If you want to immerse yourself in a sea of real estate data, PropertyShark is a welcome site.

Spawned by Matthew Haines, a programmer who was laid off after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the PropertyShark Web site now has about 100,000 registered users and boasts one of the most expansive collections of free online real estate data for the New York City area. Registration is free to access most of the site’s features, and its advanced users — among them are real estate investors, developers, brokers and other professionals — purchase annual subscriptions for about $500.

The company mines volumes of real estate data from a variety of public and other sources, and stitches the information together online with richly layered maps and statistics for individual properties and buildings. The site allows users to view for-sale property listings and reports, foreclosure listings, comparable sales data, and view maps that include building outlines, zoning types, air rights, flood maps, house numbers, tax lot numbers, proposed development sites and sites with major construction permits, rezoning project areas, and other details such as subway stations, railroads, highways, private roads, walkways and parks.

“We know that people have made way more money off the Web site than we have,” said Ryan Slack, CEO for PropertyShark. Slack originally met Matthew Haines in college in California, and joined forces with him in 2004 to grow his real estate venture. NYCPropertySearch.com, the site that Haines launched in 2003, rebranded as PropertyShark.com in 2004.

Haines, who runs the PropertyShark office and back-end team and also works on business development efforts, said he was drawn to real estate by his personal experience in seeking information about a building he purchased and renovated in Harlem.

“The big reason why people were reluctant to buy properties and renovate them was they couldn’t find out what the problems were on them. I had learned to do research into finding out what was going on with a property,” he said.

So he built a Web site to help provide information on properties, and “after a year there were a lot of real estate brokers using it and I was starting to get some revenue,” Haines said.

Slack said a real estate professional once told him that research at PropertyShark.com netted him hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single real estate deal. “Within New York we’re the only (company) that aggregates as much data as we do and makes it as open. All of our competitors tend to be in little silos…no one is bringing it together” as a free or low-cost service, he said.

Property reports generated at the site are extensive, listing neighboring buildings, housing and building violations, crime statistics, school information, neighborhood political leanings, and area demographics.

While among the site’s users are some very serious real estate professionals who pay for PropertyShark’s more comprehensive search features, “It’s quite obvious a large chunk of them are simply consumers who don’t necessarily pay us anything,” Slack said. “It’s a great site for consumers in that you can do all sorts of things.

“You can find out if your potential landlord is a slumlord (based on violations at the building); you can find out how much a neighbor paid for a home or for a building. There is a voyeuristic element to it. We try to leave it as open as possible. We don’t try to narrow down the focus to meet one particular profession’s needs.”

Haines built most of the features at the site from scratch, with the exception of an open-source mapping platform. PropertyShark is constantly adding features, Slack said, such as a new section of the site that allows condo developers to promote new projects.

PropertyShark is always hungry for new data sources, he said. “We are looking to work with complimentary services, and it needs to be value-added for our users.” For example, a company that has information on property sites with toxic pollution could be a very useful partner for the site because it adds another layer of data for the site’s users to pore over.

The company now has 10 full-time employees on its staff, and Slack said the user rate is growing about 2 percent per week. The site is expanding into new market areas, too, with its jaws set on Florida and California.

Already, PropertyShark has launched some data and tools for other areas in New York, as well as New Jersey, Los Angeles, parts of Florida, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., with other cities on the way.

In addition to gathering reams of data from a variety of sources, the PropertyShark staff has assembled a massive collection of building photographs around Manhattan. Haines said, “We definitely spent a lot of time and money pursuing the fancy techniques.”

But after some experimentation, they found a decidedly low-tech solution worked the best — snapping individual photos of individual buildings. And within the next month they say they will have photographed every building in Manhattan.

Some of the data sources for PropertyShark also rely on old-school techniques to record information — Slack noted that some government offices are still heavily invested in paper and microfiche systems. “They have political and budgetary constrains,” he said, and PropertyShark has been working to digitize some real estate documents to make the information more accessible to the general public. The company offers its information free to nonprofit agencies and also for city and state agencies that supply data.

One of the latest features added to PropertyShark is an automated valuation tool that generates a median price for comparable properties sold. The founders joke that while PropertyShark provides quite a mouthful of real estate information, it doesn’t yet offer a “psychic evaluation model” to predict future home prices…but don’t hold your breath.

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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