Week of December 13, 1999
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
   of the Week

CityFeet: Broker-Less Transactions for Small Space Users

"Going back to the city,
Where everything turns around,
Going back to the city,
Where my feet spin fast off the ground."

-- "My Town," recorded by the Samples
Written by Sean Kelly/Al Laughlin
Pity the poor small space user. He's been the forgotten man in the great Internet rush to embrace all things real estate. At least until now. CityFeet (www.cityfeet.com), however, has stepped into that marketplace void, providing a site custom-tailored to meet many of the needs of users of spaces that range from 2,000 sq. ft. (180 sq. m.) to 10,000 sq. ft. (900 sq. m.). Moreover, this site is a broker-free piece of cyberspace.

Mind you, CityFeet is limited solely to commercial space that's located in Manhattan -- at least for now, although the site's major domos say they plan to eventually extend the service to other cities.

But what better place to go the broker-less route than Manhattan? Contrary to the Samples musical musings, when it comes to small space transactions in Manhattan, brokers' feet do not "spin fast off the ground." In fact, they rarely move. Many Manhattan brokers scoff at even stooping to handle small deals with small fees. (A tangential idea for a thrift-conscious book title for the new millennium: "Manhattan on Less Than $300 a Day.")

CityFeet (which is free to space users) explains its Manhattan-centric focus thusly: "Prospective tenants -- especially small businesses -- want any [and] all information about the immediate area in which they intend to do business. A site that offers national space availabilities is irrelevant to them. CityFeet offers unparalleled depth and breadth of commercial space availabilities exclusively in Manhattan."

Test Drive Shows Site Built for Users, Not Brokers

We buy that premise. Moreover, the site's use of broker-less transactions, and what that may mean in the real estate future, are intriguing. (Though we are betting that some cash-flow-challenged broker-meister will find a way to weasel his way onto this site.)

CityFeet stands in stark contrast to the many commercial real estate sites that are built around the brokerage business. This site's strategy for dispensing with brokers is profoundly simple: Eliminate the middleman.

Using this site will be a slam-dunk for anyone who's ever used a similar type of commercial property site.

Users simply enter their search parameters for total space, type of space (e.g., office, retail or "other") and the desired Manhattan neighborhood. (Users can add other search parameters -- including desired base rent, a few amenities and desired move-in date -- by using the site's "Extended Search" feature). The CityFeet system then searches its database and produces listings that meet users' criteria.

Each of the listings is accompanied by a detailed description of the space, when the space is available, the asking price and contact details. Other property information that may be provided onsite includes photographs, floor plans and maps. (We should note, however, that, at least during our random test drive, we found many more properties that did not have accompanying photographs and floor plans than we found ones that did.)

If you don't find what you're looking for while you're online, the site also offers a service - the "CityFeet Agent" feature - that will send you regular e-mail updates on new properties listed on the site that meet your search parameters.

Just for a little fun exercise in futility, we tried an online search during our test drive for what might qualify as a Manhattan Property from Hell: We specified that we were looking for space in Soho spanning less than 1,000 sq. ft. (90 sq. m.), priced at less than $1,000 a sq. ft. and available within the next month. Unsurprisingly, we didn't find any listings. (At least CityFeet was considerate enough not to flash some on-screen message of the likes of, "Yo, you kiddin' me here?") We did, however, find something for $1,200/sq. ft. in the $1,000 to $3,000 per-sq.-ft. range.

Site Promises Expanded Listings, Services

In addition to the new (and as yet undisclosed) geographic locations that CityFeet says it will cover in the future, the Manhattan-focused site will also be undergoing a number of changes, company officials say.

Along with the space for lease for office and retail use that it currently lists, the service says it will soon expand into "many other types of commercial leases, such as industrial, storage, studio, showroom, gallery and parking spaces." Other features that company officials say that the Manhattan site is looking at adding include "3-D videos of space interiors" and "download features allowing prospective tenants to edit and format search results more easily," according to site officials.

However, company officials say that the site's bias toward users, not investors, won't change. "CityFeet's focus is on serving Manhattan businesses that use space, not real estate investors," the site promises. "Therefore, it does not offer property sale listings."

Site Has Real Estate Expertise

CityFeet has a sort of slogan: "Empower the User with Information and They Will Succeed."

While that's obviously a bit self-serving, CityFeet nonetheless delivers a lot of the right stuff (however ungrammatically its slogan matches "the user" with "they").

Undoubtedly, the site's savvy reflects the considerable amount of real estate experience among CityFeet's top guns. For example, site mastermind Guy Shanon has worked at CB Commercial Real Estate Group, at Jones Lang Wootton USA and at the real estate department within Daiwa Securities.

Be forewarned, however, that the color scheme of the home page may jar your delicate sensibilities. The combined hues of yellow, orange, brown and green may evoke memories of long-ago, better-forgotten nights of wretched excess.

On the other hand, the offbeat color combo lends itself to type that's easily read, and the site runs smoothly and quickly.

Most importantly, the information, particularly on small spaces, is here. And the brokers aren't.



©1999 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.