The Real Deal New York

RetailMLS.com seems set to cause waves in retail brokerage industry

May 11, 2012 05:30PM
By Katherine Clarke

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A screenshot of RetailMLS.com

Lack of transparency in commercial property listing practices has spawned a plethora of online databases in recent years — Dumann Associates’ Richard Du launched database Agorafy.com in April and PropertyShark.com, Loopnet.com and CoStar.com still rule the internet for commercial real estate search terms. But one new site, which aims to separate itself from the pack by focusing only on retail, is causing a significant stir within the commercial real estate community.

RetailMLS.com, the first multiple listings service dedicated exclusively to the retail real estate market, launched in beta form May 1 and already has several well-known firms testing the site, including Vornado Realty Trust, Aurora Capital Associates, Massey Knakal Realty Services and Tarter Stats O’Toole. The site, which has received undisclosed investments from personalities in both the worlds of technology and real estate, aims to streamline the process of marketing and searching for retail space.

RetailMLS Founder and CEO Benjamin Zises

On the site, users can upload their listing or search for appropriate listings by criteria such as frontage on avenues, ceiling height, distance from public transportation, location, indoor and outdoor seating requirements and whether the space is vented or has a built-in kitchen for a restaurant tenant, said founder Benjamin Zises, who began working on the site three years ago when he was a broker at Mogull Realty. His identical twin brother, Samuel Zises, a former advertising professional, is the chief marketing officer of the company. He previously worked as group marketing and business development manager at Ogilvy & Mather.

The service will save brokers time, Benjamin said, by making sure that the client is a good match for the space. It makes added phone calls and visits to spaces unnecessary.

“Back when I was a broker, I realized the whole process of searching for and marketing retail space was pretty inefficient,” Zises said. “I used to rollerblade the streets at night writing down phone numbers [for retail spaces for rent]. … Time is money with brokers so they have to be as efficient as possible.”

The website, which already has around 100 listings just a week after launching, is currently free of charge because its founders “didn’t want to put up any barriers to adoption,” Zises said. But the Zises brothers aim to begin charging in 2013, after proving that they add value to brokers and landlords. Various pricing models are still under consideration. Revenue will also come from advertising.

Users who subscribe to RetailMLS as advanced “RetailPRO” users, which will eventually be available for $125 a month, will also be able to access several enhanced site features. Those features will include saving searches, which allows for automatic email updates when new listings are added to a specific neighborhood, or tracking listings to receive notices if the asking rent drops for a space.

The usefulness of the site is already being touted by early adopters, including Brandon Singer, director of retail services at Cushman & Wakefield, which is among several firms test-driving RetailMLS.com in the beta phase.

“Our industry was craving a service like this,” he said. “Along with everything in real estate, retail has become more specialized and the process of closing deals has become more complex. We needed a service that was both retail-specific and one which allowed brokers to list and search on a more granular level of detail. ”

Robert Knakal, co-founder of Massey Knakal Realty Services, added: “I am completely in favor of transparency in our industry and am in favor of any type of information sharing. It is great to see an initiative targeting retail space.”

He added that Massey Knakal will certainly participate by posting all of its retail space listings on the site.

Catherine O’Toole, vice president of Tarter Stats O’Toole, said retail is “an underserviced market” and a unique one, with its own idiosyncrasies. It is deserving of its own dedicated system, she said.

Retail brokers “have a longer leasing process [than other commercial property types,]” she said. “The typical retail lease in Midtown West and in Soho is 10 years and there’s a 70 percent chance of renewal. That’s unusual [in other asset classes.]”

Perhaps, most revealingly, Ryan Slack, the former CEO and founder of PropertyShark.com and current CEO at Green Pearl events, enthused: “RetailMLS is going to revolutionize the retail leasing market.”

PropertyShark.com, which aggregates real estate data and listings from hundreds of public and proprietary sources on website covering a dozen major markets, said it could not comment on RetailMLS.com as it was not familiar with the site. Meanwhile, the operators of CoStar.com, a database of commercial real estate information throughout the U.S. as well as in the United Kingdom and France, and start-up Agorafy.com, were not immediately available for comment.

RetailMLS.com is being refined in preparation for its public launch in the fall, starting in New York City. It will later expand to a national audience.

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