People shopping for property in the residential market have several online tools at their disposal. Websites such as Zillow and Trulia have placed thousands of real estate and apartment listings at comparison-shoppers’ fingertips.
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Launched in late September by Kopicki and his two cofounders, retrievRE (pronounced “retriever”) pulls commercial real estate data from public records contained within the Maryland’s Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) database. More than 11,000 listings in Baltimore city and Baltimore County are now viewable on retrievRE’s website, with commercial listings in Howard and Anne Arundel counties to follow.
Landlords and brokers are also able to upload properties they’re interested in leasing to local small businesses much in the same way they can do already on a website like CoStar.
But the focus for the site, said 33-year-old Kopicki, is on tenants themselves.
As he claims, no existing online commercial real estate database “is designed to help small businesses with their real estate requirements,” and do that by providing listings of available commercial properties.
“The way buildings are leased are slowly changing,” he said. “This doesn’t remove the broker, but provides more of a voice for the tenants directly.”
In other words: instead of relying on a broker to comb through listings of commercial real estate to find a compatible property, small business owners can now do this more easily on their own. In the process, Kopicki hopes that retrievRE’s registered users editing individual property listings will effectively scrub any inaccuracies lingering in Maryland’s SDAT database.
“The site is ideally suited to assist small business with their real estate—office and retail—needs,” Kopicki said. “A small business can go to our Tenant Square page and post their requirement so that landlords and brokers can connect directly with available space.”
Some already have. Mobile and web services agency Mindgrub Technologies, currently based out of an office in Catonsville, is advertising its need for 15,000 square feet of space to accommodate its rapid growth over the course of the last year.
Kopicki’s personal frustrations finding suitable office space for Solstice Partners, the commercial real estate firm he founded a little more than two years ago, was the motivation behind starting up retrievRE. His new startup is based out of subleased office space on Fort Avenue in Federal Hill but might be moving soon to the new Highlandtown office of the Emerging Technology Center.
Potential tenants pay nothing for access to retrievRE’s database of listings—after all, those listings are in the public record. Properties pulled up in searches by prospective tenants, in addition to providing the square footage, the building’s owner and any photographs uploaded to the website of the property, also display the associated Walk Score and Transit Score to give a sense of nearby amenities. Each property listing page also links directly to Yelp reviews of restaurants and other offerings in the immediate vicinity.
“That information should just be available publicly,” Kopicki said. “We don’t intend to monetize by having people pay to view listings.”
Any money that retrievRE hopes to make will depend on how effective the startup is at marketing what Kopicki calls “ancillary services” to tenants who find properties via his website. New offices will need insurance and furniture. Unfinished offices might need further construction and design work.
“We’re creating preferred relationships with vendors that will participate with us and cut us in on a referral fee or cut us in on commission,” he said.
Kopicki and crew, in other words, hope that streamlining the search process for small businesses will be draw enough users to the site that a referral fee system can fund the effort. The thinking goes something like this: visit our site, find that office space you need, get introduced to a place to get your new office chairs, which will give Kopicki and his team a cut.
Making money that way, however, seems to be a more long-term project. Kopicki said he “intends to be profitable within two years.” So far retrievRE is a bootstrapped project, with Kopicki and his cofounders pooling their own money to assemble the first version of the website. They’re in the middle of raising a $600,000 seed round right now.
Though a new project, several commercial real estate groups with national reach — including Knott Realty Group, CBRE and Merritt Properties — are already listing properties on the website. As retrievRE slowly expands its overall number of available commercial property listings, Kopicki hopes to increase the number of real estate groups on site, as well as attract more prospective tenants.
“Every product is geared toward the landlord and broker,” he said. “We want to simplify the process for the small business and for all tenants.”