Property Shark, a New York-based data Web site, is taking a big bite out of the real estate information market. Founded in 2003, the site is drawing industry attention with its databank of 20 million commercial and residential properties in 15 major markets.

A privately held firm, Property Shark prowls thousands of sources, culling real estate information to create a resource that goes considerably beyond the basics. Its Web site reports include permits, recent sales prices, code-violation history, photographs, comparable sales, environmental reports, foreclosure status, interactive maps and real estate staples such as values, title and tax history.

Property Shark, which won Inman Real Estate's Innovative Web Site award in 2006, indexes all properties in the markets it serves, not just those for sale. Brian Scully, partner and vice president of marketing, recently spoke with NREI about the firm’s philosophy and growth plans, and the rising wave of foreclosures.

NREI: How do you differentiate Property Shark from competition?

Scully: Our site was designed with investors in mind and they have the highest level of property data needs. Users can determine so many different things, such as whether permits have been taken to make improvements, code violations that were filed against the property, whether there’s a toxic site on it or nearby, whether it can be rezoned, whether there’s been a lis pendens [suit pending] or notice of default filed. And it offers stats on neighborhoods and demographics — basically anything you want to know to make a sound real estate investment. You can also do a wide variety of searches, by neighborhood, by size, by product type, what’s recently sold and for how much, by foreclosure or pre-foreclosure and so on. We cover it all — commercial, residential and vacant lots.

NREI: Where does your data come from?

Scully: We pull data from every credible source we can find, whether that’s an agency, a city, county or zoning body. Sometimes we create our own content like we did in Manhattan by taking photos of every building there.

NREI: Do you plan to expand to new markets?

Scully: Yes. But our goal is to go as deep as we can with data until we’re comfortable with a market. And that data-collection phase can be daunting and very time-consuming. We’ll likely go into some new large MSAs and counties adjacent to big MSAs that we already cover. For example, we’re in Los Angeles and are getting lots of data requests from neighboring Orange County.

NREI: Your site mentions new formats and products. What are some of these?

Scully: Our next product is tentatively called “Lists.” It’s a way to run lists and query databases on very specific needs and criteria. We are also putting out some foreclosure reports now and they’ve appeared in the The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and other publications. And of course, we’re adding new data every week.

NREI: What’s your core market?

Scully: Our customers are primarily investors and developers but we do have appraisers, brokers and other trade professionals. The site really wasn’t intended for the average home buyer but we do have some of them too.

NREI: Has the soft residential market helped or hurt your firm?

Scully: We’re continuing to grow but we’ve seen a bit less traffic from residential brokers. At the same time, we see an increase from the investor side. We’re somewhat fortunate that the New York City market - our flagship market - is doing well and has a sizable user base.

NREI: What do your services cost?

Scully: Our system lets anyone look at up to six reports a day in any market for free in what we call our basic account. That’s the bulk of our market. We charge for access beyond that and heavier users pay from $19.95 a month to $999 a year. But having all those free users also creates an incredible spiraling effect as people spread the word about Property Shark. We do use a little advertising but it’s limited to one banner per page. We want to keep the site very clean site to use as a research tool.

NREI: What does your foreclosure data tell you about the U.S. housing market?

Scully: It depends on the region. Manhattan is seeing improvements and Seattle is strong. But 2007 was obviously a rough year in much of the U.S. Miami and Los Angeles, for example, are troubled by foreclosures.

We do some monthly and quarterly studies although we don’t pretend to be economists. The thing that does concern us right now is some big increases in lis pendens and notices of default. If you look at Los Angeles, notices of default are up 63%. New York City as a whole has seen an 11% increase in lis pendens in the fourth quarter of 2007, although the outer boroughs play the biggest role in that.

NREI: When do you think the spate of foreclosures will ease?

Scully: Well, just looking at pre-foreclosures, it already looks like there will be an increase in activity in 2008. To some degree, it depends on factors such as interest rates and what the federal government may do to ease the situation.

NREI: Why the name Property Shark?

Scully: The founders looked for a real estate term with an animal and a shark is an aggressive one and one you remember.