Property Grunt

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Aparmentratings: A force to be reckoned with

Several weeks ago the Grunt was contacted by Jeremy Bencken regarding his most excellent site and mentioned it would be featured in the New York Times. Grunt waited eagerly and was not disappointed with this excellent story regarding the site and a lawsuit that was filed by a landlord who felt comments left by reviewers of their property were of a libelous nature.

Congratulations to Katie and Jeremy. This is a service that is a long time coming and provides a great resource for renters looking for apartments. It’s brilliant because the content is provided by the users and the site is presents it. The Grunt wished he thought of this first and perhaps the Grunt wouldn’t be running around like a maniac on the weekends and instead spending it in Lincoln Center.

The user functionality is fantastic since the GUI has the feel of the Zagat’s guide for restaurants. The Benckens have a lot of experience in user acceptance testing because the Grunt is unable to find any stone unturned. The map is a great feature and pretty much every base is covered in terms of user needs which also include property managers since it allows them to respond to comments.

Mr. Bencken said that this isn't the first time he has been subpoenaed - it has happened in three other cases brought by landlords - but that, so far, he has not been named as a defendant. The 1996 Communications Decency Act, he said, protects him from liability for comments posted by third parties. Eugene Volokh, a professor of constitutional law at U.C.L.A. School of Law, said that courts have "overwhelmingly" supported Mr. Bencken's view.
To discourage lawsuits, Mr. Bencken posts the Communications Decency Act on a section of the site reserved for landlords.

That's a nice touch. You should kiss your lawyer for that advice.

A site like this will be priceless in Manhattan since it will allow people to find the apartment of their choice without the usual hassle of finding a rental.

The information, he said, should also be useful to investors who are looking for details on the rental income produced by various properties. There is no way to confirm the rent data, but Mr. Bencken said he couldn't think of any reason that tenants would lie in providing the information on rents.

Jeremy, everyone has a reason to lie. For instance a landlord who owns a set of crappy properties could pull a pump and dump by using the comments section and talk up about how great the building is and lure unsuspecting renters. It could also be used as a weapon to hurt an apartment building by trashing their reputation by its competitors or disgruntled tenants which is the argument of the Troy Hills Village owners.

The Grunt has been a mark of this type of tomfoolery when he used city search to find a good restaurant and ended up in an overpriced tourist trap.

This site will definitely be disliked by rental brokers since it takes away their biggest weapon in their real estate arsenal which is information and it will also keep brokers on their toes if they attempt to prey on the ignorance of clients by passing off crappy apartments. Apartment hunters will also have a better idea of what the market has to offer in terms of price instead of relying on the opinion of a broker. The Grunt likes this feature because the Grunt has dealt with so many unrealistic clients who are seeking something that does not exist and need to be educated by seeing what is really in their budget.

Every medium has a risk for abuse. The last thing the inventors of email thought their medium would be used for was spam for male impotency drugs. As far as I can tell has followed every rule in the book in limiting any abuse by users which include deleting comments that violate any laws.

The Grunt can guarantee that there will be a war between this site and the Manhattan real estate industry if expands in rating residences for sale and brokers. If Apartmentratings.cominstalled a feature allowing users to do sales comps on this site for Manhattan, it would make Barbara Corcoran drop a brick in her Gucci girdle because the skill of providing comps is often used as an opening line to get the loyalty of a buyer or seller. That is why brokerage companies guard their database of listings with the zeal of a cold war era MI 5 agent. It is from this database that brokers are able to formulate a set of listings that fit the requirements of buyers and sellers. Take that away from them and you are taking a two by four to their knees.

Co-op boards are the Skull and Bones of Manhattan. They answer only to themselves and if you are rejected by one they usually never give you a reason why. It’s sort of like Vegas. What happens in a Co-op board stays in a Co-op board.

A Co-op board would be foaming at the mouth if their inner workings were exposed on this site because their property values would plummet if anything unsavory was exposed. It would also give justification for the residences to vote in a new board if they feel their board is not up to the task of managing their building.

The flipside is that the applications of success are endless. If a site was created to rate brokers and co-ops, best rated brokers would get a ton of listings and customer traffic and the best rated residential buildings would increase in value since they would be the most popular ones to buy into.

Regardless of the volcanic possibilities of this site can cause I truly feel that the benefits outweigh the risks. Renting and buying a home is a daunting task especially in this market. I am a big supporter for anything that helps consumers, however users should treat this site as one of many tools in their search for an apartment and exercise a strong policy of due diligence by examining every aspect and point of view by talking to residents and other resources that are related to the building of interest.

"Our goal," Mr. Bencken said, "is to help consumers make better decisions." The site accepts advertising, but not from apartment owners. "That would be a conflict of interest," he said. Advertisers include moving companies, roommate services and sellers of renters' insurance.

It looks like they are on their way.

The cat is out of the bag. There is no turning back. is the first salvo in the changes that will occur in the real estate business. Either get with the program or get left behind. The Grunt does not plan on being left behind.