Week of May 29, 2000
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
   of the Week

BT Commercial: Real-Time Property Listing
Updates Add to Site's Ample Appeal

You knew it had to happen. It really needed to happen. And hey, hey, hey: It's happening. What's happening is that handful of brokerage sites are stepping up to the plate and into the beyond: BT Commercial (www.btcommercial.com) is one of that vanguard, providing users with up-to-date information as fast as the company gets it. As a property listing is entered in BT Commercial's own database, it simultaneously hits the company's Web site. In other words, real-time updates - all real, all the time.


Old Info a Bane in Corporate
Real Estate Managers' Existence

This is an idea whose time has definitely come in the real estate industry. Old, outdated information has long been a bane in corporate real estate managers' existence. With the Web's rich potential for ongoing updates, the problem has become even more of an irritant.

Ancient online information is particularly a problem with many economic development agencies. Some ED agencies, however, have very much gotten with the program; their Web sites are top of the line, and they now provide the latest available data on an ongoing basis. Many others groups, though, seem to lack either the resources or the will to provide the latest information. To somewhat of a lesser extent, the same problem bedevils the online brokerage community.


What Users Demand: Data, Not Salesmanship

Some online players, we suspect, aren't giving out all of their information because they think that sandbagged info will draw prospects. That mindset, we suspect, stems from a strong belief in old-line in-person salesmanship: "If I can get 'em here, I can sell 'em!"

That's all fine and good, but buying property isn't like buying a used car. (In fact, the auto industry is capitulating to reality by now providing online users with more information than they've ever had before - and, we might add, information that savvy users were already getting from other sources.)

Keeping your information close to the vest is simply not how the real estate game is played anymore. At least not by savvy players.

A ton of real estate research is now done over the Web. It's the smart way to operate. Sites that don't have the latest information are generally bypassed.

Sure, salesmanship is part of the real estate game. But buyers now have unprecedented access to information. In fact, most now demand that information upfront before the salesmanship dance ever starts.

That's why developments like BT Commercial's real-time updates are so encouraging. Sharing all data may diminish the old "don't-tell-'em-everything-you-know" edge. But, fact is, that edge barely exists anymore. There's much more of an edge in simply providing full access to current information. That's the online candy in today's real estate store that will keep users coming back.


BT Commercial Site Equals
Or Betters Many National Players

That said, the BT Commercial site is pretty slick in and of itself. In fact, it's easily as good or better than many national players' online domains.

BT Commercial's focus is Northern California. The site, in fact, refers to "our intentionally myopic view of the universe. Our world is purposely limited to Northern California from the Oregon border to the Monterey Bay, from the Pacific Ocean to the Sierras." Company operations include the San Jose headquarters, plus regional offices in San Francisco, Oakland, Burlingame, Palo Alto, Santa Cruz and Monterey.

A member of the New America International network (www.naiweb.com, previously reviewed in these pages), BT Commercial has a long industry history. The firm was founded in 1981 as Blickman Turkus. Since then, it's consummated lease and purchase transactions in excess of $9 billion (a pretty profitable "intentionally myopic view," it seems). The company also has a solid clientele. (If you're interested, you can get a gander under the "Testimonials" section of the site's "About Us" area.)


At-a-Glance Features Friendly to Users

The BT Commercial site has a number of user-friendly features.

One we particularly liked is the home page's use of two boxes labeled "Our Listings for Lease" and "Our Listings for Sale." Those two boxes give the total number of online property listings in office, industrial, retail, R&D and warehouse facilities, as well as the total number of listings for land. That information provides users with an at-a-glance indication of how much of a supply is online for their perusal. That feature has the potential to considerably alleviate one of the enduring frustrations for users of real estate property site: going online and finding absolutely nothing for the property type in which you're interested.

Similarly, you can search for the home page for specific areas (that feature is labeled "Address Finder," which may confuse users who don't read the smaller type). From our experience, though, that's not the optimal way to search this site. A far better option is to click on either of the blue bars atop the two aforementioned boxes, "Our Listings for Lease" and "Our Listings for Sale." That will take you right into a searchable database, where you can specify extensive search criteria.

In addition, by clicking the "Add e-Listing Agent" icon, users can set themselves up to receive ongoing updates on new property listings that meet their criteria.


Tres Cool 'Virtual Tours'

The site also offers very cool "virtual property tours."

Here's how the tours work: Users navigate their paths with their mice. As you move the cursor over the pictured virtual tour area, you can click to pan the virtual scene. Then, you can release the button and move the cursor around the virtual scene. When the cursor turns into an arrow, you've found a virtual path. Clicking on the point where the cursor becomes an arrow allows you to follow that virtual path through the rest the property.

Users should be aware that the virtual tours take a lot of online juice to run (which isn't uncommon among the stronger sites around). Naturally, you'll also need to have or get a video plug-in to take the virtual tours.

(In a related note both personal and technological, we must sadly report that Microsoft Explorer ran far more smoothly on this entire site than Netscape Navigator. In fact, stack dumps crashed Navigator several times when we were simply trying to look at BT Commercial's properties; Explorer didn't have such problems.

This is bad news for this Netscape holdout. All our bookmarks are on Netscape, which is where we started our Web odyssey. And continuing to use Netscape seemed like something of a small step for mankind, a tiny action in resisting Microsoft's total control of our technological life. What we're finding, though, is that the online world seems to be going Explorer's way; Mr. Gates' browser has become the expeditious way to zip around cyberspace. And, frankly, the new version of Navigator, even though it's only a test model, is an over-busy mess of a thing.)


Real-Time Info: Also a Real-Time User Demand

All in all, BT Commercial has a very solid site here -- particularly when you add in those real-time data.

And, to reiterate what we've already heavily intimated: The view from this corner is that users are going to begin to demand immediate, ongoing updates of property listings. Those that don't have them will simply be bypassed. BT Commercial, for one, has them.


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