Agents pool their resources for commercial gain

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The Independent Online
They say that knowledge is power. This is particularly true in business, and the property market is no exception.

Now that interest rates have dropped to their lowest levels since the 1960s, the indications are that life is returning to the market.

Some in the property world believe that the commercial sector has faced a loss of investor confidence, which has led to underfunding and a shortage of buildings that suit the needs of modern companies. Agents' margins have been squeezed by competition, teleworking, and now undersupply. Those with the best information are often those who strike the most profitable deals.

Accordingly, a company has been established with the express purpose of supplying such information. The Pride register, or Property Information Data Exchange, has been formed by a number of London's main property agents. Its objective is to improve the availability and quality of property information to its subscribers.

Pride was established in 1991 by a number of commercial agents who decided to pool their property databases, in a drive for greater efficiency. There are now 20 subscribing agents, including, Knight Frank, Hiller Parker, Richard Ellis and Chesterton. Because the register concentrates on large commercial properties, it does not store information on shops or residential property. It is also only available to agents.

Richard Pawlyn, Pride's managing director, points out: "Pride is not an open information provider, it does not offer information across the Internet and will not allow end users to access the property database, which would result in the agents' role being cut out."

The company contacts 3,000 agents monthly to update its record of properties that are currently available. Information is also gleaned from property brochures, advertisements in the press and client circulars as well as other sources. A wide range of units are registered, including industrial units and office accommodation. Information is stored for all UK locations but not the lucrative markets of the West End and City of London, where it is easier for the agents to keep their own records.

The information is currently compiled for the subscribers by Pride's seven staff at the company's London offices. New entries on the register are down- loaded overnight via a modem link to the subscribers' computer networks.

Pride's staff also provide advice on technical problems that may arise when operating the system. And the company undertakes to do whatever it can to ensure that critical searches and reports are delivered even if the client's computer system fails.

Subscribers are offered a three-tier service, depending on the subscribers' needs. Agents who cover the entire country can have access to a database that also covers the entire country. Regional players are offered a service with information restricted to their area and market requirements. A third tier consists of a "fax back" service that is aimed at occasional users, consultants and niche players who need specific property information for a particular transaction.

Despite rising house prices, Pride has no plans to extend its service to include residential property. Mr Pawlyn says: "We tend to find that residential agents do not wish to share information to the same extent as they are product - not client - led."

The company has also decided not to share details of retail or investment property. Pride's experience has been that this sector is controlled by a limited number of agents. Mr Pawlyn explains: "The market is not transparent enough for us. There are so few agents dealing, the property details very rarely get to third parties."

However, Pride intends to develop its research facilities to provide brokers, banks and analysts with a more detailed assessment of market property trends.

Mr Pawlyn explains: "It is a field where most distrust a single agent's views and complain of the diversity of views when two agents are involved. The reason for the diversity is usually because the basic statistics on which the analysis is based are differently compiled."

Some of those who have signed up say the service provided them with the information they needed at a fraction of the cost of resourcing and inputting it themselves.

"It enabled us to focus resources on the interpretation and analysis of data which, after all, is what clients seek from us, rather than mere data assembly," said one.