Neighborhood Watch: Two Companies Helping Real Estate Agents Help Their Clients
By Colin Ryan
Over a year ago, I wrote a post about the importance of the neighborhood when it comes to navigating the rental search as a consumer. Of course, the notion that a property’s surroundings are just as important as the property itself is not a new one. What is fairly new, however, is the idea that you can learn about those surroundings and, by extension, the character of an entire neighborhood without actually experiencing it in person. It seems the folks over at CityMaps.com took this idea to heart, and they’re creating a lot of buzz in the real estate industry with an ambitious set of mapping tools that offers users a chance to view an unprecedented amount of information about a particular district.
But before we get into depth about CityMaps, let’s look at how the idea of using the Internet to evaluate and describe neighborhoods has grown and developed. In the beginning, consumers looking for a new place to live could find information about unfamiliar districts by browsing area businesses on local search sites–schools, churches, restaurants, bars, etc. But these tools were designed for finding either specific addresses or businesses that fell into a certain category, rather than describing the residents or atmosphere of an area. Sure, renters and buyers could look up crime and demographics stats on government websites, and the addition of street view satellite photography helped them visualize some things; but that idea of “feel” still remained.
Then came sites that were geared specifically to the real estate search. Of these, NabeWise.com has emerged as a leader. NabeWise started by creating various categories and attributes that people care about in a neighborhood and, like Yelp and other sites, encouraging users to rank and review their areas based on those qualities. The result was a system that does a much better job of educating users on what it feels like to live in a particular neighborhood (after all, who can tell you better than the people who already live there?), and the site has certainly caught on: since August 2010, when I last reported on the company, NabeWise has gone from five metropolitan areas to twenty, including Berlin.
CityMaps has gone a different route to providing an immersive experience of an area. Instead of using subjective, user-generated content and ratings to provide insight, CityMaps has opted to profile neighborhoods using huge amounts of hard, objective data. A few years ago, the idea of drawing information from government records, real estate listings, social networks, and individual business websites, then displaying the results in real time would have sounded ludicrous. Today, we can access data from many different sources, then organize and present it in a way that’s valuable to users. CityMaps has taken advantage of this ability by mapping every storefront in Manhattan and Brooklyn, both mom-and-pop establishments and huge retail chains. The maps are constantly being updated to reflect frequent changes; they’re also full of notifications about what’s happening right now, including current tweets, daily deals from group buying sites, and news from retailers themselves. The key difference here is not in the data available but rather in what users need to do to access it. That is, instead of waiting for users to request some specific piece of information, CityMaps displays everything, then lets users manipulate the map however they want.
Certainly, CityMaps has a lot of potential for consumers. But how does it help real estate agents in particular? For starters, it saves you the work of updating your own maps, lists, and spreadsheets of the areas you serve. It also helps you keep abreast of any changes or new vacancies in areas you don’t have the opportunity to visit as often. The most significant benefit, however, will be to agents who have commercial and retail clients and listings. After all, commercial tenants, unlike residential tenants, have to consider not only where they’ll be comfortable, but also where they’ll be competitive. That being the case, CityMaps enables commercial agents to make highly informed recommendations to clients, and ensures they aren’t selling, say, a pizza shop a space next to three other pizza shops. It also gives clients a sense of what kinds of customers they can expect by providing an extensive survey of the kinds of businesses flourishing in the area, as well as detailed information about transportation and access.
So far, CityMaps is limited to just New York; however, the company plans to launch San Francisco and Boston in the next couple months, and they hope to expand to at least twenty cities by the end of the year. I, for one, am eager to see how companies like CityMaps and NabeWise will develop over the coming months, as well as how real estate professionals will use their tools to grow their business.
Published on December 8, 2011