October 29, 2018
FOCUS: Real Estate

Greater Hartford Realtors launch property-listing service for commercial brokers

The Greater Hartford Association of Realtors has helped launch a new statewide listing service for commercial properties (shown above) that aims to compete with national listing services like LoopNet.
Holly Callanan, CEO, Greater Hartford Association of Realtors
Joel J. Witkiewicz, Advance Realty CT, chair of the Connecticut Commercial Real Estate Alliance

Frustrated by rising prices and limited choices for marketing their properties online, a group of Connecticut real estate professionals have launched their own listing service specifically for the state's commercial real estate industry.

Managed by the Greater Hartford Association of Realtors (GHAR), the service, found at CTCList.com, has been gaining momentum since its Aug. 1 debut, said GHAR CEO Holly Callanan.

Callanan has been traveling around the state promoting the new service in recent weeks, and said the goal is to have 100 percent of Connecticut's commercial realty agents participating.

"We're getting more users every single day," she said. "The key is to get everybody on board because that makes it a stronger service."

The site is powered by national commercial real estate listing service Catylist, which bills itself as an alternative to costlier, large commercial services like LoopNet.

Commercial agents around the country have complained that prices for LoopNet, the dominant player in the industry, have skyrocketed since publicly traded commercial real estate data giant CoStar acquired the company in 2012.

Others have accused CoStar of filing lawsuits to squelch competition, leaving brokers with few choices, according to news reports.

"They've used litigation to suppress innovation in the space," Elie Finegold, former head of global innovation and business intelligence at CBRE, the world's largest commercial brokerage, told real estate publication The Real Deal in September. (CoStar has countered that it is merely protecting its intellectual property.)

While agents say such services can cost several thousand dollars a year or more for a set number of listings, CTCList costs $600 a year for National Association of Realtor members ($900 for non-members) and listings are unlimited. The rates, however, are subject to change as membership grows, Callanan said.

The service, designed as both a marketing platform and information exchange, is open to any licensed commercial broker in the state, and GHAR is pro-rating the annual fee for those who joined after Aug. 1.

As of mid-October, 37 member agents, mostly from the Hartford region, had listed over 500 properties on the fledgling site.

"People really like it and we expect it to grow exponentially as more people are familiar with it," said Joel J. Witkiewicz of Advance Realty CT in Bristol, chair of the Connecticut Commercial Real Estate Alliance, which spearheaded the project.

Witkiewicz said commercial agents in the state had long been asking for a one-stop shopping place to post their inventory and search for market information, a service residential agents already enjoy through the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) database. The alliance, GHAR's commercial division, pitched the Catylist program to the larger association, which agreed to take it on.

The website allows members of the public to sign up for free accounts to search available properties, while paid subscribers get access to detailed listings, market statistics and other tools.

Full members can create customized reports and brochures, send broadcast emails, look up property histories and comps, receive personalized market updates and have fliers translated into different languages through the system.

Witkiewicz said another popular feature is "wants and needs," where members of the public or brokers can post requests for properties.

"Let's say I'm a broker and I have an investor who wants to buy a factory building. I can post that on the site," Witkiewicz said. "If somebody (in the network) has something that meets that requirement, they can call me."

Small-broker option

Jeff Ryer, principal of Danbury-based Ryer Associates Commercial Real Estate and a user of the site, said having a database of market information controlled by the local real estate community is a huge draw.

"Frankly, a lot of us in the industry were tired of giving data out for free and then being charged exorbitant fees to retrieve it," said Ryer.

"Right now, researchers from these (national) companies call brokers and there's no incentive to give them accurate information, or any information at all," Ryer said. "The hope is that because this is real estate agent-controlled, people will be more enthusiastic about putting data into the system."

Connecticut joins two other New England states in adopting the Catylist platform — Rhode Island and New Hampshire (whose service area includes parts of Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts). In all, Catylist has 16,000 paying members in 49 local markets spanning 33 states and two Canadian provinces.

The company also plans to launch a new website, CommercialExchange.com, in hopes of driving more traffic to its listings, Callanan said.

She said the national exposure and ability to network with other Catylist members will be a good opportunity for smaller commercial brokers, who until now may have only been marketing their properties on their own websites.

"For a very affordable cost, this is going to make their property go viral, which is incredible for some of these commercial agents," she said.

Although run by GHAR, the service will be governed by an advisory board made up of commercial agents from large real estate markets statewide.

Callanan said keeping prices within reach of even the smallest commercial real estate players was a priority, so GHAR isn't expecting to turn a profit on the service.

"We're a nonprofit association so we're not looking to make a lot of revenue on it," she said. "We just want our members to be successful."

While the site currently lacks the scale of its competition, users like Ryer are hopeful that will change with time.

"Our challenge is to convince the agents and brokers that this is an alternative that has legs," he said. "It has the potential to be the go-to marketing platform … for the commercial real estate industry in Connecticut."

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