November 23, 2014

The CBRE/CoStar Data Debate

costar vs cbre

CoStar CEO Andrew Florance is peeved.  He heard that a CBRE executive sent a memo to agents asking them not to provide lease data to CoStar.  In a Washington Post story, Florance said that CBRE should be examined “…by the federal government for anti-competitive practices…”  Just like the CoStar/LoopNet merger is being “examined” for possible anti-trust violations.

I suppose some smaller brokers might cheer Florance on for taking CRE behemoth CBRE to task.  After all, big national brokerages and industry consolidation puts the smaller ones at a distinct disadvantage.

This concerns CoStar, too.  Florance claims CRE “…is the most concentrated industry that exists”.  And that the “concentration” of brokerages leads to hoarding data that keeps owners and tenants from using “alternative” brokers.

But Florance isn’t championing the smaller broker at all:  “One thing that could happen is that owners lose the ability to represent themselves because they lack the necessary information.”  Where would owners get the information to represent themselves?  From CoStar, of course.

Let’s get one thing straight before we continue.  The data in question is lease data.  Publicly traded companies have to provide some lease transaction details in financial reports but private companies do not. CoStar is whining about uncooperative brokers interfering with CoStar’s “right” to get this data.

This has nothing to do with what is right.  It’s about competition for data and clients – those owners and tenants CoStar would have bypass the agent.  If CoStar can’t get this data, they have less to offer.  And without comprehensive data, their reporting will always be suspect.  Poor CoStar…

The problem for CoStar is that is that there is no reason for agents to give CoStar lease data of private companies especially when the agent has confidentiality agreements.  Even without a written agreement, the permission for transmission and publication of that data is rightly at the discretion of the tenant or owner – not the agent.

I don’t want to hear how agents should provide this information for the good of the industry.  How is it good for the industry to pass along private client information?  Is the handful of lease comps you might get worth betraying a confidence?

And don’t get me started about the value of someone else’s lease information.  Reliance on lease comps is over-hyped in most markets.  Even if you could standardize the transaction details, all a comp represents is a unique set of conditions in a single moment of time that cannot easily be generalized to any other deal.  You get all you need to know about where prices are going by looking at asking lease rate trends.

Regardless, CoStar wants the data.  And it takes a lot of gall to complain when your competition won’t give it up.  That’s right.  Any brokerage that collects its own data is CoStar’s competition.  History shows what CoStar likes to do with it’s competition.

If CoStar really wants to be the premier provider of CRE data, their researchers should get off their lazy butts and call the people who really own the data – the owners and tenants – instead of harassing agents.  What?  Too difficult?  Can’t get anyone to return your call?  Welcome to the world of commercial real estate…  Maybe handing out a “Power Owner” award will help.

Photo by truebluetitan

Comments

  1. Nobody likes CoStar. Period.

  2. Chris, well said, I couldn’t have said it any better.
    Even public companies don’t have to report the actual details of the lease.
    And since no two leases or lease terms are alike, the lease data is purely subjective at best.
    And I will ask the same question again, if you are representing owners, why in the world would you give out the deal/lease info. If I was an owner and found out that was done, it would be bye bye to that broker and the brokerage company.
    Great point about the lease was negotiated at a point in time based upon certain circumstances particular to the tenant (build-out, credit worthiness etc) and that of the landlord’s (vacancy, pending refi, lack of TI $ etc)

    • Learned that from you ;-) … But to giving out owner information – you’re right. I don’t understand why agents would think they should give out that info. Always hear “we want good market data”. You don’t need anything more than SF leased to calculate absorption or determine leasing activity. So all they need to know is that the space was leased – not to who or for how much or anything else. And CoStar can build tenant rosters the old fashioned way – by calling the owner or standing in the foyer to copy the directory/canvass the building. Duh!

  3. I was unaware of “the MEMO” (here it is: http://wapo.st/the-memo) prior to the Washington Post article, but it appears that “the MEMO” was distributed as corporate policy out of CBRE’s HQ (LA) office. Assuming that’s the case, this is fascinating. My understanding, however, was that CBRE was a corporate-level CoStar subscriber. After seeing CBRE noticeably absent from the CoStar subscriber page (http://www.costar.com/About/CoStarClients.aspx), I’m now understanding that they may have terminated their corporate-level agreement that requires cooperative data exchange? Again, I have no idea how these two parties are contractually related.

    If CBRE still has a national contract that obligates them to share data – or at the very least not to discourage sharing data, than CoStar CEO Andrew Florence has a fair argument. If there is no contract in place, then CoStar has no argument.

    So now the fascinating part. How valuable would a CoStar database be to you if, on a go-forward basis, all CBRE data was missing or much more suspect? In some markets I would expect that it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. But what about those CRE markets in which CBRE has a major presence? CBRE competitors, for example, rely (in varying degrees) on CoStar data for macro-analysis of markets, submarkets, product types, etc. While this data void may not have much of an effect at the broker level (where there is no apparent upside in sharing data), it may have a major effect on brokerage firm’s research efforts. Not all brokerage firm’s research efforts, mind you…but those CRE Research Departments that rely more heavily than advertised on CoStar data when gathering their own proprietary data and performing/publishing their own analyses. We might see some creative data “fudging” to account for questionable CBRE before and after spikes and valleys that have nothing to do with market conditions.

    I will stay tuned in!

    • Maybe CBRE did cancel their corporate contract…or are trying to renegotiate. Still, according to “the MEMO”, CB just asked that agents don’t give out transaction details. And I can’t see how CBRE would have ever agreed in the first place to undermine client confidentiality agreements by providing an “exclusion” for providing transaction details to CoStar.

      There’s nothing in there either about not providing listings/property info. AND it says CBRE provided aggregated sales/leasing data but CoStar wants more, obviously. As I said before, all they need to calculate basic marketing stats is the basic property info – address, use, area – which they should have from the listing – and SF. If they want more than that, CoStar should get it themselves!! And brokerages who rely on CoStar marketing data should demand to know their methods and sources for the market reports CoStar provides.

      • CBRE has always for as long I have known sent out these “memo’s” and they are in their absolute rights to ask that proprietary info not be provided. Costar is deflecting due to their issues with their merger. Again I am also betting CBRE is putting the tacks to Costar about the issue of “Who owns the data and how can it be used”.

  4. Owners are not going to give out their tenant rosters and Costar knows that.
    They used to go into bldgs and take names off the directories, but that proved very inaccurate and in today’s security minded atmosphere, you don’t want to be caught in bldg doing that.
    They could Google the bldg address and get most of the tenant names, but then again so can the brokers themselves.
    I also think this issue with CBRE is related to the Loopnet Merger. Remember CBRE uses Loop Link and CBRE wants Costar to sign an agreement that basically says CBRE can use Costar data anyway they want since they gave Costar most of the their data to begin with. That would be a game changer not just for CBRE but everyone.

    • Agents still canvass buildings in smaller markets…but still. CoStar shouldn’t expect agents to do their work for them.

      I believe some brokerages do have agreements with CoStar allowing an export of data for market reporting purposes. The national brokerages all have their own way of reporting market data, so they get certain data from CoStar and do the calculations they need that CoStar doesn’t offer in its stock market reports. Not having the ability to do that is a problem for brokers for sure….but if they can’t, they’d likely dump CoStar and do their own research. Most have the infrastructure in place already…

  5. Dave, yes Costar has “cooperative” data language in their agreements, that being said, this does not mean a broker is to violate client confidentiality or the law. Costar cannot enforce that type of behavior. Their Cooperative clause is also way too broad. If Costar had a leg to stand on they would have already be suing CBRE as that is just the way Costar rolls. I hope that CBRE has not renewed their national agreements, which would then free them up completely. Costar has to recognize that if he brokerage community got together and said we aren’t sharing our info any longer, and got owners to back them up, Costar would be out of business. What they’ll sue every subscriber? I don’t think so.

  6. Dave, not arguing with anyone, just wanted to clarify. Too many confuse being able to get sales comps with getting lease comps. Having worked there I know their contracts. There really isn’t anything that prohibits companies from discouraging them sharing sensitive data, that clause in which you are referring is meant more towards listing info.

  7. Shocker! CBRE tells Costar what we ALL want to tell them. Go fly a kite. I have NEVER understood their argument. We do the work for them and give them all of the information, they put it in a not so user-friendly format and then sell it back to us at an un-godly price. Get a few more CBRE giants together saying NO, Costar will have no choice to change. OR someone else will come along with a more open platform that will take out Costar.

    • Great point about the need for a more open platform, Gabriel! Or how about no platform at all? Maybe after some honest self-examination CoStar will accept the fact that they are basically a warehouse of data. Data that might prove more usable in a superior platform such as GIS – similar to what SAP and Pitney Bowes are doing with mapping giants – cooperating!

  8. There is a major difference in the CoStar subscription model between public data and private data. It’s a clusterfuck. Leasing info will always be an issue as it’s private. This is why CoStar sales comps are coming a long way from years ago but lease data is still iffy.

  9. Until we have a more distinct line between what is public and private data, the debate and heated exchanges will continue. Example, I see no reason why I can’t post pictures of office space and buildings on my website with the brokers / listing agents name prominently displayed as the person to call for additional info. The brokerages and agents however, for some reason, don’t want this information “out there on the net” and threaten to call TREB / RECO to file complaints. My rebuttal to this is, maybe I should call your Landlord and let them know you are not doing your best / fiduciary duty to get the listing information out to as many people as possible. Usually that’s not taken very well but I don’t get it?!

    Where’s your line as it relates public or private information / transaction data / marketing material? Can I post pictures of a building I have taken or the vacant space I have toured to save my clients time or is this private? I believe transaction data to be private but pictures of lobby’s, individual spaces and what is sent out publicly via brokers and tenant’s flyers to be public.

  10. Building pictures if they can be proven to be yours are OK, but you better be able to prove it.
    As for interior pictures the lines are a bit blurred. The permission for those should come from the owner, but outside pictures are fine. It’d be like needing permission to post a picture of the Empire State Building. Buildings are in the public domain. Now if you hire a photographer to take the pictures your photographer actually owns those and you will need their permission or their release to turn over ownership…that all needs to be spelled out in your contract.

  11. BTW…this whole issue of “who owns the data” is very misleading.
    At the end of the day the building owners “OWN” the data. They alone have the power as to where their property information can or cannot be posted, published etc. Their listing agreements with their property reps say the broker is obligated to get the info out into the marketplace. An owner is not going to care where that info gets posted unless it is shown in a detrimental light. They want their spaces leased period. If the owners more get more involved in this whole discussion I think it would be very enlightening.

  12. Chris
    Tell us how you really feel. I sense you are holding back here….:-)

  13. Chirs

    I really liked your statement, “all a comp represents is a unique set of conditions in a single moment of time that cannot easily be generalized to any other deal”. A lot of brokerage companies brag to prospects and clients about having “lease comps”, however just because one company gets $20 sf does not mean the next company will. Lease comps are a nice to know however have no impact on the deal your going to get. There are too many factors involved that owners must consider when making offers to each company (strength of financials, size of space, lease term, etc…), and I don’t know too many companies that have the exact same needs and financial strength.

    With regard to Costar. Those guys are complaining about not getting lease comps? That is ridiculous! They hoard lease information themselves in that they charge ridiculous monthly rates for us to have access to data……………….that they get for free, however bitch when brokerages won’t give up their clients information. Aside from the fact that we are not obligated to give up our clients confidential info I would not want to risk losing my clients trust and business. Also, a brokers time is very valuable. Maybe Costar should start paying brokers $$$$$ for information that Costar is selling back to us for a premium!

  14. Austin Space Advisors…Great post and totally spot on in all respects

  15. the free market says:

    If CoStar does so little and adds so little value, why does everyone use them? Why are they the market leader? Why have they beaten out or acquired every competitor they ever faced? They add value by developing software and by building a professional staff that can aggregate CRE information more efficiently than every company could do themselves….that is what people pay them for.

    • I wouldn’t say everyone uses them. And while CoStar does a good job in some markets, they’re not so good in others, especially smaller ones where LoopNet was a better – and cheaper – solution.

  16. Because they are the only game in town for starters. They have either sued or bought competitors to get into the position where they now find themselves an outright monopoly. The only true part of your statement is about their software, but that is not the be all and end all. Their “professional” staff are now no more than call center data entry folks. To even call them “researchers” is a joke. As far as CRE information aggregation the companies stopped doing it as it was cheaper at the time to use Costar, but with the degradation in data quality it is becoming more and more apparent the value proposition has become less and less. Now if you would be brave enough to identify yourself as you are most likely a Costar person that would be helpful.

    • Yeah…they kind of spread themselves too thin. But what I don’t like is how they charge way too much for sub par data in small markets. How can an agent do their job with 60 days between updates? For larger brokerages in small markets, the cost of subscribing could get them a full time researcher and some decent software…

  17. For years CoStar has been pimping positive attitudes with getting Lease and Sale comps from brokers. The calls I personally got from “Gwen” every week on Weds for 10 yrs was the same, any new news? When I would say I could not comment on a specific deal – per a non disclosure in place I got attitude and REALLY? My solution – keep my own comps in my own database with REI Wise. Plus I can create finacial reports for lease or investments and market fliers for space I have listings on!! All of a very low cost! Yes I am pimping for sales – I am a former RE Agent from Colliers can you blame me it’s in my DNA!

    • I get that maintaining a full property/listing database is a lot of work, but at the very least, agents/brokerages should be keeping a comp database… Wasn’t aware REI Wise could work for that purpose, so thanks for letting everyone know.

  18. Cinnamon Trimemr says:

    You’re welcome! I was with LseMod for years and when I tested REI Wise I was blown away! It offers so much for your business BIG or small. So I had to work there. My mission to let agents/brokers know that the solutions out there are really easy to use and work. The REI Wise platform is a BIG hitter like Argus for investment with less impact on your pocketbook. And the Lease tool is far better then ProCalc or LseMod. It was designed for CRE!! Added bonus is you get the listing, leasing, comps and marketing included for $499/299 annual renewal. I’d be happy to show anyone whos interested a demo (30mins) just email me ctrimmer@reiwise.com