The best way to find a New York apartment is to have a secret edge on everyone, a broker brother-in-law, say, or a super who’ll tip you off to a great deal. But the second-best way is to make the web your private kingdom: He who masters the search engine wins. To that end, there are dozens of sites aimed at local house hunters—StreetEasy (which powers the listings on New York’s site), Zillow, Trulia, Urbandigs, RentJuice, Natefind, PropertyShark, and the New York Times, to name the most prominent—each offering its particular brand of slice-and-dice.
Now another URL has joined the crowd, satisfying a need for what might be called “lifestyle search.” Buyfolio.com, launched last year to allow agents to set up accounts and swap information with their clients, has just added a search that sorts listings by not only bedroom count and such but also fine details (fireplaces, washer-dryers) and building rules (whether they accept pied-à-terre buyers or parents buying for kids, dog- and cat-friendliness). The founders are somewhat circumspect about precisely how their information is assembled, but they will say that they take data from RealPlus—the database New York brokers use—and then refine it, correcting errors and inconsistencies.
It sounds great—a genuinely useful tool that the competition doesn’t have—but Buyfolio faces an uphill road. Founder Matthew Daimler acknowledges that all of his competitors are working off the same basic data sets. While his site specializes in building-specific rules, others enable users to search by school district, foreclosure status, even commute time. (StreetEasy’s Michael Smith says he understands why he has so many competitors: “People want multiple options—it’s ‘the best tool wins.’ ”) And then there’s the question of making money: Buyfolio expects to start charging brokers a subscription fee, as does Urbandigs, whereas StreetEasy and others rely largely on ads. It’s clear that not all of the search engines will survive. Daimler says he expects most people to still jump around, syncing up findings from multiple sites, but adds, firmly, “We will be one of those places.” He suggests that a real game-changer would be a site devoted to the data about what co-ops demand, asset-wise, from applicants. “I’d love to know financially what’s really required,” he says. That information, at least, is beyond the reach of any search engine. For now.