Normally, I greet the news of yet another real estate search website launching with a giant yawn of utter disinterest. Seriously, this space is starting to get pretty crowded. Just among the major players, you’ve got Realtor.com, Trulia, Zillow, HomeGain, RealEstate.com. Throw in Roost, Estately, Redfin, BlueRoof, and then the major brand sites like Coldwell Banker, C21, Remax.com, and so on not to mention the hundreds of thousands of local realtor websites and you really have to wonder if there’s room for yet another real estate search website.
But REonomy.com, a odd hybrid real estate/MLS/social network play that just launched last Friday (?) made me at least pause in mid-yawn.
Based solely on the tour (I haven’t had time to join the thing and testdrive it, nor do I really want to just yet), this is one slick puppy. Seriously, go check it out. You may be impressed, you may think it’s bunk, but you’ll probably have lots to think about.
The Cool Factor
The whole site seemed to be pretty well-designed with nice user-friendly navigation. And the depth of data was pretty impressive. Tax information, parcel data, FAR (Floor Area Ratio), Maximum FAR, etc. etc. and even comps automatically generated.
By far the sexiest little thing I saw was this:
I’m not entirely sure how they’re doing this, or where they’re getting their air rights data from, but it’s a pretty fun little tool. Basically, the system seems to compute how high a building can go based on the air rights of the parcel (some of which may have been sold to someone else, of course). This is, understandably, quite a big deal in NYC.
There are plenty of other interesting features on REonomy. Owner phone number lookup, tenant information (this is a relatively expensive dataset, at least from CoStar, and I have to assume this is limited to commercial tenant data instead of actual residential tenant data though I could be wrong there), income and expenses lookup (again, a commercial real estate dataset), and so on are all kinda sexy.
And of course, like any 21st century web business, REonomy makes a social networking play with a self-contained member network. (Sometimes, it seems like the word “social” is the new “dotcom” — everyone has to be “social something” today.)
Watch Out for Sharks!
The downside to REonomy is partially its own issue and partially a competitive issue. As the Crain’s article that broke the story of the launch points out, REonomy is jumping into some rather crowded waters:
Maybe so but it won’t be easy for REonomy.com to penetrate the market. Prominent Web sites like PropertyShark.com, with roughly 400,000 registered users, dominate the commercial real estate space. On the residential side, StreetEasy.com has also built a loyal following. It now boasts 45,400 registered users, up 130% from a year ago.
“This industry is highly competitive. We are looking at them closely,” said Bill Staniford, chief executive of PropertyShark.com, pointing out that his site offers distressed building information like foreclosures and lis pendis filings while REonomy.com does not. “We got a ton of programming power we can throw at a competitor like this. It will be hard to knock us off.”
And the article didn’t even talk about REonomy’s other competitors.
REonomy is trying to cover both the residential and the commercial markets, which exposes it to competitors from both side. It has to think about Trulia and Loopnet; Cyberhomes as well as CoStar. Each one of these competitors is well-funded, has strengths of its own, and quite possibly the means to “throw at a competitor like this” as PropertyShark will surely do.
In a way, this is good and healthy. Competition results in better products for customers. If real estate agents, both commercial and residential, flock to REonomy for the cool factor, for the data visualization tools, for some of the datasets, then competitors like PropertyShark and CoStar will have to match or surpass what REonomy delivers. That’s a great thing… but not necessarily for REonomy.
Trying To Be Too Much for Too Many?
My main concern (criticism of, if you will, albeit constructive I hope) for REonomy is that it may be trying to be too broad, trying to be too many things to too many constituencies and as a result will end up serving none of them particularly well.
For example, the cute air-rights visualization tool I screenshotted (is that word?) above is pretty cool especially if it’s automated. But who would use this? Any developer who could even consider building high-rise buildings in Manhattan is going to have major architectural firms, site consultants, and at the very least a high end commercial real estate firm such as CBRE working for them. Those folks can all produce a far more detailed, a far more realistic, and far better researched visualizations of air rights for a particular parcel of land. And you’d be a fool to go try to raise hundreds of millions of dollars necessary for major building development in NYC based on something you get off of REonomy.com.
The same goes for many of the datasets that REonomy makes available. Income and expense statements are nice, but again, if you’re into buying commercial property in NYC, you’re not going to make multi-million dollar investment decisions based on REonomy.com. You’re going to be asking for Argus data runs going back ten years.
And REonomy does lots of things, including things like creating marketing microsites, but it isn’t a site selection tool. No commercial broker or developer in his right mind would use REonomy for that purpose, when ArcView and MapInfo and other tools are not only available but likely already purchased with a team of specialist dedicated to running them.
On the residential side, REonomy makes the mistake (again) of trying to offer too much to too broad an audience. Social networking might be the hype du jour in real estate, but I see no reason whatsoever why any realtor would want to upkeep yet another social networking site when they’re already lacking time to keep FaceBook, LinkedIn, and Twitter up to date. Marketing microsites are nice, but realtors are already having trouble keeping their personal websites and blogs up to date, and hosting your blog on REonomy.com means losing a ton of control without gaining all that much.
REonomy would have been smarter simply to offer clean and simple integration with FaceBook, LinkedIn, ActiveRain, Twitter, and other social networking sites. Rather than giving agents the ability to create content on REonomy, it should provide a simple-to-install plugin for popular blog platforms: WordPress, TypePad, etc. Why try to reinvent something that someone else is already doing extremely well?
Finally, the demo talks about “Our MLS fully integrates listings with property data… yadda yadda”. Why in the world would REonomy want to tangle with all of the MLSs in the country? Wouldn’t it have been smarter to work with existing MLSs and offer REonomy’s front-end software as a way to upgrade the MLS’s own search interface? Seems to me that the very last thing REonomy should be wanting to do is to get into competitition with established MLSs since that will pretty much kill an important data pipeline REonomy.com needs to be useful to its customers. Not every market is New York City, which lacks an MLS.
Still… Bears Watching
Nonetheless, I chose to write about REonomy because on balance, it’s an extremely interesting site. That they are aiming at the real estate professional market, rather than the consumer market, is interesting in and of itself. The UI and design are both extremely clean and extremely usable. I never found myself thinking, which should be every UI designer’s goal. The map integration is the best I’ve seen yet, and some of the tools are extremely slick.
If REonomy had focused on a narrow-enough vertical — for example, providing front-end software to MLSs — I think it would have been a pretty incredible offering. As it is, trying to be a little bit of everything to just about anybody connected with real estate turns out to be a weakness. Whether that’s a fatal weakness or not, time will tell.
Also, keep in mind that I did not register on the site, haven’t seen exactly how it works for a subscriber, and haven’t spoken to anyone about it. I’ve read the press release (since it was Quinn & Co that gave me the heads up about these guys) and the Crain’s article, and browsed the tour. So for all I know, I’m totally, 100% dead wrong. :) Nice thing about blogs is, the folks at REonomy or at Quinn can correct all my mistakes. Which I now invite them to do.