Mission Possible: Real Estate Research On-Line

Article excerpt

"Your mission, gentlemen, should you choose to accept it, is to research a mixed-use building in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You have 72 hours and, of course, a limited budget. Good luck. "

Tom Cruise and self-destructing tapes aside, the initial round of research in the property management and acquisition business, with ever-tighter deadlines, often feels like an impossible mission-at least, that is, until now.

The Internet's round-the-clock global access to information has thrust open the window of time that can be spent researching, analyzing, and communicating. Missions have become not just possible, but probable.

Join us as we scramble on-line to provide an initial workup on a hypothetical mixed-use building in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which we will cautiously refer to as ABC Building. Its anchor tenant/owner is XYZ Bank. Other tenants include law, accounting, and public relations firms, as well as several retail storefronts.

Owner/Tenant Information

In searching for owner/tenant information, we attempt to balance time and money. While there are gigabytes of real estate information on-line at little or no cost, it often takes considerable time to separate the electronic wheat from the chaff.

As a result, we elect to use a number of single-source data services that offer public and proprietary information for a cost. We plan on spending from $25 to $300 on fees ranging from a token access charge of a few dollars to per-item search services where you can run up a big total in a hurry.

The Land of the Free...

First, we pursue the free options: We check if XYZ Bank or any of the tenants has a page of its own on the World Wide Web by typing their names into a search engine. We prefer Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com) or AltaVista (http://www.altavista. digital.com). We may not learn any "secrets" here, but such pages can offer useful information on the organizations history, executives, and overall philosophy.

In the case of publicly held entities such as XYZ Bank, financial results are sometimes posted on company Web pages. For searching public companies-including listed companies and REITs-the free EDGAR database of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is a must-see. At the Search SEC EDGAR Archives site (http://www. sec.gov/cgi-bin/srch-edgar), we enter the bank's official name-XYZ Bank Incorporated-and unlock a treasure trove of information on the building's owner. Within 24 hours of filing, EDGAR has all quarterly (Form 10-Q and yearly (Form 10-K) financial information filed by XYZ Bank, as well as discussions on company operations. Events such as acquisitions or ownership changes are documented in Form 8-K.

One of the great things about the burgeoning popularity of the Internet is that more local newspapers and trade publications are going on-line. Most are accessible either directly at a Web site or through services such as America OnLine (AOL), Compuserve, or Prodigy. They can represent important low-cost resources. In some cases, a small charge may be required to access archives.

By utilizing newspaper and trade publication sites, stories may be found on everything from new hires to the company's last acquisition. Though papers such as the New York Times, San Jose Mercury News, and Detroit News have Web sites, Grand Rapids' daily newspaper does not yet have archives available for an on-line search. However, we can access the Grand Rapids Press via a pay-for-play service such as Dow Jones, which we'll explore later.

We also attempt to tap on-line state and county sites to look into the ownership history of our target property, ABC Building. Unfortunately, most do not yet have records available on-line.

...And the Home of the Paid

Turning to the serious pay-for-data services leads us first to Dun & Bradstreet's Business Background Report (http://www.dbisna.com). For $20 per report, D&B provides the following information on XYZ Bank and some building tenants: address, phone numbers, annual sales, net worth, year started, location of all offices, number of employees, information on executives and XYZ's industry, and company events and history

D&B is usually a great bargain. …