Web Tool to Help Navigate NYC Real Estate

With nearly a million buildings in New York's five boroughs alone, and many of those buildings with multiple properties for sale or rent, real-estate professionals face a daunting task. The city is one of the most competitive markets in the world, and people in the business need as much help as possible keeping track of listings, properties and the sale or rental status of those properties -- to name just a few tasks they must juggle.

A New York startup is trying to make their jobs easier with a new Web-based tool based on Microsoft's Virtual Earth 3D mapping technology. REonomy, in Manhattan's Lower East Side neighborhood, so far has gathered information about more than 3.2 million properties in New York and New Jersey. The company delivers that information in a Web-based application that can, among other things, generate instant reports about properties that people can access not only on a PC but also on mobile devices.

Co-founders Charlie Oshman and Jonathan Arnold, both in their 20s, started the business a little more than a year ago. Arnold worked in several aspects of real estate -- commercial real estate, research and investment sales among them -- and realized there were "unfulfilled needs" in terms of tools to help people in that industry work more efficiently, Oshman said.

Oshman, with a background in marketing and technology, is the technology geek behind the operation, leading the company on product development. "As far as Jon was concerned, everything was left wide open for a new player, and I helped figure out how to put it together," he said.

The two came up with the idea in February 2008 and started in earnest to look for funding a few months later, finding it in the form of some angel investors from the industry. The REonomy tool, sold on a subscription basis for between US$500 to $560 a user to real-estate professionals, went live about 2 1/2 months ago.

People with various job roles -- among them are real-estate agents, financial analysts, architects, mortgage appraisers and insurance companies -- need real-estate information in New York, Oshman said. Because REonomy had to serve the needs of so many different professionals, they conducted focus groups to find out what kind of information would be most helpful to them, he said.

REonomy aggregates information about properties, such as who owns the building, expense and income reports, and zoning, square footage and mortgage information, from both private and public sources, Oshman said.

"Some of the information is not easy to get your hands on, and even when you get it, it's worthless unless you have a system designed to give you that information in an efficient way," he said.

People can access the information in several ways, through menu bars or by searching by address, which is then located on a map. By clicking on that map, people can drill down into the property to find out what is specifically helpful for their particular job, Oshman said.

REonomy competes with PropertyShark.com, a property research, reports and listing site that many real-estate professionals already use. But Oshman said REonomy was designed to be a next-generation version of what that site provides, using contemporary technology such as Virtual Earth, to create new ways to interact with information.

For instance, though PropertyShark provides property maps, it doesn't provide them in 3D, and it doesn't allow professionals to generate a 3D prism, based on zoning and air rights and the like, of the largest property that can be built on a particular parcel of land, Oshman said. Zoning rights in real estate determine what kind of property can be built on a piece of land, and air rights determine how much space above or around the existing structure a person can build out to.

"It looks similar to something you would do in Autocad, like an architect's model," he said of the renderings that can be generated by REonomy's tool. However, while Oshman added it does not replace an architect's rendering of a property, professionals can use it to show a client, "this is the potential of what you could be buying."

REonomy also has a mobile reports feature that allows a real-estate professional to e-mail REonomy with the property address in the subject line and get back a report about that property containing square footage, owner and other property information, Oshman said.

Indeed, one real-estate professional said the mobile reports feature is a key differentiator for REonomy's product.

"That's something I don't think anybody else has done before," said Frederick Fackelmayer, a senior financial analyst with the consulting arm of CB Richard Ellis, an international commercial real-estate group. "If you're in a meeting or just curious walking by a development site, you can find the information you're looking for about a building on your phone. That's very helpful and definitely makes things more efficient."

Fackelmayer said REonomy's ability to aggregate information that is located in many other sources also is a key benefit of the product.

"These guys have found a way to pull the relevant information that anyone in the real-estate industry has been looking for and put it into one place, which saves a lot of time," he said.

REonomy also aims to build a multiple-listing service so people can go to one place to see the property listings of various real-estate companies in New York, which does not currently have a multiple-listing service. The company is signing up real-estate agents to create customized home pages on their sites so people can view their listings in one tool, Oshman said.

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