It was a “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate” moment. Last summer The Miami Herald's director of classified advertising took a look at US Condo Exchange's Internet portal for selling condominiums and knew they'd be great partners, somehow. “Both parties knew we needed to do something together. It just took us this while to figure it out,” says Pat Royal, the Herald's advertising director.
Condo Exchange developed technology that allows home seekers to view, research, negotiate, and buy condominiums online in real time. Its goal: become the E-Bay of condominium sales. Meanwhile, The Herald, like most newspapers, was looking for ways to move beyond print media boundaries into the Internet.
“You can go to their site and click on a building and look at the floor plans,” says Kim Marcille, the Herald's vice-president of new initiatives. “It's almost like you are really there.” Plus, through that medium, sellers of Miami condominiums suddenly got their units exposed to millions of potential buyers worldwide. Adding that kind of reach to appealed to the Herald.
“We decided that they would provide us with the technology, and we would provide them with the marketing engine to bring traffic to the site,” says Royal. So Miami-Herald.uscondex.com was launched in mid-March. Early results have been promising, says Royal.
“I decided to create a venue where buyers can better see what's for sale, and sellers could better differentiate their products,” he says. He called his long-time friend, fellow-attorney James Haft, now the company's CFO, to tell him about his idea. Haft, a New York Strat-O-Matic online baseball champion with knowledge of real estate, high-tech, and finance jumped on it. “He said, ‘I'm in. I love it. It's too good an idea not to go at it fast,'” Swerdlow recalls.
Still, last summer, with the Miami condo market hotter than the South Beach sidewalk, initial response was lukewarm, said Swerdlow. Condos were selling so fast at the time, often to speculators; there was no need to advertise. With the market slowing from the torrid pace, things have since changed, he says.
“People we spoke to six months ago [are] now saying that this is a cost-effective way to reach a large audience and have their listings published all over the world,” Swerdlow says. The Condo Exchange has expanded listings throughout Florida and plans to launch throughout the country. Swerdlow says they are speaking with other newspapers about alliances similar to the Herald venture.
The theory is, condo buyers are more likely to feel comfortable buying sight unseen. Many are already buying condominiums even before they are built on the strength of computer renderings and promises. “Condominiums have become a commoditized item,” says Swerdlow. “They are boxes in the sky and they are viewed on a cost-per-square-foot basis.”
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Miami, FL.