Internet briefing

Journal of Property Investment & Finance

ISSN: 1463-578X

Article publication date: 1 April 2001



Palmer, S. (2001), "Internet briefing", Journal of Property Investment & Finance, Vol. 19 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2001, MCB UP Limited

Internet briefing

Scarlett PalmerThe Department of Land Management and Development,The University of Reading, RG6 6AW, UKE-mail:

Keywords USA, Real estate, Data collection

I have been quite surprised at the level of feedback I have received from these Internet briefings. Many thanks to all of you who have contacted me with ideas for articles and/or comments on good (and bad!) Web sites. The idea for this article was originally put forward by Margaret Ross of Prudential Property Investment Managers; she also gave me the idea for the article on residential information that appeared in Volume 18 Number 4 of this journal. Many thanks to her for her suggestions and frequent (much appreciated) feedback. At the time of writing (11 December 2000) the outcome of the US elections remains unclear but news of the current state of play in the USA is forced upon us at every turn. Not wanting to be left out I have focused, at Ms Ross' suggestion, on information available over the Web on the real estate market in the USA.

I am sure it will come as no surprise that there are numerous sites in the USA providing information on the real estate market. It should also come as no surprise that the value of these sites to the serious user varies enormously. Many sites are nothing more than personal opinion and are not backed up by any research or hard data. Others appear useful but on closer inspection the majority of information on the site is only available to subscribers. In order to give a fuller flavour of what is on offer I have decided to split my review of US real estate information over two articles. In this issue of the journal I shall offer an in-depth look at just one site; that of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) which can be found at This site offers a range of information on real estate markets primarily with a US focus but it also includes a useful European current awareness bulletin. In my next "Internet briefing" I shall provide a listing, under appropriate topic headings, of a number of useful US sites and give brief details their content and use.

The ULI was founded in 1936 and maintains that its "continuing focus on nonpartisan research and education has made it one of the world's most respected and quoted organizations in urban planning, land use, and development". The aims of the Institute as stated on their Web site are "to study and interpret real estate trends; to examine principles through which private enterprise could effectively develop real estate; to develop a body of knowledge in real estate and allied subjects; to publish informative texts and technical journals based on that knowledge; and to act as a statistical clearinghouse for the dissemination of real estate data".

Given these aims it is not surprising that the ULI's Web site is such a useful first port of call for information on the real estate market (and related issues) in the USA and claims to attract more than 50,000 visitors a month. Although access to some areas of the site is limited to members of the Institution there is much valuable information, including hard data, which can be freely accessed and downloaded. The site can be a little daunting on first use as the amount and type of information available under each heading is by no means obvious. For example, the main heading "Issues" offers you the sub-headings of "Finance", "Housing", "Retail", "Office transportation", "Smart growth" and "Urban revitalization". Clicking on these you might expect to be taken to articles covering these issues and at first glance that does appear to be what you have. However, you are in fact taken to a list of book reviews. For example, clicking on "Office" takes you to a list of promising looking titles: "Office development: the changing face of commercial real estate" and "Adaptive uses: business improvement districts". However, if you then click on, for instance, "Office development", you are taken to a list of four ULI publications on the subject, all of which can be ordered on-line through ULI!

Despite this initial disappointment I did, however, find much of use of on the site. The "E-news" section has current awareness bulletins on a range of topics. Two of these ("Finance bulletin" and "Smart growth news") are fully accessible to non-members and can be received on a regular basis via e-mail if requested. "Smart growth news" is prepared bimonthly and each issue "contains 25 to 30 abstracts of articles culled from more than 1,400 information sources, including major national newspapers, business magazines, Web sites, national and international wire services, and periodicals". It covers "regional planning initiatives, transportation, affordable and infill housing, environment and open space conservation, master-planned communities, economic development, urban revitalization, and retail". The current issue (1 December 2000) includes an article on skyscraper development in Dallas taken from the Christian Science Monitor (?!?) and one from the Houston Chronicle on the problems created by the rapid growth of the city. "Live" links at the bottom of each piece take you to the Web source of the original article.

The "Finance bulletin" "is designed to provide members and non-members with current information, commentary and insight about activities in the public and private real estate capital markets". The current issue (27 November 2000) is divided into four sections: public real estate securities markets, public real estate debt markets, private real estate equity markets, and private real estate debt (mortgage) markets. Each section features "Real estate capital market's scoreboards detailing selected performance indices for each of the real estate capital markets". Both these bulletins are worth signing up to if you need to keep abreast of the US real estate market situation.

Non-members can access the current issue of the other two bulletins – "Land use digest" and "Land use digest Europe", but back issues and the e-mail facility are only available to members. The current issues are a useful source of information with the "Land use digest" covering "current industry trends, research results, market data, planning and development innovations, legal developments, consumer surveys, industry rankings, and a host of other topics important to land use professionals". "Land use digest Europe", not unreasonably, focuses "strictly on Europe". The current issue (November 2000) includes short articles on the Warsaw office market, the boom in European hotel developments and a survey of shopping centres vacancy rates in the UK. All of these have either "live" Web links to the source of the article or a contact address and phone number for further information.

The data section of the ULI Web site promises more for the future but at present some links (as with the "Issues" section) merely take you to reviews of publications that you can buy online. The "Shopping centers" section offers you a book but also states that "If you need comprehensive income and expense data on shopping centers and their tenants, you've come to the right place! Beginning in 2001, the information in ULI's Dollars & Cents of Shopping CentersTM will be available online. Recognized as the industry standard for over 40 years, the online version of the data tables will allow you to slice, splice, cut, and paste the charts into your own company reports". It does not say if this service will be available to non-members but will certainly be worth checking out in the new year.

The link to "America's real estate" at first appears to be a promotion for yet another ULI publication and indeed it does offer a book. In fact it claims that you will be able to "convince others of the critical role real estate plays in the economy with this fact-filled new book"! However, there is also a link to data tables "for those who need to perform in-depth analysis". The 35 data tables you are offered are in zip format, which means they can be downloaded fairly rapidly. They are in Lotus123 version 5, but can also be opened in Excel. I downloaded a couple just to check that they worked all right and was quite impressed by the results. The first one I chose was "Foreign direct investment position in US real estate, 1973-1997". This file downloaded in a couple of seconds and unzipped straight into Excel without any problems. The data, which is sourced from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, seems quite comprehensive. The information is broken down by area and then country. For example, Europe, then European Communities, then Belgium and Luxembourg, France, Germany, etc.

The other table I looked at was "Urban land area, 1949, 1982, and 1992". Again, this downloaded and opened in Excel with no problems. This table gives details of urban land area both as a percentage and in acres for the above years. The information, which comes from the US Department of Agriculture, is broken down by region and state and actually makes surprisingly interesting reading.

The final offering of the "Data" section is the "Project reference file". This database contains "complete information on how nearly 300 innovative and successful projects were developed". The file can be searched by type of development or you can browse a listing by stat, by date or alphabetically. I selected the category "Commercial/industrial" and then narrowed my search to "Industrial/office parks" and limited the date from 1995 to the present (the database goes back to the mid-1980s). I was given a listing of eight projects including one in the Philippines (converting the former US naval base). Although you can only view a short abstract and the main features of each project you can get a feel for what is being offered. If this sort of thing is of interest to you then you can get full access to all the projects for US$95 a year (non-members). The full details include information on "the development challenges, the process, the lessons learned, and the project data such as sales, costs, and more. Photos of the project and site plans included!" There is a sample full report on line should you wish to view one.

A Web site such as that of the ULI is constantly being updated with material added, deleted and/or changed. I hope that this article has given you a feel for what is available at the moment and information on a couple of their plans for the future development of the site. I consider it to be a usual first port of call for general information on the US real estate market. As I mentioned above, in my next article, I shall give details of some useful US sites categorised under topic headings.