List Me! the Race in on for Online Listing Services

By Devine, Alice | Journal of Property Management, March/April 2001 | Go to article overview

List Me! the Race in on for Online Listing Services


Devine, Alice, Journal of Property Management


Charles Darwin had nothing on today's commercial real estate brokers. Technology and, specifically, the Internet, has accelerated the evolutionary process at warp speed. The Internet has cast its long tentacles into virtually every aspect of traditional brokerage. The resulting ensemble has been a mixed bag of widespread market information, online matching services and vendor advertisements.

Electronic Listings

The Internet appears to be the great equalizer of information. Numerous electronic listing services display detailed space availabilities, once the exclusive domain of cloistered brokerage offices. Web sites tempt users to "rise up and prosper" because they "amass an unparalleled supply of commercial space availability." But do they really?

Consider a search for office space. Today's electronic Web sites contain property availability for every market-- place in the United States, plus international listings. Search LoopNet.com's site for 10,000 square feet in suburban San Mateo, on the northern edge of California's Silicon Valley. In less than a minute, it'll provide a tidy spreadsheet listing ten properties with basic building stats, color building photographs, a property description, area map and a link to the listing broker. A few more computer clicks, and you have PropertyFirst.com's version with six of the ten listings duplicated. Click on CityFeet.com for three completely different listings in the same market. And therein lies the rub.

Sites vary in terms of search criteria, and the ease of use, but they're generally minor differences. The significant variance is quantity and quality. Some users contend that subscription-based sites, like CoStarGroup.com, are superior because the company has salaried staff to update and quantify information on a regular basis. Free sites, such as LoopNet, rely on users to update information. There isn't a lot of incentive for a broker to note that his 100,000 square foot availability is now only 60,000 square feet. Why not garner calls from larger users if possible? Needless to say, it's hard for the lay user to distinguish a clearly dominant Web site listing service.

When Georges Flores, BT Commercial's Senior Analyst, responded to the same search criteria, he gave a list of availabilities in 13 properties. Flores could specify availabilities by individual suite instead of just quoting the aggregate square footage available. Further, Flores cited several spaces electronically listed as available but which had, in fact, been leased. One building electronically identified as commercial space was actually industrial space. Do good real estate agents know more about the marketplace than these online databases? Certainly. It's an issue of inadequate dot.com staffing and their unfamiliarity with the real estate market. One broker points out that it's "one thing to enter data, another to understand real estate."

Mike Moran, Managing Partner of BT Commercial's Office Division, says his company uses online listing services to supplement BT's own database. Information from BT's listing is uploaded regularly onto electronic services. Brokers note that online information is often only 75 percent accurate, and can lag the market by 90 days.

Moran notes, "clearly, the real estate industry has not taken advantage of connectivity. It's still an inefficient business. For instance, there should be a service real estate companies could upload daily with 95 percent information accuracy. That hasn't happened." As an example, BT Commercial must wait for its electronic subscriber's update of property information.

The current inadequacies of online listing services become even more pronounced in tight markets. Carol Donnelly of Equity Office Properties says listing sites hasn't changed business much in tight markets because brokers know about space via landlord and tenant relationships. Space not formally on the market provides a good illustration. …

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