Austin broker Gaines Bagby is convinced that CoStar Group’s new iPad app, CoStar Go, is a game changer. After spending a few minutes test driving the software program during a CoStar presentation at Austin’s Four Seasons Hotel on Aug. 12, Bagby predicted the newly released product will change the way he works.

“I won’t have to do my research in the office. I’ll be able to do it in front of the client,” says Bagby, a tenant representative and first vice president at CB Richard Ellis in Austin. “It will save a lot of time.”

For the past month, Washington, D.C.-based CoStar has embarked on a national road show to spread the word about CoStar Go, which is engineered for the Apple iPad. Beginning in Atlanta and ending in Austin, the aggressive campaign took three CoStar marketing teams to 34 cities and created a buzz about the new app.

CoStar Go becomes available for download to all CoStar Suite subscribers starting today (Monday, Aug. 15). The app integrates nearly all of the commercial real estate data and analytics tools available from the CoStar Suite desktop software package into a mobile platform.

With the mobility and speed of an iPad app, CoStar Go uses mapping software and global positioning satellite (GPS) technology to help the company’s clients search and manipulate commercial real estate data with the touch of a finger.

Users can search for built space or land that is for lease or investment across commercial property types, and then filter results to suit their specific requirements. The app even includes a few new features that will soon be worked into the desktop version.

“This is not a light version of CoStar Property; it’s basically everything that’s in CoStar Property, plus,” remarked John Stanfill, senior vice president of sales and customer service at CoStar, during the Austin demonstration. CoStar Property Professional is the company’s flagship software product and provides clients with extensive commercial property data.

Product features

With CoStar Go, a user works from a dynamic onscreen map to define search areas, identify and select properties, or hone in on a single site. Users can shift quickly from maps to aerial photos or a combination of the two.

CoStar Go’s search results can be narrowed by a number of filters relating to property type, size, lease rate, availability for lease and other factors. Search results will show up as icons on the map and in a column of results along the side of the screen.

From there, a user can select any search result to quickly look up the kind of property-specific details that are already available in the CoStar Suite desktop program, plus a few new features.

Among those recent additions are lease transaction history and building stacking plans, showing which tenants occupy each space and what floors and portions of floors are vacant.

CoStar Go can also provide demographics and comparable sales within a given radius from a target location. Layers of property information include sale histories and comparisons of a property’s lease rates and sale prices over time and in context with the larger market.

Information about specific tenants is extensive, and in the case of public companies includes lease agreements and other documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

CoStar Go is designed exclusively for the larger touchscreen of an iPad, and the app works any place that offers a wireless data connection, such as a 3G cellular service area or a Wi-Fi network connected to the Internet.

The app is free to subscribers of CoStar Suite. The cost to subscribe to CoStar Suite is negotiated at the corporate level, Stanfill says, and is based on the number of people who will use it. CoStar declined to provide any details of subscriber costs despite requests from NREI.

Something old, something new

Accessing property data in the field isn’t new, even for CoStar clients. Brokers who subscribe to CoStar or its chief competitor, Xceligent, can log in and pull up property information on a laptop or mobile electronic device anywhere Internet access is available via a web browser.

Mobile web browsers have limitations, however, and phones are not the best multi-taskers. A website accessed via a phone’s web browser may show a map of a property’s location, for example, but it will likely be a picture of a map rather than an interactive mapping function.

Click on the map to change its scale or other properties, and it will usually close the browser, then reopen with Google Maps or another site dedicated to map functions.

Much of what makes CoStar Go’s dynamic performance possible is that an app minimizes the amount of data that must be transmitted wirelessly to a mobile phone or device.

The software that gives CoStar Go its multiple functions, such as interactive maps and search functions, doesn’t need to be transmitted during use because it is installed on the iPad when the user first downloads the app.

Then the app only needs to download small bundles of information from a remote server, such as property details associated with a specific address. A mobile web browser, by contrast, transmits every item shown on the screen over a wireless signal from a remote server. That’s everything from the page layout, pictures and text to onscreen tools. That larger data transfer translates into slow responses and limited function.

And because an application is a program installed on the phone or device, it can use more of the device’s resources, such as built-in cameras for video conferencing. And yes, CoStar Go has videoconferencing capabilities.

Brokers impressed

At the Austin presentation, CoStar Go made a good first impression on most of the commercial real estate brokers in the audience.

“Apple always makes intuitive products, but CoStar has done a good job of making it easy to use,” says Lauren Spaeth, an associate at Grubb & Ellis in Austin.

As she spoke, Spaeth used the program to flip quickly through a series of photos showing the interior of a local office building. “I’m also impressed by the speed.”

By combining the speed and convenience of an app with CoStar’s extensive database, the company is offering a unique product to the commercial real estate community, says John Childers, a senior vice president in the Austin office of Jones Lang LaSalle.

“There have been some interesting iPhone apps that are GPS related — not necessarily real estate related, but you can get data on building locations and things like that through the iPhone,” observes Childers. “But I don’t think there’s anything as rich and robust as what CoStar is offering.”

Childers uses CoStar’s desktop program regularly in his site-selection work for office, life science and medical clients. He attended CoStar’s presentation in Austin to see how the product might boost his service offerings.

Having seen CoStar Go in action, Childers predicts the product will receive heavy usage initially as real estate professionals learn to use it. Whether it provides a competitive advantage, as with any tool, will depend on how well each broker learns to use it.

“It won’t be a competitive advantage to us if everybody has access to it,” says Childers. “It’s how you interpret the data, how you present the data, and how fluent you get in the program that will enable you to use it as a sales tool.”

Sizing up the competition

CoStar Go isn’t the only game in town for commercial real estate brokers who want mobile access to property information. But by the end of the summer, it may be.

Earlier this month, San Francisco-based LoopNet (Nasdaq: LOOP) unveiled its commercial real estate search application for Android mobile device users. LoopNet operates a commercial property database that relies chiefly on brokers to post and update data. Its free app allows users of smart phones to search the company’s U.S. property listings.

This fall, however, CoStar Group is expected to complete its acquisition of LoopNet. Soon thereafter, CoStar Go will add a tab to access LoopNet data, and the CoStar app will be modified to help clients post CoStar data in their LoopNet listings.

So far, CoStar competitor Xceligent hasn’t announced plans for a mobile product along the lines of CoStar Go. But Chris Gamel, a Grubb & Ellis vice president who attended CoStar’s presentation in Austin, expects Xceligent to upgrade its product offerings soon in response to CoStar’s app. “They have to keep up with the Joneses,” he says.

Gamel has subscribed to both companies’ services, and says Xceligent’s more affordable rates have helped to keep CoStar’s subscription prices in check. He hopes Xceligent remains a strong competitor. “If this becomes a monopoly, no telling what will happen to the price.”