Technology, Customer Success and the Real Estate Industry

With the emergence of new technology, finding a new home from the comfort of your current home is becoming more popular.  In the May 2015 issue of RISMedia’s Real Estate magazine’s Publishers Desk, John Featherstone, the magazine’s CEO and publisher, discusses the importance of Realtors leveraging technology to be more productive while still maintaining a human element with their customers.  According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 90% of home buyers are going to the web to search for homes, meaning the importance of building strong relationships between Realtors and their clients will continue to grow as technology pushes the envelop.

What does this mean for Realtors?

It means they not only have to continue to be constantly networking and building relationships in the field, but they also need to have an online presence where their potential clients already are: on the web, on their mobile devices and on the go while searching for the right home.

Along with technology, an emerging business function has become Customer Success with the growth of recurring revenue SaaS (software as a service) business models that are booming in the real estate industry. From mobile property search, online mortgage calculators, google maps, document scanners, to mobile document signatures, real estate agents can carry their entire office around in their pockets with help of a few apps, and a few dollars.

Great! So…what is missing? 

If consumers have all the data they need to do their search and all the tools online they need to complete the business transaction, what’s missing? The most important part of the equation: the relationship between the Realtor and their clients.  Working in Customer Success- this is always on the top of my mind.  How am I interacting with clients?  Is what I am providing them adding true value?  Sure, I’ve given them a great tool and I’ve shown them how it can add value to their lives (and in their pockets), but do they know how to use it?  Do they have a place to go when they don’t know the answer? They were once engaged, but are they still engaged and are they still seeing value?

When it comes down to it, my focus with any customer I’ve had in my career has been communication. Here at HomeSpotter it’s communication with the multiple listing services, brokers, agents and agent clients who use our products. This translates directly over to the real estate industry and focuses on where and how the conversations between clients and agents are being had. It’s in this exchange where business gets done and relationships flourish.

 

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Increased Mobile Traffic and Agents as Employees

I attended the Association Executive Institute (AEI) last week in Vancouver, hosted by NAR. First of all, shout out to Carol Seal, CEO from the Greater Chattanooga Association of REALTORS®, for orchestrating an awesome event! As usual, many great discussions were had, both formally at the sessions and informally in the hallways (or perhaps the lobby bar, but whatevs).

 

After taking a few days to reflect on the trip, two topics stood out for me this year — increased search traffic happening on mobile, and the questions surrounding the independent contractor status of agents.

 

Increased Mobile Traffic

According to Russ Cofano, Senior Vice President of Industry Relations at Move, Inc., realtor.com® experienced a 33% increase in search traffic, driven primarily by their mobile app. I can’t remember over what time frame that increase occurred, but regardless, it’s more proof that consumers are choosing mobile search over desktop.

 

While this idea is not surprising to anyone (I hope), many MLSs and brokers are just now beginning to consider their own mobile strategy. No bueno.

 

At HomeSpotter, we’ve seen the success that our customers have had in retaining (and growing) market share and brand awareness by using our branded, mobile app solutions. Especially when they promote the heck out of them.

 

Contractors or Employees

During the legal update from Katie Johnson, NAR’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel, shared two cases where the status of real estate agents as independent contractors is being challenged, saying they should instead be considered employees.

 

If the courts determine that agents should be considered employees, running a brokerage could cost exponentially more and could change the typical model completely. Usually we expect these kinds of business model changes (should they occur) to be accompanied by increased fees or changes in the product or service experience.

 

And while most brokers operate on razor thin margins already, additional overhead costs could be devastating, or force them to change or increase fees charged to consumers or agents. Or… it could reduce the monies brokers have to invest in new technologies and tools that will improve consumer and agent experience. I’m just speculating here, but as I mentioned in a previous post — the more that brokers’ dollars get stretched, the less they have to invest in other areas.

 

But real estate is not alone in this.

 

Uber and Lyft are being challenged to view their drivers as employees. Could the lower costs and technological efficiencies people love about these companies — built completely on mobile platforms — have to change if something like this goes through? Who knows. But it’s important to watch other industries for changes that could impact ours. Especially as real estate migrates to mobile, and (some) brokers begin to reinvent their businesses to follow suit.

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National Listing Portals’ Impact on Innovation

Last week I attended the Clareity conference with Aaron. As usual, there were tons of great discussions and presentations, especially after the recent M&As in the national listing portal space. So because my marketing director is making me, I put together this blog post. (Joking!) In all seriousness, there were some great ideas that I took away from this year’s event, that I wanted to share, as they relate to HomeSpotter.

 

First up, listing portal pricing

Gregg Larson, President & CEO of Clareity, noted that since none of the “Big 3″ listing portals (Zillow/Trulia, Realtor.com and Homes.com) have been greatly profitable—except maybe for Realtor.com—he expects Wall Street to begin demanding actual yields. He further speculated that this will force a price increase for agents who purchase leads. From what I’m seeing in agent Facebook groups and blog comments, this seems to have begun. Some agents have shared that Zillow sales reps are trying to renew agent memberships at triple the current rates.

 

In my opinion, this presents a dangerous pressure on innovation in our industry. If a greater share of an agent’s discretionary/marketing dollars go into to the hands of few vendors, it creates a tremendous downward pricing pressure on all others. There is only so much to go around. Slim margins prevents reinvestment in new ideas and innovation.

 

At HomeSpotter, we know there’s a limit to what agents can afford, or are willing to pay, based on the value they receive. And while we’re not in direct competition with the Big 3, we play in some of the same corners of the sandbox. So for us, a core value is to empower agents through our apps (whether free or premium) so they can stand out in a space that’s getting more crowded every day.

 

Second point, perceived market strengths

The panelists representing each of these listing portals revealed interesting statements about their perceived strengths:

  • Zillow: “We have a lot of traffic and a lot of visitors.”
  • Realtor.com: “We have the most accurate and timely listing data.”
  • Homes.com: “We have the most qualified leads or higher covered leads.”
  • Trulia: “We are now part of Zillow.”

 

I’m curious to hear thoughts from others in regards to…

Which of these self-described strengths do you feel are intentional and strategic, or may be reactionary based on market or competitive pressures? Will increased prices change any of these perceived strengths in the minds of agents, or have they already? Are you seeing agents move dollars out of the listing portals elsewhere?

Please share your thoughts comments below, or shoot me an email if you’d like to chat offline.

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Ohan Antebian Joins HomeSpotter as the Vice President of Industry Relations

OhanHomeSpotter™ is excited to announce its new Vice President of Industry Relations, Ohan Antebian. Ohan will be responsible for developing the company’s partnerships with MLSs, associations and brokers, helping to drive product adoption, and also, providing advice and insights to the product development team.

 

“Mobile real estate applications are still in their infancy. HomeSpotter can lead the way in developing the tools our industry really needs,” said Ohan, on his decision to join the company. “In the next few years, we will see solutions emerging to serve our changing industry. I am looking forward to working with the amazingly talented group at HomeSpotter to deliver practical, valuable, mobile tools to all segments of our industry.”

 

Prior to joining HomeSpotter, Ohan held the same role at the REALTORS® Property Resource (RPR). He was one of the founding members of the RPR initiative, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Association of REALTORS®. Before that, he was a Regional Vice President with Fidelity National Real Estate Solutions (which later became LPS and then Black Knight), a Major Account Director for REALTOR.com®, and also worked as an agent in greater Philadelphia.

 

“Ohan was the perfect fit because of his years of experience in the real estate tech space and industry,” said Aaron Kardell, founder and CEO of HomeSpotter, “but also because of the great relationships he has with many of our existing—and soon-to-be-announced—clients.”

 

Ohan’s track record of creating strong partnerships with MLSs, associations and brokers was key. But more important was his ability to help the agents of those organizations understand the value of technology products offered. With HomeSpotter, that means helping agents foster relationships with their clients, more effectively market themselves and be more productive in the field.

 

This new hire comes on the heels of the company’s renaming from Mobile Realty Apps to HomeSpotter, and the launch of a new website, homespotter.com, announced in January 2015.

 

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About HomeSpotter—We’re obsessed with making home search apps that are beautiful and easy to use—connecting agents with their clients, in the field and on their phones. Tailored to each customer’s brand and MLS data, we provide apps to more than 200,000 agents throughout the United States and Canada, through brokers, agents and MLSs. Founded in 2009 as Mobile Realty Apps, HomeSpotter is headquartered in Downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Mobile Realty Apps is now HomeSpotter™; Company announces new brand, funding and product strategy

Logo_HomeSpotter_TM_GMPHomeSpotter™ is now more than a great feature in your favorite home search app. It’s the new name of real estate tech company, Mobile Realty Apps. The company was named Inman News’ Most Innovative Real Estate Startup in 2012, due in part to their augmented reality search feature, called HomeSpotter.

 

“We knew the HomeSpotter name had consumer appeal, plus it’s easier to say than Mobile Realty Apps!” said Aaron Kardell, founder and CEO of HomeSpotter. “As we began to shift our communications strategy away from technical specs and features, towards solutions for agents and their clients, we knew the HomeSpotter name was right for the company overall.”

 

Tailored to each customer’s brand and multiple listing service (MLS) data, HomeSpotter mobile search apps are available to more than 200,000 real estate agents throughout the United States and Canada. Customers include some of the largest MLSs, franchisors and brokers, including California Regional MLS.

 

The new name and communications strategy has resonated with HomeSpotter’s customers, as well as investors. HomeSpotter just closed a $1.8 million round of funding, led by Brightstone Venture Capital, Confluence Capital Partners, Mike Bollinger and other angel investors. The funds will be used to enhance infrastructure and hire more developers.

 

Also included in the rebrand was a refreshed product strategy. “We’ve adjusted our product offerings to match the way in which our customers are buying our apps,” said Kardell. For example, HomeSpotter’s Business and Enterprise solutions were combined into HomeSpotter Signature, offering a powerful base app that’s branded to each customer, with the ability to add feature packages. And MLSs can choose from Core and Premium versions of HomeSpotter for MLS.

 

“2015 will be an exciting year for our staff, customers and investors. In addition to the rebrand, we’ll have some major platform enhancements, new features and even a new product,” said Kardell.

 

Visit the new homespotter.com for updates, and for more information on products and careers.

 

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About HomeSpotter—We’re obsessed with making home search apps that are beautiful and easy to use—connecting agents with their clients, in the field and on their phones. Tailored to each customer’s brand and MLS data, we provide apps to more than 200,000 agents throughout the United States and Canada, through brokers, agents and MLSs. Founded in 2009 as Mobile Realty Apps, HomeSpotter is headquartered in Downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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New NAR Rules Allow for Better User Experience for Broker and MLS Partners

Recent rule changes from the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Board of Directors could further improve timeliness and breadth of property information on agents’ IDX websites and mobile apps.

In an article by NAR, they state that: “The board approved changes to help ensure MLS data is as accurate and timely as possible and that MLS participants can continue to compete with other online sources of property information. Among other things, the changes:

  • Increase the frequency of MLS data updates to no less than every 12 hours, down from every three days;
  • Enable MLS participants to display IDX information from all MLS IDX feeds where they hold participatory rights, allowing consumers to execute a single property search;
  •  Permit the display of MLS sold data for IDX display where ‘sold’ information is otherwise publicly accessible.”

At HomeSpotter, we’ve always updated our feeds multiple times an hour. But according to CEO and founder, Aaron Kardell, the other rule changes will improve the experience for many clients. 

“Being able to show sold information and co-mingle data from multiple MLS feeds will be a huge improvement for our clients in markets where these restrictions were in effect,” said Kardell. “The user experience for clients where we’ve been showing sold and multiple MLS data is optimal, and we’re excited to do this for every client that wants it.”

For more information on these rule changes and others, read the full article from NAR here: http://www.realtor.org/articles/board-directs-nar-to-draft-member-code-of-excellence.

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Mobile Isn’t Just Strategic, It’s Expected

Brokerages that were early adopters of mobile search tools and websites may have enjoyed a strategic advantage in their respective markets. But now, mobile access to real estate listings and information is everywhere — both for agents and consumers. In real estate, apps have transitioned from a unique tool in your overall marketing plan, to an expected service that you must offer to consumers (because if you don’t, another brokerage will.)

Mobile Realty Apps knows that consumers want the best home search experience, accurate information and real time notifications – especially when they’re driving around a neighborhood they love.

But your mobile strategy isn’t just having an app, it’s about what you do with the app once you have it. Brokerages can regain some strategic advantage by:

  • Actively promoting the app to your agents, clients and prospects

  • Ensuring the design is consistent with your overall branding

  • Providing tips on using the app to drive adoption and reliance over other consumer real estate and search apps

Our brokerage clients that manage their apps in this way receive more leads, experience higher agent adoption and increase their customer satisfaction. Which in the end, is what any great tool in your overall marketing and business strategy should do for you.  Just having a mobile search app won’t drive results, how you incorporate it into your consumer experience will.

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Mobile Realty Apps launches a free edition of HomeSpotter for the MLS

September 18, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN) – Mobile Realty Apps announces the availability of a free edition of its HomeSpotter for MLS service to all multiple listing services (MLS). This allows all MLSs to provide their members with a free tool, with single sign-on (SSO) password protection, to access all listings securely and privately.

“In the absence of an MLS-hosted app, real estate agents rely on the same public real estate apps consumers use, to get property information in the field. With this solution, MLSs help their members stay one step ahead of today’s tech savvy consumers, with accurate and timely listing information,” said Aaron Kardell, CEO of Mobile Realty Apps. “Having access to all statuses and fields gives professionals the tools they need to be productive when on the go.”

Once an MLS adopts the free edition of HomeSpotter for MLS, its members can locate listings by a map, GPS, MLS number or Mobile Realty Apps’ exclusive augmented reality tool. Members can also access agent remarks, listing contact information, compensation information, showing instructions and the agent roster.

There will never be a charge to the multiple listing service for the free edition of HomeSpotter for MLS. Kardell explains: “This isn’t free with strings attached, such as a ‘free for the first year’ or ‘free when you sign a five year agreement to renew a different product’ kind of offer. It’s just free.” To top it off, members will experience the same high quality, immersive interface that users of Mobile Realty Apps’ enterprise (read: paid) products receive.

“We saw a need among some MLSs that wanted to provide members with full access to listings and information through an app, but couldn’t pay for a site-licensed mobile app,” said Kardell. “For those organizations, the free edition of HomeSpotter for MLS is a perfect solution to something we know their members have been asking for.”

Registration and product demos are being managed by Danielle Parent, Mobile Realty Apps’ Director of MLS Relations. Danielle can be reached at 612-284-2828 x373 ordanielle@mobilerealtyapps.com. You can also find more information atwww.HomeSpotter.com/mls.

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CRMLS and Mobile Realty Apps partner to provide first native mobile app to members; Pushes Mobile Realty Apps user base over 200,000 agents

Originally posted on the Mobile Realty Apps blog…

 

MINNEAPOLIS, July 8, 2014 – Mobile Realty Apps and California Regional MLS (CRMLS), the nation’s largest multiple listing service, are pleased to announce an exciting new partnership that will provide CRMLS members with an industry leading mobile app. The app allows members to instantly search all CRMLS property types, edit listings and upload photos from their mobile devices.

 

This partnership is significant for both organizations.

 

“Today’s consumers, and the REALTORS® who serve them, expect tools and information to be readily available on mobile platforms. Mobile Realty Apps is the perfect partner to develop a mobile solution to meet the needs of our members, which ultimately empowers them to exceed the expectations of their clients,” said Art Carter, CEO of CRMLS.

 

This is the first native mobile app for CRMLS to feature deep Matrix integration, allowing members to more fully interact with their clients in the field by enabling two-way access to client contacts, property carts, and saved searches. The app also features Mobile Realty Apps’ award-winning HomeSpotter augmented reality feature.

 

Aaron Kardell, founder and CEO of Mobile Realty Apps, said, “We are excited to partner with CRMLS and look forward to providing their members with a mobile solution that improves their efficiency and productivity, while enhancing the service they can provide to their clients.”

 

According to Kardell, the partnership has benefits for Mobile Realty Apps, too. “CRMLS is known for its thought leadership. We are excited, not only to provide a solution to CRMLS members, but to get feedback from CRMLS on ways to further improve the solutions we offer to all clients.”

 

The addition of CRMLS to Mobile Realty Apps’ client roster puts the company’s user base at more than 200,000 real estate professionals throughout North America.

 

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About CRMLS – California Regional MLS is the nation’s largest multiple listing service (MLS), providing products and services to over 73,000 subscribers from 39 REALTOR® associations. CRMLS provides access to listings throughout California. CRMLS has been a regional MLS for over 30 years and is dedicated to making a REAL Difference in the day-to-day business of real estate professionals.

 

About Mobile Realty Apps – Founded in 2009, Mobile Realty Apps creates branded home search apps for MLSs, brokers and franchisors, offering unparalleled home search experiences and augmented reality. These apps engage more buyers, generate more sales leads and truly empower on-the-go agents. Mobile Realty Apps serves more than 200,000 real estate agents throughout North America.

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Agent Portal Redesigned

It’s been roughly 6 months since I decided I was going to redesign the agent portal for our individual agent app service. It’s an awesome feeling to have all of that hard work now launched and available for agents to use. The changes were quite drastic, take a look at the screenshots and try not to laugh. Haha.

Old agent portal.

Version 1 was crude. Pay special attention to the awesome blue gradient buttons and obnoxious gradient background.

With the new version of the portal, we used the HomeSpotter branding, made the site responsive for mobile use, and cleaned up the pages to make them more user friendly.

New agent portal.

We hope you like the new interface! Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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