Back in May, LoopNet Inc., the largest commercial real estate listing service on the Internet, unveiled a new product called LoopLender - a loan-origination service for the commercial real estate market. The idea was to use Internet-based technology to match borrowers and lenders online. There were already a number of residential mortgage online services, so why not try the same with commercial real estate?
Basically, it works this way. The borrower completes a single-loan request form and LoopLender quickly finds the lenders and the loan programs that meet the borrower's financing criteria. The borrower selects up to three lenders for further follow-up and LoopLender automatically sends the loan request to the selected lenders and tracks it through closing. Originally, about eight lenders participated in the program and then it expanded with such heavyweights as GE Capital Real Estate, Finova Realty Capital, Column Financial and Key Bank. Later additions include Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and ARCS Commercial.
In the first two months of operation, LoopLender received $1 billion in loan requests and it is now closing its first loans. "We are the only online origination service," notes Dennis DeAndre, LoopNet's founder and CEO.
When the Internet first became widely available to consumers, there were a large number of attempts to create online real estate services - both residential and commercial. Some failed, but most have stayed and there are now proliferations of sites devoted to some aspect of real estate. It is a fast-changing world and those companies that have quickly adapted to the technology and demands of the market have become successful on the web.
Founded in 1995, LoopNet is one of the older online, commercial real estate sites - and it boasts being the most heavily used commercial real estate site on the Internet. It has adapted to user needs and continually tries to meet those needs with services such as LoopLender.
"We represent 90 to 100 commercial real estate organizations," says DeAndre. "They help us to determine the functionality of the product, and the highest priority set by all of our users was going to an online loan-origination service."
Other Internet sites are making the same sort of adjustments to meet the needs of their commercial real estate clientele.
Commercial Realty OnLine, probably better known by its site name, comro.com, was also formed in 1995. It began Internet life by providing online marketing services for Chicago-area real estate. Commercial Realty now has gone national.
Companies pay a fee to list on the comro.com site. Currently, the inventory of properties listed totals about 600, but the website has recently received commitments that would put it at more than 3,000 listed properties. Recently, it picked up large portfolios from TrizecHahn, RREEF Funds, Arden Realty and ProLogis.
"The Internet is the most cost-effective and efficient way to disseminate detailed information on commercial properties to the broadest audience," says Kevin Travers, president of Commercial Realty. "We charge about $500 a year per property to advertise, which is next to nothing in the scheme of the typical marketing budget for commercial property. And the Internet is efficient because we can continually update the status of a property as space gets leased or becomes available. When anyone dials in, we can give an accurate assessment of the property."
Only four years old, comro.com is already in its fourth generation of Internet product.
There are also a number of very new Internet service providers, one of which, VertiNews.com out of Princeton, N.J., was just hatched this summer. VertiNews is more of a news service, combining certain aspects of wire service with that of a newsletter. Regular announcements and corporate announcements are reported on a real-time basis, says Orest Mandzy, managing editor of the company's Commercial Real Estate News Service.
"Our aim is to provide information that will allow investors to make better business decisions," says Mandzy. "By providing information on deals that are either in the market or about to come to market, and also information on what players are in the market, investors will be able to make better decisions."
VertiNews, which can be found at the website www.vertinews.com, also runs enterprise stories, along with REIT deals, acquisitions and deals that will be coming to market. "We can e-mail out top stories to our subscribers if that's what they want," he adds.
At mid-September, PropertyFirst.com had been online just 70 days, but it already listed about $7 billion of commercial properties and had at least 10 clients ready to sign on. "Our goal is to bring companies onboard like Jones Lang LaSalle or CB Richard Ellis, where we will bring their entire company onto our system," explains Craig Robbins, senior vice president. The Alhambra, Calif.-based company is almost a year old, but its basis was an old Santa Barbara, Calif., real estate listing company, which it bought and brought to the Internet.
"What we are trying to do is create a place where people can come and more effectively find commercial real estate for sale and more effectively market their commercial real estate," says Robbins.
It sounds suspiciously like LoopNet. Only to some degree, argues Robbins. "LoopNet is like a bulletin board. Our system has five levels of marketing, one of which is a confidential level so a company can put information on the Internet and only the clients that are designated can see the properties. The other thing we do differently is a buyer match. We match the property with a buyer in our database and then we contact the buyer through e-mail or allow the broker to come to our site."
Currently, at the public viewing level, only about $3.5 billion of products are PropertyFirst.com listed. At this level, the company wants to get listings up to $5 billion to $15 billion. Its original goal was to get 10 clients on board by year-end, but it could end with 20.
"We don't want the Internet technology to drive the business," says Robbins, "we want the business to drive our technology."