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Property firms get real with e-commerce plans

A group of real estate companies are forming a new company to seek, establish and incubate real estate-related Internet, e-commerce and broadband start-ups.

A group of real estate companies said today that they are forming a new company to seek, establish and incubate real estate-related Internet, e-commerce and broadband start-ups.

The 11 founding companies will put $135 million into the venture, dubbed Project Constellation. Among the founders are Simon Property Group, Equity Residential Properties Trust and Equity Office Properties. Financial backers and advisers include Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and Chase H&Q Capital Partners.

The venture goes beyond the supplier exchanges and online marketplaces recently created by the auto, chemical and steel industries.

Using their collective control of more than $250 billion in real estate, the companies plan to save on maintenance and operating costs.

Project Constellation will form and acquire business-to-consumer and business-to-business firms to sell products and services to the founding companies and their tenants.

The move comes just one day after several real estate companies debuted a business-to-business e-commerce hub, The Realm. Its site will launch later this year. The Realm is backed by first-round equity financing of $140 million from CMGI, Hicks Muse Tate & Furst, TH Lee Putnam Internet Partners and Gleacher Capital Partners.

The Realm will act as a Web portal for real estate companies to conduct most their the day-to-day business online. It is geared toward owners, managers and developers of commercial real estate including office, industrial, retail and multifamily properties.

The drive by real estate companies to establish online business-to-business Will B2B's magic last? ventures is an attempt to connect the nation's splintered industry, according to analysts.

Last month, three large real estate services companies said they are teaming to build an online purchasing site that will sell everything from light bulbs to janitorial equipment.

The alliance, composed of CB Richard Ellis Services of Los Angeles, Jones Lang LaSalle of Chicago and Trammell Crow of Dallas, will develop Web-based services aimed at assisting brokerages industrywide with deals. The services also will aid the construction of Internet portals to help the founders manage the 1.2 billion square feet of office buildings they collectively control.