goel, cofounder of Esusu, a financial technology platform that works to dismantle credit barriers for low- to medium-income households and bridge the racial wealth gap, said innovation is crucial to meeting the demand for affordable housing, as well as helping tenants avoid eviction and stay in their homes. Gathering more data about renters and better understanding changes in their financial situation are key. “We have opportunities to move from being reactive to proactive,” he said.

Jennifer Parker, chief revenue officer for JPMorgan Chase’s commercial real estate digital business, said real estate leaders should strive to understand how the pandemic has shifted consumers’ priorities and increased their focus on living in areas where they can work and play nearby.

Panelist Sam Yen, who has helped lead digital transformation in commercial real estate and innovation in commercial banking at JPMorgan Chase, said what happens in consumer spaces in other industries often is an indicator of the future direction of commercial real estate.

Panel moderator Al Brooks, head of commercial real estate at JPMorgan Chase, noted that tech companies themselves have approached real estate leaders about investing in affordable housing. “They want to be part of the solution, but they don’t know where to start,” he said.

Brooks said the process of building new homes has not seen enough innovation, and that the commercial real estate sector needs to find “new ways of getting things built—to make it more efficient and affordable.”