It wasn’t too long ago that using a listing Web site to market a
commercial property or piece of land was far from business as usual.
Commercial brokers and managers have long relied on their
established relationships and robust client databases to find
prospective buyers or tenants. And in the recent, and sorely missed,
go-go days of real estate, it often took little more than letting a few
people know that a property was available to garner one or more offers.
But all that is changing. Today’s slower sales pace and weaker
tenant demand have convinced more brokers that it’s essential to get
their listings out on commercial information exchanges, where the
property can be seen by a wider swath of potential buyers and brokers.
Meanwhile, commercial listing Web sites are adding marketing services
and more flexible pricing options, which have opened the door to a
whole new segment of users.
I now consider CIEs just another cost of doing business, says
Jason Hart, principal of San Luis Obispo, Calif.–based Hart Commercial
Real Estate, a company that sells and leases commercial properties.
It’s like putting a For Sale or For Rent sign on the Internet.
Some evidence of the upswing: Registered members on LoopNet, one of
the largest players in the CIE industry, saw a 29 percent jump to more
than 3 million in the third quarter of 2008, compared with the
year-earlier period. The volume of property listings grew 19 percent in
that same time frame.
At CommercialSource, the official commercial listing site for the
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, nearly 41,000 people have registered
as members since the site’s launch in May 2008. That’s more than half
of NAR’s total base of commercial members.
Big brokerages are seeing the demand, too. Denver-based RE/MAX
International Inc. just announced the rollout a brokerage-wide CIE that
works in conjunction with the company’s public Web site.
Brokers are now looking to CIEs as beacons for efficient markets,
says Jeffrey Schwartz, senior managing director of New York–based Adams
& Co. Real Estate. Commercial practitioners are also finding value
in the extra services that CIEs offer, including market research, sales
histories for comps, tenant profile databases to track expiring leases,
and networking opportunities. And they’re taking advantage of
convenient delivery options, such as RSS feeds, that send listings
directly to users.
CIEs are trying to provide the commercial real estate industry with
what MLSs offer for residential salespeople—a complete, one-stop
research tool for property comparisons, says Schwartz, who logs on to
CIEs to review floor plans and find space for clients. The task used
to be a lot more tedious because you had call the landlords to
determine what space was available for lease. Now it can be done with a
Pricing Gets Accessible
In the past, some brokers avoided using CIEs because they were
simply too expensive. Unlike residential listing services, which are
marketed to the individual agent or offered free through the MLS, most
commercial listing services were marketed to the big commercial
companies, says Bob Gibbons, CCIM, CPM®, president of Reata Commercial
Realty, a Dallas-area brokerage. You could see it in the subscription
This, too, is changing. Even the more established CIEs, which once
took a one-size-fits-all approach, have introduced more flexibility in
their pricing structures. Most now offer some form of free basic
listing service and various levels of enhanced listing packages.
LoopNet, which has been around since the mid-1990s, sells a range of
plans, from one premium listing for $54.95 per month, to 15 premium
listings for $224.95. Basic listings are free—but they have the least
amount of visibility.
CoStar allows commercial brokers to post basic listings at no
charge, although research packages that include sales comps,
prospective tenant lists, and leasing activity cost $800 to $1,000 per
month. CommercialSource offers basic listings for free; enhanced
listings are $25 per month for members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF
REALTORS® and $35 for nonmembers.
COMMREX charges $79 for one year of unlimited postings. But for an
added $69, members can upload packages of online information to each
property listing, and more prominent listings on the site cost extra.
Getting Maximum Exposure
The fragmented nature of commercial listing services has also
limited wider adoption among commercial practitioners. It’s still a
barrier today but one that most brokers are now willing to work around.
Unlike residential sales, where virtually all properties handled by real estate practitioners are posted to REALTOR.com
through MLS feeds, there’s no one dominant commercial listing site. The
field is quite competitive, with at least a dozen different
providers—each offering its own value proposition.
LoopNet boasts having the most Web traffic and registered users,
while CoStar claims to have the industry’s largest database of
verified, updated property data. Other sites have dominance in certain
geographic areas or specialize in a commercial sector.
Compared with residential multiple listing services, where everyone
uses the same database, commercial listing services are highly
fragmented by property type and location, says Gibbons, who subscribes
to several CIEs. He may list an apartment complex in the local MLS but
use a different site for a large industrial property. He also takes
into account that landlords and tenants generally use different CIEs
than brokers, while institutional buyers and individual investors are
likely to favor their own specialized sites.
You have to put your listings everywhere you think they can be seen, Gibbons says.
Hart also subscribes to a number of sites, including Cityfeet,
Commercial IQ, CoStar, CommercialSource, LoopNet, and his local MLS.
It’s expensive, but Hart doesn’t mind paying for what he’s getting. If
you look at what you used to spend on print and consider all of the
extra features you get online, it turns out to be quite a bit cheaper
than traditional forms of media, he says.
Depending on which state or local REALTOR® association you belong to, you may already have a built-in CIE. On REALTOR.org,
some 70 associations are listed as having active CIEs. For example, the
Houston Association of REALTORS® and the member-owned Commercial
Brokers Association of Seattle rely on NAR’s CommercialSource to
display their listings online. Commercial brokers in Chattanooga,
Tenn., signed an agreement last year to use Commercial IQ, and the CCIM
Institute gives members free use of LoopNet and a real estate resource
site called Site To Do Business, accessible from the CCIM home page, www.ccim.com.
Even as listing Web sites increase property visibility, getting the
listing online is only a starting point. As an added benefit to users,
many CIEs are now offering the kind of marketing services that would
otherwise be the responsibility of a broker’s support staff. Options
include customized property Web sites and the ability to increase the
property’s search ranking on the site.
Many sites also offer some type of push-marketing feature that
allows brokers to send listings to other practitioners or investors
using predefined criteria such as property type, tenant mix, building
size, and lease terms.
Some CIEs offer prospecting tools that are tied to specific
listings. CommercialSource has a solution called e-Cards, which lets
brokers send a virtual postcard featuring a property to friends and
colleagues. The ability to create PDF fliers and packaged reports are
also common features that enable brokers and leasing agents to get the
best exposure possible.
Hart says all of these tools that allow commercial practitioners to
send property information online means that the phone doesn’t ring as
much because people find what they need to know, but he adds, those
who do reach out to you have a much higher level of interest.
From Offline to Online
If there’s one favor a slower market will do for the commercial real
estate industry, it’s to highlight the competitive advantages of speed
and research, both of which are hallmarks of online commercial
Brokers can get the information they’re looking for, and they can
get it faster than ever before. But just as the residential side of the
business has learned, Web sites and other online technologies don’t
cancel out the most important factors of success in commercial real
estate: relationship-building and market knowledge. Commercial real
estate hasn’t stopped being a relationship business; it’s just becoming
a relationship and technology business, says Gibbons.
TIPS: Taking Your CIE to the Max
Posting your listings to a commercial information exchange is
relatively easy. But there are some extra steps you can take to get the
most out of each listing.
Pay for results. If you have the budget, take
advantage of paid-search options available on many listing sites.
Having your listing pop up first when a prospect searches the database
increases visibility for the property and for your company.
Be detailed. Include all of the pertinent property
information—especially price or lease rate. Many brokers are annoyed to
find the word negotiable in place of an actual price. Complete
listings are taken more seriously.
Go for exposure. Since there’s not a single,
dominant national listing platform for commercial properties, put your
listings everywhere you think they’ll be seen. This strategy will often
require subscribing to multiple CIEs.
Don’t forget the MLS. In many areas, residential
MLSs also accept commercial property listings or REALTOR® associations
maintain separate commercial listing sites. For smaller buildings,
space, or land parcels, this may be a good option for reaching both
users and investors.
Provide other comments. Many property databases
include a field for other comments. Text in this field is searchable,
so use this space to list special details about the property that will
help boost your search-results placement. This is especially important
for Class B or C properties whose beauty isn’t always apparent from a