Property information war set to erupt on public stage

Realty Information Group and are pouring tens of millions of dollars into new Internet-based products and services as the battle to provide commercial real estate property information heats up.

Both companies are already two of the largest subscription-based providers of real estate data to brokers and other real estate professionals, but have largely stayed out of each other's competitive crosshairs.

That is about to change. RIG and Comps are building what amounts to competing, full-service digital marketplaces where brokers and other real estate professionals will be able to download information and access services necessary to make decisions and get their deals done.

Using the Internet as the platform for these marketplaces is an important milestone for commercial real estate because the industry has been slow to adopt new technology. Questions remain, however: Will the industry finally embrace the Web? Can Comps or RIG build a service powerful enough to dominate the other? And what about the dozens of other Internet-based information and service providers out there also competing for attention?

"The Web is becoming a strategic tool for real estate professionals, that much is clear," says Peter Pike, founder of the real estate Internet directory PikeNet. "I think it's an ambitious task to be everything for everybody, and I don't foresee one winner emerging anytime soon. But the competition is healthy for the industry as a whole."

A sneak peek into the strategic plans for RIG and Comps comes from documents filed by each company recently with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In late February, Comps announced plans for an initial public offering, seeking to raise just under $50 million. One month later, RIG filed for a secondary offering of about 3.7 million shares of common stock.

Bethesda, Md.-based RIG, known mainly for its CoStar service providing property and tenant information to brokers, is expanding its menu of services to include confirmed property sales information; an electronic marketing and listing service for investment property sales; and bolstered news and market analysis.

The expansion puts RIG into direct competition with as well as Web-based listing services like LoopNet.

RIG CEO Andy Florance has already had a lot of success positioning the company as an Internet player. About 65% of the company's 2,800 corporate customers already receive daily updates over the Internet, and a new browser-based interface is in development.

Investors clearly see RIG as a new breed of Internet-savvy real estate information provider judging by the meteoric rise in the company's stock price, and despite a lack of profitability. RIG lost $3.2 million on revenue of $13.9 million in 1998. But since going public in July 1998 at $9 per share, RIG stock has jumped 395% to close at $44.50 on April 15. The company's $440 million market capitalization is higher than Grubb & Ellis ($125 million), CB Richard Elllis ($315 million) and Insignia ESG ($290.3 million).

On March 24, the company filed plans to sell another 3.7 million shares at $22.0625 per share, raising just under $82.5 million. The offering price and amount raised will likely rise due to the recent surge in the company's stock price.

Christopher Crane, CEO of San Diego-based Comps (the ".com" is a recent addition to boost the company's Internet credentials), is countering RIG's moves with somecompetitive offerings of his own. The company intends to create its own Web-based national listing service for investment property sales in addition to expanding its RealBid electronic marketing service, which matches listing brokers with prospective buyers. The company also is developing a similar matching service for lenders and borrowers.

These services will sit atop Comps' existing database of confirmed property sales information, which covers 35 markets across the country. This data has only recently been offered to customers over the Internet, but the company has invested heavily in creating a new digital service it calls E-Comps.

About 10% of Comps' revenue currently derives from Internet-delivered data, a percentage that must grow for the company's Internet strategy to be successful.

Comps plans to fund its expansion through a public offering of about 33% of the company's stock. The company plans to sell 3.8 million shares at between $11 and $13 per share, raising just under $50 million. The company lost just more than $2 million on revenue of $13 million in 1998.

BETHESDA, Md - Realty information Group (NASDAQ:RIGX) reported a wider 1st Quarter 1999 loss of $2.2 million compared to the company's $384,000 1st Quarter loss in 1998. Revenue, though, was up substantially, to $6.1 million, an increase of 116% over the $2.8 million in revenue for the same period last year.

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