Week of March 6, 2000
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
   of the Week

TradeAddresses.com: Caveat Emptor

"Don't let a tight space market destroy your business!"

That's the repeated tag line for TradeAddresses.com (www.tradeaddresses.com), a brand-new commercial real estate Web site that seems -- at least at first glance - to offer a different approach.

Tradeaddresses.com (let's forget for the moment that the name sounds like a mail-service singles bar) claims on its home page that it's "a new service that allows companies to take control again either by trading space or finding available real estate to lease BEFORE IT IS LISTED WITH A BROKER OR REAL ESTATE AGENT." (Caps added by reviewer.)

We have doubts, substantial ones, about the validity of that statement, but we'll come back to that.

We got a little more information on TradeAddresses.com in a press release that was e-released this week. In that release, founder Robert McComb explained a little more about the site:

"Competition for spaces is fierce, and those having the toughest time finding space are the dot.coms, software companies, Internet service providers and consulting companies -- all part of an exploding sector," McComb said.

"If they don't have space for employees, they can't keep up," he continued. "TradeAddresses.com helps them use the Web to their advantage. It lets tenants deal directly with their growth or consolidation issues. Our site helps these companies find space that is being vacated before the end of a lease and before the office space is offered to the general market."


An Idea with Solid Merit . . .
And Apparent Misrepresentation

That idea certainly has some solid merit. That's particularly true in light of the fact that the types of companies that McComb is describing often need a certain type of space that has the raised flooring and up-to-date technological infrastructure. Many older buildings lack those qualities, which makes such properties valuable to the target firms..

So far, so good. It's on the promise of broker-less transactions, though, where this site seems to take a nasty stumble. Let's quote the site itself here:

"Its as easy as entering some basic information about your space and completing a basic sublease/assignment listing agreement with Trade Addresses, a licensed real estate broker. Either execute the agreement on-line or request an appointment with one of our experienced trade facilitators. If you choose to execute the agreement on-line, you will be immediately contacted by a trade facilitator." Frankly, if you want to try contacting Tradeaddresses.com, well, more power to you. But what we're seeing, in plain black and white in cyberspace, is the promise of broker-less transactions immediately being broken.


"Trade Facilitator": AKA Broker

Consider what happens if you click on the category "Role of Trade Facilitator." And it's significant to note that if you don't click you wouldn't get this explanation. What the explanation says is: "ALL OUR TRADE FACILITATORS ARE seasoned, licensed commercial BROKERS." (Caps added by reviewer.)

"It is their job to ensure a clear, smooth and comfortable trade for you. They will also provide you with up to the minute information about ALL properties, from all sources, that may come on the market which meet your needs.

"Your Trade Facilitator will:

  • "Review the business points of your current leasehold;

  • "Create a trade or space acquisition strategy for your company;

  • "Complete a comprehensive needs analysis;

  • "Post photos and floor plans of your trade offering;

  • "Present all suitable locations from all sources;

  • "Arrange for and accompany you on site inspections:

  • "Create proposals and responses

  • "Negotiate your transaction

  • "Facilitate your relocation team."
In other words, what you'll get for your efforts to get a broker-less transaction is a full-fledged broker. Do we hear echoes of "Catch 22" ringing in the air?


Encouraging Novices to Sign Agreements?

What's more the site seems to be blatantly encouraging users to sign agreements with very little knowledge of with whom they're dealing. And that seems particularly dicey considering that much of this site seems aimed at new, high-growth firms that have little, if any, experience in playing the real estate game.

Understand, we don't think cyberspace is going to be the death of brokers. In fact, the really savvy ones will probably find a way to flourish. And a certain number of real estate transactions are always going to have intermediaries. In fact, a certain number very badly need skilled intermediaries.

That said, we've established one rule in our Web reviewing at this site. And that rule is: Don't say you're one thing and then immediately unveil yourself as something else.

TradeAddresses.com seems to shatter that rule with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. There's nothing wrong about going after a hot market. But there's also nothing wrong with honesty.

Mr. and Ms. Emptor: Caveat, caveat, caveat.


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