Web sites snapping up co-op price info

By Lauren Elkies | October 30, 2007 04:52PM

Shortly after co-op sale prices became public for the first time, PropertyShark.com, a real estate data company based in Brooklyn, plucked the numbers from the city’s online database. It’s only a matter of time before many others follow suit.

PropertyShark.com incorporated the data into its site on Aug. 2, a day after the city made the information available through a law passed in July. Unlike real estate brokers, who have not looked to the city for the data because they were already acquiring the prices on their own, PropertyShark.com took full advantage of the new information.

“Co-op sales prices is really the holy grail of Manhattan real estate,” said Ryan Slack, CEO of PropertyShark.com. And the city’s Department of Finance system — the Automated City Register Information System, known as ACRIS — is “just not obvious to most people.”

PropertyShark.com offers an easier system to navigate and a more comprehensive view of the property than ACRIS does. The site allows users to read a description of the property, see school district information, neighborhood police reports, building photos, interactive maps and code violations.

“I think the most important part is the way we combine sources of data into one place,” Slack said. “It’s a classic one-stop shop. That’s just something you will never be able to do on ACRIS.”

Another online real estate service, Zillow.com, provides data and valuations of homes nationwide. It’s still seen as a work in progress, particularly because its price information isn’t always accurate, according to users who have reviewed the site. It, too, plans to use the newly disclosed co-op information.

“We think this is fantastic news for consumers,” said Amy Bohutinsky, Zillow’s director of communications. “Having free and available access to real estate information, such as prior transactions of homes, allows consumers to better research the value of homes and become smarter in the real estate process.”

The newly accessible price data will help Zillow.com continue to “show historical transactions and also to calculate our Zestimates — like we do in many parts of this country where this type of information has always been a part of public record,” Bohutinsky said. “We are currently looking into the best way to integrate this information with our site.” Zillow will continue its policy of not posting a property’s ownership information, she said.

Some businesses said it was premature to decide whether they would work in the data. “We’re kind of taking a wait-and-see approach,” said Jeff Wolk, president of the Manhattan Multiple Listing Service, a service of the Manhattan Association of Realtors. “Ease of use is certainly one of the biggest issues.”

Though the association has not ruled out the possibility of introducing the city’s data, Wolk said he does not anticipate such a move because the MLS’s sale numbers only reflect its own users’ business.

Michael Slattery, head of research for the Real Estate Board of New York, also said it was too soon for the association to determine whether to incorporate the co-op data.

“It’s comparable to condo information,” Slattery said of the newly available data. “It puts that information into a readily accessible form.”

But REBNY already acquires co-op sale prices from cooperating brokerage firms, and then provides its members with a quarterly report containing aggregate information about co-ops by geographic area, he said.

Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel, which specializes in Manhattan residential real estate appraisal, said of the new data: “Obviously, from a research standpoint, it enhances our ability to provide more complete information to our clients.” But, it is “not a panacea for the real estate market.”

Like REBNY, Miller Samuel gathers raw data from managing agents and other sources in order to generate aggregate data. It does not collect and sell data. Miller thinks his company will subscribe to a data server such as PropertyShark.com to view co-op figures rather than use ACRIS.

“It’s a lot more efficient for a real estate company to subscribe to a company that continually grabs the data from the public domain,” Miller said.

Regardless of the source from which people get the co-op sale prices, the fact that co-op sale prices are now public is “neat stuff,” Miller said. “We just came through the housing boom and now there’s a change in how information is being disseminated.”