How accurate are commercial real estate websites? Is there any real accountability for the information on the site; or
is it more for just show and to get a general “idea” of what is happening on the sites?
In my experience most of the data services out there are extremely inaccurate, however it is not just simply the
websites and data sources fault alone. Commercial real estate is built on “the power of information”, the more
information that you can have and keep to yourself the more profitable your business. Therefore, the less accurate
the commercial websites are with the information the higher the likelihood that a broker or property owner will make
higher profits with the valuable information they hold to themselves. Taking that into account how likely would
you, as an owner or broker, be to give accurate information to a website or data source that relied on you for the
Let’s look at a few of the larger sites that are currently out there the focus on the commercial real estate markets and
figure out if they are accountable and reliable: CoStar, Loopnet, 42Floors, RIISnet, TREPP, and RealtyTrac to name a
CoStar – www.costar.com, Loopnet – www.loopnet.com, and 42Floors – www.42floors.com
CoStar and Loopnet are the 800 pound gorillas in the room, and are both owned by the same company, but are a little
different in the way they work. CoStar seems to be more geared toward the leasing side of the commercial business,
while Loopnet is seems to have more of a handle on the investment sales side of the business. The main commonality
between both CoStar and Loopnet is that they both rely heavily on outside unverifiable information. The market
reports and general property information is usually quite good, however the leasing rates and general vacancy accuracy
or tenant mix seems to be off on CoStar. The main issue with the Loopnet information is that is uploaded mostly by
brokers, and being a former broker myself, I can tell you who knows whether or not any of that information is correct.
42Floors is a very similar platform as that of CoStar but mainly focuses on subleasing and smaller office leases
in general. To be very candid with you I have not used it all that much because it is newer, but it would be my
assumption that it is probably a little more accurate than the CoStar information due to the fact that mainly owners
of space are uploading the information. Another reason would be because it is usually smaller spaces people probably
tend to be more accurate and forthright with the information.
RIISnet – www.riisnet.com
RIISnet is one of the most unique websites and trading platforms in the business to date. This is the one platform
that could be extremely accurate, in my opinion, due to the fact that it is just contact between buyers and sellers.
The issue here is that, for everyone else other than the buyer and seller, no one will have the transparency of the
information. So really, is isn’t much help for those trying to understand the ins and outs of the business unless you
already own properties and are actively trading on this platform.
TREPP – www.trepp.com
If an investor wants CMBS data this is the place to go for the information. TREPP is owned by Bloomberg is a perfect
site for Mortgage Brokers to find notes that are coming due and figure out some different leads to go after in day to
day business. It is my understanding that Asset Managers are required to provide updates on the CMBS loan and where
it stands in the process, however I also understand that that hate doing this and many times it could be more accurate.
It is also very difficult to figure out the owners of the assets and many times in my experience as a broker the Asset
Manager named on the site was the wrong one when called.
RealtyTrac – www.realtytrac.com
RealtyTrac prides themselves on being “the nations #1 go-to source for foreclosure information”. When I was working
at a company that tracked similar information we found 20 foreclosure cases that fit the same categories in RealtyTrac
that found just 4 cases in the same time frame, location, and size. RealtyTrac seems to be more geared toward
residential, in my opinion, but many people use this because of the cost. I, however, do not think it is a very accurate
A worker is only as good as his tools.
One tool I have found incredibly useful over the past year or so is a screenshot/screen-capture tool called Jing.
Jing is a desktop software that sits at the top of your screen as a little yellow bubble. When you’re ready to capture what’s on your screen (or part of what’s on your screen), just click on the bubble and click on the cross-hair icon called the “capture” button.
While this may seem like a “fringe” technology for CRE, I have found it to be incredibly useful. I often use the screen capture function to grab images that I can’t right-click and save. Images on Flash Player or other anti-right-click technologies can still be grabbed and used (non-commercially, of course).
One example is a pdf appraisal. Fairly often I will need a property photo in a situation where I have not taken the photo myself and no photo exists as far as Google Images can tell. So I will grab a pdf appraisal, click the Jing tool, capture, edit, and save the images however I want. Adobe actually has a capture tool already, but I find Jing to be easier, more comprehensive, and more robust than the intrinsic Adobe tool.
I also use it when I need to show my entire browser or an entire web page. If I am trying to show or teach how to use something in a browser, there is no way to show that with a right-click (that I know of, at least). I need to capture the entire screen and show where to click and how to navigate.
I use it to capture odd-sized or non-consecutive images. Basically, anything I can’t right-click-save-image, I screen capture with Jing.
I can also put arrows on the image to emphasize important areas.
I can put text on the images to further explain whatever point I am making.
I can highlight certain parts of the page that I want you to look at.
It is incredibly useful and I keep finding new ways to use it.
Here is the best part –
Just sign up with TechSmith, download it, and run. No cost. No hidden fees (so far).
Long story short, I love it. I use it almost daily and it has made me faster and more nimble. I highly recommend it and I hope it is as much use to you as it has been to me.
As you begin to build your writing toolkit, it may help to have a guide on writing articles catered to a CRE audience. What follows is the APJ Editorial Guide that serves as a kind of checklist for writing articles that fit well with the content guidelines and format of this site and many other CRE-specific sites.
I would argue that most of these points are universal to blogging in general. In fact, this entire guide was paraphrased and tweaked from Michael Steltzer’s SocialMediaExaminer.com. (Be sure to check them out for cutting edge social media news and tips!)
Audience Profile – Commercial Real Estate professionals in Atlanta. This group includes 19-year-old interns and 70-year-old chairmen. So be basic enough for beginners to follow, but not so simplistic that you’re boring or condescending.
Article Length – Depends on the article subject. If you’re writing a quick note or observation on breaking news, keep it 200 words or less. If you’re writing a comprehensive guide to retail tenants in Buckhead, you may need a couple thousand words. Err on the side of brevity, but fully explain and defend your points.
Use Short Sentences – Again, brevity is key. Readers want color and description in novels. They want facts and pithy anecdotes online. Keep it short and sweet.
Add Plenty of SubHeaders – This is a great way of breaking up long lines of text. Most experts suggest a new header every couple paragraphs. Use you judgment here because you don’t want to split up a great point just for the sake of breaking up the page, but this practice will help keep your points succinct.
Highlight Key Text – There are usually one or two sentences that contain the main thrust of your article. Highlight or bold them. This will help drive your point home and give it the visual pop to stick in your reader’s mind as he or she glides through your text.
Link to as Many Sources as Possible – This is a great way to integrate with the web and add substantial value to your reader. If you can aggregate all of the supporting and exemplary articles that coincide with yours, you will save your reader the time and hassle of doing so. Plus, for whatever reason, linking to articles that support your point of view or act as poignant examples seems to give you more credibility. It’s almost like saying “I’m not the only one who feels this way.”
Use Internal Linking – This is a great way to improve the flow of your site. Interconnecting articles with others will allow readers to have a better and more thorough experience on your topic and it will encourage readers to click around in your archives (almost always a good thing).
Try to Quote People – Just like the links, this seems to lend credence to your view. If a smart, well-known person shares your opinion you look smart. It’s the halo effect. Readers are impressed by the smart person who agrees with you and therefore become impressed with you. Support yourself and gain readers with good external linking.
Include at least One Image – How often do you read a blog or site that is 100% text? Almost never, right? That’s because web designers and marketers have figured out that images catch eyes, not poignant articles. If you want to catch someone’s eye in the middle of the “information onslaught” that is web surfing, you have to have something visually appealing to catch it.
Use Video When You Can – An under-utilized medium. It’s actually very easy to record yourself saying something interesting or insightful and can be much quicker than writing an article. Check out our Image guide for a few tips on capturing videos of your screen or yourself. You can also drop in something from YouTube or Vimeo to add color to a point or illustrate a new project.
End Your Article with Engaging Questions or Action Requests – You want readers to comment on your post or go do something. This is your call to action and it is where you will move readers from being passive observers to active participants. So take some time to think about your last statement or question and how you want your reader to respond to what you just wrote.
That’s the basic Editorial Guide for the APJ and hopefully a decent template for articles written on commercial real estate in general. Can you think of anything we missed? Have you found any other tips or tricks that you like? Please share them in the comments!
– APJ Staff
I’ve been doing a fair bit of research into the CRE tech world recently as I have been considering developing some of my own software.
What I’ve discovered is that commercial real estate software is a unique animal that has some unique needs and patterns. Just about everyone in our business knows what CoStar and ARGUS are, but few have heard of good software like Skire, Ten Eight, 42Floors, Catylist, etc. I would argue that those last 4 are much more elegant and intuitive software than the preceding two, but popularity remains with the incumbents.
So that got me to thinking:
What are the basic requirements to create great software in the commercial real estate game?
I came up with 5 and I’m going to call them “commandments” because they seem pretty straight forward and more-or-less universal.
1 – Thou Shalt Make It Easy
If your software requires a training class or takes more than a week to figure out (cough. . . ARGUS . . cough), it’s too complicated. Presumably, you are marketing this tech to multiple people across multiple generations with multiple levels of technological savvy. You need to have high functionality that caters to the lowest common denominator. Think iTunes. Just about everyone can figure out how to download and organize music on iTunes. Make your product that easy and your customer service department will thank you.
2 – Thou Shalt Make It Pretty
This plays into the first point. Part of making it easy to use is making it look good. I have read about numerous experiments in psychology mentioning how font, color, text size, and readability play a HUGE role in the effectiveness of an item or message. If it’s cluttered or non-intuitive, users will stop using it.
Important messages, items, or links should start in the top left and move right and down as they decrease in their importance to the user. (see “book, face”)
3 -Thous Shalt Make It Cost-Effective
Hopefully this doesn’t need much explanation. Brokers, owners, landlords, and lenders all have some funds set aside for technology and office supplies. The bigger chunk you take out of that budget, the more game-changing your software had better be. Spend time on pricing, split test it, then pivot. This is hugely important and you should take your time to get this right.
4 -Thou Shalt Market The Living Daylights Out of It
Our industry is famously (our notoriously) slow to adopt new technologies. Your steepest hill to climb is going to be convincing a historically technically-averse industry to buy new technology. No small feat. So make sure you build an appropriate marketing and advertising budget into your business plan. “It will sell it self because it’s so awesome” is ridiculous. Don’t be afraid to copy Google, Apple, Nike, Budweiser, or other major companies to get clever ideas for your marketing strategy. And squeeze every ounce of publicity you can out of social media to cater to the part of our industry that plays in that space.
5 – Thou Shalt Test the Market and Pivot
Don’t try to tell the market what it wants. Let it tell you. I know that seems outrageously simple, but I have heard too many war stories about companies building tech products and software, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then learning that no one wants their widget. Build a Minimum Viable Product, test it, gather feedback, and then adjust your model to incorporate what you hear. If 85 out of 100 testers say it needs to be bigger, make it flippin bigger. This isn’t rocket surgery. Listen to your customers and be flexible enough to change to meet their needs.
Those are my five and I feel pretty good about them. But I will be the first to admit that I’m new to the software startup game and could be wayyyyy off base.
If you think I am or have had another experience, let me know in the comments.