Editor’s note: Real estate, technology and the Internet: it’s a match made in heaven. The combination is changing the way we search for homes, how we talk about our homes and think about where we live. In this three-part series we explored the latest innovation in real estate technology on several fronts, including home listings presentation on the Web, new data security systems, and blogs and online communities. (See Part 1: New forms of media converge in data-rich property listings and Part 2: Data security could shake up real estate industry.)
When it comes to all things real estate in Manhattan, Curbed.com is sometimes irreverent but is rarely irrelevant. The site is filled with information, insight, gossip, guesses, color, commentary, critiques, humor and occasional digressions from real estate insiders and outsiders alike.
This Web log, or blog, is a daily online diary that looks at how people define and redefine neighborhoods, community and place.
“The site is not afraid to be ridiculous,” said Lockhart Steele, Curbed.com publisher.
A Massachusetts native who moved to New York in 1996, Lockhart has published a blog at his personal Web site since 2001. Curbed.com launched in May of this year. “One of the things I’m not trying to be is an expert,” he said. “With a blog you’re sort of grazing a topic. The writing can be looser – you can be obscene, you can try to be funny and you don’t have an editor. You’re just flying out there alone.”
Lockhart crafted a creative approach to real estate writing while at his day job – he is managing editor for Cottages and Gardens, a regional home, garden and social-scene magazine with editions for well-to-do residents of the Hamptons, Palm Beach, Fla., and Connecticut. He is also well known for authoring a book in the 1990s about the rock group Phish. Originally self-published, “The Pharmers Almanac” was eventually picked up by a major publisher.
“Here at the magazines I’m responsible for real estate coverage. I’m responsible for interviewing brokers. It’s such an over-the-top real estate market. The characters involved in it are, in a way, larger than life. The money that is being spent is also larger than life,” he said.
“A fair amount of real estate coverage tends to fall a bit on the dry side. I decided to have some fun with it. (My writing) is almost more about the gossip behind the deal than the nuts and bolts of the deal.”
Similarly, the blog includes some topics and tidbits that are marginally related to real estate, but when taken as a whole Curbed.com presents a rounded picture of the people, places and politics of the New York real estate market.
Recent blogs have focused on Russian influence and interest in the New York real estate market, a luxury hotel planned by actor Robert DeNiro, reader gossip about the digs where movie star Will Smith and wife Jada lived or may have lived or may not have lived, and commentary about a high-rise hotel that offers a clear view of showering guests.
“Local blogging in general I think is fun,” Steele said. “Everyone is really interested in the place you live.” And real estate, said Steele, “is about neighborhoods.”
A resident of the Lower East Side, Steele said his personal blog often covered the transformation of his neighborhood. He wrote about new restaurants and bars, for example. “The neighborhood was coming from a gritty down-and-out place to being a very trendy place. I covered it as sort of a hyper-trendy phenomenon.”
Now, Steele scans the metro pages of local newspapers and receives dozens of e-mails each day from devoted readers of the blog who fuel content for Curbed.com. The site includes news and views for a number of areas: the Upper West Side, Upper East Side, Midtown West and Hell’s Kitchen, Midtown East and Kips Bay, Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, Gramercy and Murray Hill, Greenwich Village and West Village, East Village, Soho and Nolita, Lower East Side, Tribeca and Downtown, Brooklyn and Queens.
“The response has certainly been beyond my expectations,” Steele said. Curbed.com now receives about 150,000 unique visits each month.
Based on this response, Steele is working with a friend to bring commercial advertising to the site in January. “Whatever we do advertising-wise has to be kept separate from editorial. We’re not selling out in a grotesque, awful, cheesy way,” he said. “Anything that we do as advertising would be clearly labeled as such. I think there’s something to be said for focused advertising.”
While Steele does not present himself as a real estate expert, he said he certainly has received a quick education from publishing the blog. “Some of the big mucky-mucks at all the big firms read it.” He wouldn’t name names, but he said he knows they’re watching. He even received some insider information about an annual meeting – on the softball field – between two New York City real estate brokerage heavyweights: Douglas Elliman and The Corcoran Group. The firms compete in an annual softball game, and this year Corcoran won the contest by a score of 8-7.
“We’re very young,” Steele said of Curbed.com. “We don’t really claim to know where we’re going. We’re listening to readers, listening to the market.”
But one thing is clear to him, he said, “The Web and real estate are made for each other.”
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