Pick Some Property by Computer

THRIFT-ASSET SALES

HEY, taxpayers! You share the burden of the savings and loan bailout. How about a share of the loot? The Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC), the two-year-old government agency sells off the assets of failed thrifts, has on its hands some 40,000 properties with a book value of $18.5 billion.

And that real estate is only 12 percent of RTC assets. Another 13 percent is nonperforming loans which, if foreclosure becomes necessary, would more than double the agency's land holdings. Then there is the real estate owned by hundreds of thrifts that the RTC will eventually take over.

With so much inventory to move, "we are motivated sellers," says Donna Walker, director of the RTC's Chicago-area office. "We're under a lot of pressure to sell off all small assets, those under $100,000." And she adds, "All prices are negotiable."

The agency is offering ordinary folks and real estate professionals some convenient tools to sift for treasure through its gigantic portfolio.

First is RTCNet, an on-line computer database designed and operated for the agency by Business Information Network (BIN) of Fort Washington, Md. Anyone with an IBM-compatible computer and modem can subscribe by calling 1-800-366-9246.

There is a one-time charge of $48 for software and a $16 monthly fee. The first year's fee must be paid in full but unused months are refundable. There is also a connect charge of 41 cents per minute. A rapid 9,600-baud communication rate is possible on BIN's fiber optic WATTS line.

A test drive of the system proved to be a breeze. A series of pull-down menus lets the user pick exactly what he wants.

For instance, RTCNet was asked to produce a list of Spanish-style, single-family homes in Arizona with at least six rooms and a swimming pool. The first step was to select the residential database, which at the moment has 25,000 properties booked at $2.8 billion.

The details could be specified in any order. From the style menu, Spanish was chosen from among Cape Cod, Colonial, Georgian, Ranch, Salt Box, and so on. The amenities menu lists jacuzzi, tennis court, and fireplace as well as swimming pool.

RTCNet also offers number of bedrooms, square feet, total rooms, lot size, region, price, city, and ZIP code as search criteria.

In moments RTCNet located 2 West Palmaire Ave. in Phoenix, along with 19 other properties that matched the specifications. Another search, for condominiums in Boston's 02115 ZIP code, turned up 10 options. The land database, which holds 5,000 properties valued at $8 billion, yielded 159 tracts of undeveloped real estate in Houston.

The commercial property database has 10,000 entries worth $7.7 billion. These range across the board: office complexes, warehouses, restaurants, hotels, parking garages, retirement homes, golf courses, churches, and schools.

Donal Bayne, an Indianapolis broker and financial adviser, used RTCNet to help clients find investments outside of Indiana. In one case a couple about to retire wanted to buy a home in Florida.

Mr. Bayne notes that there is no nationwide multiple listing service for homes, and none at all for commercial property. He says RTCNet has demonstrated that such a system would be possible and useful.

Cathy Fujii of the Arlington, Texas, real estate brokerage Lewis & Associates, says many customers, "people who are looking for the best value for their money," specifically ask to see RTC-owned properties. Her company has just a few, since the RTC spreads its listings among many brokers. While it would be possible to find them all in the multiple listing service, it is much easier to use RTCNet, she says.

However, she complained of some RTCNet limitations. She can't specify "northeast Arlington," for instance. And the property description fails to note details like hardwood floors, ceiling fans, or room sizes.

David Forward, president of BIN, does not recommend RTCNet to individuals who plan to buy a personal residence only. For them, he says, it is cheaper to call the agency's Asset-Specific Inquiry Program at 1-800-782-3006. This 24-hour service can perform similar searches of the RTC databases and send a printout within two weeks. The fee is 10 cents per property with a $5 minimum.

Another option is to buy the databases in CD-ROM format, which requires having a laser-disk reader attached to your computer. This service costs $100, with monthly updates available for $100 each. Plans are to add map data and even photographs to the CD-ROM product.

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