In the last several days two transactions occurred that will mark broad changes in the commercial real estate data and brokerage industry. As a commercial real estate broker in Seattle, I pay close attention to trends in both the CRE industry and technology. Maybe its coming from Silicon Valley or it’s the fact that the PNW has that techy, entrepreneurial vibe, regardless I find the intersection of technology and commercial real estate very important and these transactions are significantly important.
On Monday, CoStar reported that it acquired Apartments.com from Chicago-based Classified Ventures Inc. for $585 million in cash (as reported by the Washington Post). Why is this important? This acquisition marks the continued roll-up by Costar of competitors in the marketplace, yet ostensibly more important is that it shows Costar bridging the gap from the B2B space of being a data/analytics provider and online listing service provider, to the B2C space of offering search capabilities to consumers, namely renters.
Is it this last part that is fascinating. Costars’ model has always required it to request data from owners of commercial real estate in order for it to package that information and sell it to the brokerage industry, and in many cases right back to owners of commercial real estate. In owning Apartments.com, Costar will not only have direct access to enhanced and timely apartment information, Costar’s interests and that of apartment owners are closer aligned. This fundamental shift is likely to make Costars’ apartment data infinitely more accurate and useful and blurs lines between commercial real estate data companies and building owners.
This is not the first time that Costar has bought other companies. In 2012 it bought LoopNet for $860M and in 2009 it bought PPR for $20M in stock. These transactions were of data and listing companies that run B2B models. Its ownership of Apartments.com is manifestly different and illustrates its purchasing power, its quest for broader data sets and its prescience in expanding its business.
Which leads us to another stroke of prescience. It was announced yesterday that Google Capital invested $50M into online commercial real estate brokerage house Auction.com. For all of you not listening: GOOGLE JUST GOT INTO THE ONLINE COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE BROKERAGE BUSINESS. I assure you that I rarely use all caps, yet such formatting cannot even begin to punctuate the importance of this transaction.
Google, a titan in the world of data aggregation and organization, is one of the very few companies that can turn commercial real estate on its head. Beyond organizing the world’s information, a stated goal of Google, it has broad competencies in mapping, analytics and other disciplines extremely important in the world of commercial real estate. I am a commercial real estate broker who loves technology uses it in writing market studies and desperately desires to see it incorporated in our industry, yet the implications of this transaction even scare me a bit.
How will these transactions change the industry? When? Who will they make irrelevant? It is far too early to answer any of these questions, yet the need to discuss and ponder them is now unavoidable. Technophile or not, if you are in the commercial real estate industry, especially the brokerage side of the business, I advise you to start paying attention to disruptors in our industry, and their ranks are growing. A short list includes 42Floors, Compsak, Hightower and View the Space. Oh, and this once little company based in sleepy Mountain View California.