If I read one more blog post about aggregating commercial real estate listings I’m going to scream. If they’re not complaining about the cost, it’s the outdated or “inaccurate” information or that it’s not centralized. Agents are blamed for being lazy, the big aggregators targeted for lax standards, brokerages for secrecy/not wanting to share… And then someone (and there’s always someone…) brings up residential real estate’s national MLS and how consumers are demanding commercial listing data, transparency, blah, blah, blah…
Let’s start with consumer demand. I don’t see it. If you look at searches for commercial real estate, the volume is quite low especially when you compare it to real estate in general (550K a month for CRE compared to 20.4M for RE – yeah…that’s broad but it doesn’t get much better when you drill down….). And searches for commercial real estate listings – they’re even lower – a measly 41,000 a month nationwide. The demand I see is coming more from agents than consumers and while I get the time saving aspects of a centralized, complete AND accurate commercial MLS, my advice is to stop wasting your time looking for what isn’t there.
Now for the technical issues. Residential brokers have a common data format (IDX) which means any residential agent’s data “matches” anothers. This is not the case for commercial data. Each aggregator has its own data format which means available SF could be in a field named ASF, SF_Avail, SF…. While you might think it would be easy to reconcile that, it’s not, especially when you throw in the myriad data that one aggregator finds important and another ignores…or collects in an entirely different data type (one man’s text is another man’s integer…). Add those different data formats to the hundreds of different ways brokers keep their data (in spreadsheets, various databases, CRM apps, index cards….) and the problem is even more thorny.
Next, with all the different places agents can “share” their listings requiring different data the unpleasant result is a choice between manually entering your data in multiple locations or creating “export” schemes to match each aggregator’s requirements. Only the largest firms can meet this challenge but often it’s not worth the time, especially for all the new kids on the block who don’t have the eyeballs to offer. In the end, everyone shares with a handful of sites – but that handful differs between brokerages and within markets so that one site never seems to have it all.
CoStar tries to address these issues by collecting the data themselves – but there are few agents who are happy with CoStar’s efforts. It’s too “old”, incomplete – and it costs too much. Just think what you’d have to pay to for up to date and complete…
What if someone got all of the listings out there all ready? Every commercial brokerage has their listings on their website, right? And what about all that sale data out there – all those comps! How hard could that be? There’s a listing aggregator that does that all ready using special “site scraping” technology that crawls the web grabbing all the commercial listings it can find. Found out about them when I saw their robots on our server so I gave them a call. It’s going okay, but they get tripped up on smaller broker sites that put up a bunch of links to pdfs, a photo with some text…or larger sites that bury their listings or require a CAPTCHA to search. And have you been to municipal sites for sale data lately? Maybe yours is well organized and easy to search but most are a mess (assuming they even offer the data online). So much for that idea.
What everyone is left with is LoopNet which relies on (lazy) agent submissions that they then sell back to you….and we’re back to the “incomplete, inaccurate and costs too much” complaints. Just like the ones residential agents have about their MLS. If even a standardized data format with the force of NAR requirements to list/protect commissions doesn’t work, what’s the solution? Short answer – none.
So get over it. Yeah, I know no one told you before you got into commercial real estate that you’d actually have to call owners, collect data or troll competing broker websites to find out what’s available. If you don’t want to do it, hire an assistant (just keep in mind that in some states, you must have a license to “solicit” information from owners) or work for a brokerage that collects this information for their agents. Otherwise – get to work – because it’s part of the job.
And to the commercial agent who needs to find something outside their local market – get a relationship! (If you’re looking in upstate NY, drop me a line!) Even if you did find something online, it’s not like you can call the owner of another agent’s exclusive directly – and no, not all owners will tell you they’re listed with another broker. So get on LinkedIn and do a little B2B relationship building. That’s about the only way technology is going to help you with this one.