CityRealty was found back in 1995, before Google and Facebook. Geocities and Yahoo—basically an online directory at the time—were both newly-launched companies. It even predated Ask Jeeves, which didn’t make its debut until 1996. CityRealty’s earliest incarnation—a sort of glorified real estate classifieds—was cutting edge in the way that anything online back then was cutting edge just by virtue of being online.
“The people who founded the company thought it would be a listings site to compete with the newspapers,” general manager Jim Schoenburg told The Observer. “As far as we know, we’re the oldest continuously operating real estate website.”
Over the years, however, new data-driven websites shouldered CityRealty aside, even though the website evolved into a more comprehensive informational platform with building reviews/write-ups by former Times architectural writer Carter Horsley. StreetEasy, in particular, revolutionized what a real estate website could and should be, transforming the city’s historically secretive residential real estate industry into something substantially more transparent. Then came all the others—Brick Underground, Urban Edge, Apartments.com, New Construction Manhattan and launched just last year, The Observer Media Group’s own site, Living There.
Now CityRealty is trying to shed its somewhat fusty reputation and reclaim its early prominence with a focus on data-driven building and neighborhood comparisons, building rankings and a list of top 100 “blue chip” Manhattan buildings.
But can CityRealty really hope to supplant existing data powerhouses like StreetEasy and PropertyShark?
“I think we’re using the data in a novel way; it’s more powerful and effective,” Mr. Schoenburg said. He added that he saw CityRealty’s new features as more comprehensive and geared towards potential buyers, rather than real estate professionals.
The new website, which goes live today, has been spiffed up, with some nifty features—like the ability to easily call up graphs showing sales history in a given neighborhood or building, with price per square foot comparisons. But the historical data is somewhat limited in scope given that neighborhood price comparisons are limited to co-op sales, Manhattan, and a handful of upscale Brooklyn neighborhoods like Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights.
“I think that the field has gotten more crowded, certainly some competitors have come into the marketplace and have done fairly well, others come in and fade away,” Mr. Schoenburg said. “We try to do what we do fairly well, we’re not trying to be everything to all people.”
Many of the site’s more interesting features seem designed to help out-of-towners understand and navigate the buildings and neighborhoods of New York. For example, the site includes short videos on buildings that zoom in using GoogleEarth to highlight where on the island a noteworthy building is located and give a similarly brief overview of history and facts. The site, which is funded via ad sales and broker referrals (when users register for the free site, receive a free “consultation” that matches them with a broker), is counting on increased traffic to make such free goodies .
But the site’s limited comparative data on historic co-op sales—intra-building data is available but not neighborhood data—and the decision to exclude co-ops from the top 100 building’s list may limit its influence in professional real estate circles (740 Park may not be open to the casual house hunter, but who can ignore a $52.5 million sale and some of the city’s most influential residents?). After spending some time on the new site, The Observer also wondered if the pared-down and data-heavy format for individual listings (the site pulls data from REBNY rather than broker’s sites) might dissuade another huge group of readers known to frequent real estate sites—nosy neighbors.