Standardized, unbiased, comprehensive, apartment data should be available to everyone. Building a nationwide database of multifamily information that is statistically relevant, yet detailed enough to be useful, is a tall order. This ambitious objective is nearing reality, however, through the efforts of the Multifamily Housing Institute (MFHI) and a group of some of the largest multifamily investors, lenders, managers and servicers. "Information from this database will provide the industry with the vital standards and benchmarks needed in this era of consolidation, institutionalization and the growth of REITs and CMBS," says Shaun M. Brady, president of MFHI.

A recent MFHI report assessing the strengths and weaknesses of major multifamily data providers, called "The Multifamily Data Market," supported what they already knew years ago when the database project began. Brady says, "We found that there was a significant gap between what financial and property information organizations need and what is actually available. Most firms cannot benchmark their operations against external data. Organizations run the risk of missing the bigger picture when they use their own properties and portfolios as benchmarks."

The development of a database of performance information was central to MFHI's mission. Launched in 1996 with major funding from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, HUD and ULI, the AptData database has grown quickly by building on seed data provided by Equity Residential Properties Trust, Insignia Financial, NHP, Boston Financial and Midland Loan Services.

The MFHI now has 400 providers of data and has succeeded in building the most comprehensive source of multifamily property and financial information ever created. There are up to 225 standardized data fields for each property, including rents, income, occupancies, expenses and loan status. The universe of properties continues to grow. "We now have three years of data for 28,000 properties totaling over 3.5 million units split evenly between market rate and subsidized properties," says Brady.

The data, currently available only to members, is online, and the MFHI has just unveiled its newest data service. "We have finally launched the Operations & Property Benchmarking service for our top 50 data members," Brady adds. "This is a custom report tailored to the metrics, peer group and markets defined by the user. We look to decrease the lag time for data in the database to around four to six months."