Category Archives: Real Estate Technology

Zillow Acquires Trulia: Wake Up Brokers! They’re Getting Rich At Your Expense

If you haven’t heard about listing syndicator site Zillow acquiring competitor site Trulia for $3.5 Billion in stock, I feel for you…especially if you’re in real estate. Since this announcement, I’ve received a couple emails, seen a few comments, read a few newsletters, and thought I’d try to spark a dialogue here on the site.

For what it’s worth, I’m definitely not thrilled about these two companies continually capitalizing off of our data. I certainly feel they would be nothing without the brokerage community, and firmly believe real estate brokers and agents got it all wrong (especially bowing down and “claiming” our own listings on these sites…for a fee!), but who am I to judge. I want to hear what you have to say. To start the conversation, have a look at what a reader said recently in a past post we had done about how worthless Zestimates are: “Zillow Zetimates Rubbing You Wrong Too? Vent”:

Why hasn’t anyone considered starting an “Agent Owned” National CMLS Internet advertising company by which we all become coop owners and share in the ad revenues and use the service at moderately low cost. We could put a stop to all the internet companies using OUR LISTINGS to make BILLIONS and use those revenues as retirement supplements to all the coop members of the National CMLS internet company. I am sick and tired of Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, and other sites using our listings to milk the real estate agents for money that belongs to us. These are our listings not theirs. If anyone should make money on our listings it should be us. We can put a stop to this and no longer allow these sites to use our listings. In the very least, they should be paying us for our listings. Wake up Real Estate Agents………….

Then, have a look at what a local brokerage had to say in their newsletter about making sure their listings are accurate on these sites (ever think about just killing the feed?):

This is big news in the real estate community. We know these sites are very popular with the public, and that’s why for years [brokerage] has fed its listings to both sites. This has been done to try to minimize the kind of factual errors often found on these sites. Despite their popularity, Zillow and Trulia are not getting their content from our local MLS, and so listing details can be wrong. Dramatically wrong at times.

As a matter of fact, Zillow itself gives the accuracy of its popular “Zestimates” only two out of four stars in San Francisco, admitting that these estimates have a median error of nearly 12% – that’s a big number. Still these sites are popular, and while [brokerage] believes it has enhanced the user property search experience on its own website, the company will continue to keep an eye on Zillow and Trulia, and leverage these platforms as much as possible.

Finally, have a look at this email I received on the matter:

Realtors are guilty for not keeping up with the times and being completely opposed and scared of technology, as we know well. PocketListings.net being the ultimate example. I still don’t understand how hard it was to make anyone understand the concept of creating their [Realtors'] own listing network that they control. Doing anything to really help agents is ultimately a dead end because they are all stupid – few exceptions like you :) The successful businesses don’t give a shit about agents. Zillow, Trulia…as you stated, mining all the data agents worked hard to create. Redfin, basically wants to cut the agent out of the equation. The solution is simple: kill the feeds and those companies perish, but the industry never will. It’s run by idiots.

Share your thoughts in the comments below…(Remember, you can be anonymous if you choose).

What Your Realtor Should Really Be Sending You…The Goods

I am pleased to announce the launch, and early adoption by Paragon Real Estate Group, of the newest addition to the San Francisco real estate scene “The Goods“, real estate marketing made simple.

The goal of this new offering is to make it easy for real estate agents in the San Francisco/Bay Area to provide their clients with what they need, and should expect, from their agent…time sensitive, factual, market data that pertains to the area in which their property is located, or the area where they would like to be. We’d like to put an end to unnecessary print marketing (think of the trees!), stop the sending of mugshot branded magnets, notepads, Zagat Guides, coffee mugs, and all the other crap clients don’t need, or necessarily want from their real estate agent. Keep in front of your clients with valuable real-time market data they can use.

The Goods will provide your company with a new link every two weeks to newly listed, as well as recently sold property data your clients can browse by location, property type, price, beds, baths and DOM. You can include the link in your marketing pieces, and also receive a raw html snippet/preview of the data to include in your marketing, inviting your clients to click through and track sales in their area.

Paragon Real Estate Group is the first to adopt and use this great new product for their agents’ clients, and positive feedback is already rolling in.

-The Goods is a terrific tool for our agents to deliver to our clients: It’s fast and easy to use and it provides our clients with extremely timely and valuable information about new listings and what’s selling in the market, which is at the top of the list of resources our clients want most from us. -Patrick Carlisle, Chief Marketing Analyst, Director of Business Development, Paragon Real Estate Group

Here is a sample of how Paragon incorporates it into their marketing. You’ll notice they call it “Market Watch”. You can call it whatever you like.
ParagonMarketWatch

In this age of Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, and the countless apps hitting the market which afford your clients the luxury of tracking the market without your help, you can’t afford to let this opportunity slip you by. Brokers of every company in the Bay Area should be jumping on this offering, as simply put…it’s a no-brainer.

For more information about The Goods, visit www.theGoods-SF.com.

Hey Buyers! Turns Out There’s More Inventory Than You Thought

Have a look at what hit our email in the past couple months, and the companies heavily marketing “pocket listings”, “off market” property, or “not on MLS” opportunities.

You, the buyer, would probably like to know about these opportunities, wouldn’t you? Well…you can’t. Not until these brokerages wake up and join the year 2013, move beyond “private” or internal email as the method of choice for delivering these opportunities, look to social networks for some guidance as to where the buying (and selling) public lives, and get with the program!

Pacific Union, McGuire, Zephyr, Paragon, TRI Coldwell Banker, Vanguard, Sotheby’s, the list goes on and on…you ALL have pocket listings, and you’re all marketing them “privately”, so let’s make an effort to encourage each other to participate in an alternative marketplace to bring these opportunities to your fellow agents and the public, rather than continuing to shove this growing marketplace under the massive bureaucratic rug that is our National, State, and Local Association of Realtors. And for heaven’s sake, quit throwing your colleagues (Climb Real Estate) under the bus for taking a step in the right direction! (You know who you are.) It’s high time an alternative to the MLS takes shape, and the opportunity is right here and now.

[The same properties shown above, with links to the site:]
-Dominican Estate [Decker Bullock/Sothebys]
-53 Clifford Terrace [Vanguard]
-1299 Bush Street [Vanguard]
-219 Brannan [Vanguard]
-524 Roosevelt [Vanguard]
-2876 25th Ave [Vanguard]
-466 Hill [Vanguard]
-2509 Polk [McGuire]
-855 Folsom [McGuire]
-2094 Bush [McGuire]
-66 Parker [McGuire]
-2200 Pacific [McGuire]
-171 Caznea [McGuire]
-615 Buena Vista West [Sotheby's]
-2245 Francisco [Sotheby's]
-29 Oak Springs [Sotheby's]
-26 Sanford Lane [Pacific Union]
-1200 Laguna [Zephyr]
-1278 Stanyan [Zephyr]
-50 Lansing [Zephyr]
-Nob Hill Secret address [TRI Coldwell Banker]
-2325 Divisadero [TRI Coldwell Banker]
-2220 Sacramento [TRI Coldwell Banker]
-465 10th St [TRI Coldwell Banker]
-6 Emlin, Kentfield [TRI Coldwell Banker]
-595 12th Ave [TRI Coldwell Banker]
-850 Powell [TRI Coldwell Banker]
-287 Mangels [Barbegelata]

[Editor's Note: Some of these properties were placed on PocketListings.net, and others have since hit MLS and are now sold, but they did land in our email a very short time ago. You can expect some of these links to be killed by day's end, due to panicking brokerages.
Finally, if you'd like to be alerted when these opportunities hit our inbox, drop us a line, and we'll figure out a way to get them to you.]

-PocketListings.net: How To Tutorial [blog.pocketlistings.net]
-Climb Real Estate, PocketListings.net Join To Bring You More Buying And Selling Opportunity [theFrontSteps]
-It’s not listed, but it’s definitely for sale [New York Times]
-Remaking Real Estate, Again [SF Gate]

Buying A Home In San Francisco – Step 1: Get Pre-Approved / Provide Proof Of Funds

Congratulations! How exciting that you’re taking the steps to buy a home in the San Francisco / Bay Area. You can consider yourself extremely lucky, as this is one of the best and most expensive markets in the country, and you’re clearly doing alright, so you should be rewarded by capturing some prime California real estate.

Let us make the home buying process a little more simple by sharing some important steps we’ve learned over the past decade (plus) helping buyers find property.

Step 1 – Get Pre-Approved / Provide Proof Of Funds

Getting a loan? Don’t even start looking (fantasizing) for property until you know without a shadow of a doubt what you will be able to afford, what the banks will lend you, what interest rate you think you’ll get and how any fluctuation in that rate will influence your buying power. What’s the point of looking at property you aren’t confident you can afford, or come to find out you can get more than you thought!? Focus, focus, focus. You’ll need it in our competitive market.

Who would we contact for pre-approval?
Tim Wood- Terra Mortgage Banking (twood@terramb.com, 415-464-1374)
Sergei Andruha- Guarantee Mortgage (sandruha@gmwest.com, 415-309-0157)
Doug Barta- Wells Fargo (douglas.barta@wellsfargo.com, 415-819-7784)
Gannon Tidwell- GT Financial (gannon@gtfinancialgroup.com, 415-272-7373, Specializing in TIC/Fractional loans)

Pre-approval is ideal, but a pre-qualification (quick over the phone conversation and verification of funds, credit, income, etc.) is good enough, and any of the blokes above can certainly get it done quickly. Once they do, get it in writing, and keep it handy.

Cash purchase? Be prepared to provide Proof Of Funds with any offer you submit, and (depending on the price range) before you are shown property. If you’re oozing money and it’s obvious, or you’re famous and we know it, you might still be asked to provide proof of funds. Don’t take it personally.

As Jerry Maguire so eloquently says, “Show me (and everybody that will be involved in your purchase) the money” and you’ll be amazed at how much more focused your search can be.

Check back tomorrow for Step 2…

Closing Time – Simplifying The Escrow Process With Technology

I’ve written before about technology that is here to stay, and how the real estate industry can benefit from all the brilliant people in the world creating it, and I’ve recently come across another good example of a new company that’s applying technology to attempt to solve a big headache for buyers and agents alike: the escrow (purchase) process.

closingtime

I met founder Jonathan Aizen when he reached out to me through TheFrontSteps, and he took me through an early version of his tool, Closing Time, telling me about how he built it based on his own pain navigating the closing process on his Noe Valley home last year. Basically, Closing Time takes a bunch of information about a buyer’s property and finances to generate a customized checklist of steps to complete prior to close of escrow (read: get the keys to your home). These steps include things like “Get homeowners insurance” and “Submit your W-2s to your lender.” The steps generated and their due dates are based on the information you give Closing Time (it asks you simple questions like “what kind of property are you buying?”, etc.). For pre-contract buyers, Closing Time simply provides a checklist of things to prepare that might make escrow run more smoothly (like getting your financial documents in order, who to use for inspections, etc.) after you beg, borrow and steal your way to convincing the seller to accept your offer over one of the 15 others he just received.

It’s an interesting concept, and it’s certainly worth checking out. While great strides have been made in document management and e-signatures to reduce the amount of crap you actually physically have to sign (now you just click, click, click your way through), the actual escrow process has remained mostly untouched by technology (especially for the buyer). I’m still thinking about how this would work with my own workflow, as there’s an agent-interface that helps agents track buyers through their escrow process, and I’m actively giving them feedback about how to make it more user friendly and as little a drain on my already tapped time for technology and new processes, but I invite all of you to give it a shot and tell me or Closing Time what you think.

To that end, Closing Time is offering a free trial for agents, and buyers, who read TheFrontSteps. Agents can invite in as many buyers as you want for the first three months. Agents can sign up at http://www.closingti.me/agents. Buyers can try it too, even if you’re not yet under contract, by going to http://www.closingti.me to play around. Both buyers and agents can use the invite code “TheFrontSteps.”

Good luck with it…and Happy New Year!

PocketListings.net Version 2.0 Goes Live: Introduces Real Estate Match™; Privacy Options; Sharing; Saved Search; Email Alerts; Principals Only; More!

I’m pleased to announce the rollout this past weekend of PocketListings.net version 2.0!

It is jam-packed with new features to help you, the agent, do more deals, and give you, the client, more options when selling and searching for real estate. There is a fabulous tutorial on all of the great new features and how they work, so please take five minutes of your day and check it out.

Some major new features to highlight:

Real Estate Match™: As buyers and sellers post to the site, we do a little Match.com magic to match criteria and facilitate a potential transaction. Agents can post any property they have that is not listed on MLS, and ALL of their buyers looking for homes. If no matches are found immediately, when some do show up, emails will be sent. It’s online dating for real estate.

Privacy Options On Posts: Pocket listings are tricky in that some clients want the most exposure possible, while others want little to none, but they still want their property sold. When an agent posts a pocket listing on our site it is immediately searchable, but agent controls what information about the property to share, and with whom.

Principals Only: Inspired by our friends in commercial real estate, we give you the option to request anybody that contact you act as a Principal.

Saved Searches For Members: Do a search, save it. Refer to it later. Get emailed when posts fitting that criteria show up on our site. Simplifying your success.

Sharing with Social Networking: Whether you are the person that posted, or you’re someone browsing our site and you come across an opportunity that you absolutely must share, we make it easy. Using third party applications you can “Like” or “Send” any posts via Facebook, and share or repost via Twitter, LinkedIn, email, Digg, Stumbleupon, and so much more. Do a post, spread the word, and tell those in your circle to spread the word too.

Email Notifications of New Matches: Whether you save a search, or posted to our site and we’re looking for matches for you, we’ll notify you via email when something shows up on our site that might be a match.

How We Use Twitter To Get Posts More Exposure And Deliver Results In Real Time: It’s pretty simple really. Every post that hits our site is fed to our Twitter profile. It becomes searchable and we create hashtags for the city (#city) and a unique hashtag for our site that allows Twitter followers to see results only in their city of interest (#plcity). The more followers we get (and we’re getting a lot), the more exposure you get to your post (respecting your privacy options).

Those are just a couple of the big new features we released with this version. We actually have several more features lined up that we’re hoping to release as soon as possible.

We’ve already been written up in Top Agent Magazine, and press inquiries are coming in. The bottom line is that there is more real estate opportunity out there than what is on MLS, and clients deserve an alternative. Please help us help you by spreading the word and using our site today!

-PocketListings.net Tutorial
-PocketListings.net
-Top Agent Magazine

Price Squares Gives You The Price Per Square Foot Data You Crave

I can’t begin to tell you how many clients, friends, family, and co-workers base their entire real estate purchase or sale on price per square foot, and for good reason…it is the benchmark. Thank goodness a colleague at Zephyr Real Estate came up with this brilliant website, PriceSquares, so that all of you can check it out on your own. The concept is as simple as they come. The site strives to show you what is the average price per square foot of property listed and sold in a certain area, whether the average is going up, down, and whether a certain property represents a good buy or not.

Or as they say, “Price Squares is a new and easy way to see how San Francisco real estate is trending. Price Squares takes recent sales and shows you instantly whether the average price per square foot is increasing or decreasing giving you a real view of how the real estate market is fairing…”

If you have enough time to check out this post, you have enough time to check out this great new tool.

-PriceSquares.com

Get Ready For “Social Buying” And The Arrival Of The “Echo Boomer”-An Interview With Sherry Chris, CEO Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate

Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with Sherry Chris, CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate (BHGRE) and Advisory Board Member of Zillow.com. I had every intention of grilling her on the state of the market locally, more specifically hyper-locally, and concluding that just like Zillow, the CEO at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate is more concerned about the national picture than the hyper-local reality that is San Francisco real estate. I was wrong. Chris knows a lot about San Francisco real estate. The conversation then quickly turned out to be like all of the others I have with so many people regardless of where they rank in the world of real estate knowledge and forecasting…the market is going to do what it does, San Francisco is stronger than the rest, and we, as agents, possess nothing in our bag of tricks that can change the way the market ups and downs are going to play out. We have to adapt, roll with the punches, embrace technology, listen to the consumer, and become “collaborators of information” rather than the “gatekeepers we have been for so long.”

Chris agrees with me that, the “real estate industry missed the boat by not creating a central place for MLS listings”, and she congratulates Zillow and Trulia for doing so. She’s quick to point to their success in aggregating data the National Association of Realtors failed to aggregate themselves. As a result of our own missed opportunity in that regard, “we need to look long and hard at what is happening with the next generation of buyers”, who Chris calls the “echo-boomers” (80 million strong or roughly 1/3 of the buying population). “They are buying property based on recommendations from their friends and circles, and turning less and less to those in the industry for advice and knowledge about when and where to purchase. Echo-boomers have been raised with social networking and if the real estate industry doesn’t get into the game of creating a social platform that will engage these buyers and sellers, MLS and industry gatekeepers are going to continue to be left behind while the boat full of buyers and sellers sails off to sea without them.”

Thinking along these lines, Chris has championed a new kind of iPhone App for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate…one that doesn’t feed MLS listings! Gasp! Yes, they have come out with an app that allows users to take photos while they are at properties, arrange them into albums, share them with friends via Facebook or email, and easily refer to them later. The app allows users to search schools in the area, sites of interest, and refer to BHGRE website for more general information about buying and selling a home. And of course, you’ll be able to easily “contact an agent” and get in touch with a BHGRE real estate agent to put pen to paper (virtually of course) on that deal. Chris sees the process of buying and selling a home becoming a much more “social” process. Much less about receiving data (listings), hopping in a Realtors car, and making a decision based on this complete strangers recommendation, and more about searching property on their own, getting recommendations from their friends and family, collaborating with trusted “inner circle” friends on price and photos, and pulling the trigger based on social recommendations, not pushy Realtors looking to earn a commission. (Sounds a bit like where a certain company of mine is heading.) She went on to talk even further about a potential world of buying/selling real estate where price is less important than location, amenities nearby, WalkScores, and ultimately their friends’/family’s recommendation on whether to purchase a property or not, but we both agreed that although that is great, it’s a long ways off.

Sherry Chris has been in the real estate world for about 30 years, and so I was expecting to sit down with someone that is like so many other agents/brokers that have been in this industry for so long and still think farming, mailers (yes, actually through the post office), and cold-calling are the way to do business these days, but boy was I wrong. I’d even go so far as to say Chris is thinking further ahead than I am, and she happens to be at the helm of the third ranked well-established franchise in J.D. Power and Associates’ recent fourth annual Home Buyer/Seller Study. So she’s big-time, and she’s thinking ahead. This is refreshing.

I thank Sherry for inviting me to have a conversation with her, and I’m excited to see the direction the industry heads, because as many of you readers have known for a very, very long time I’ve considered the system marginal at best with TONS of room for improvement. Baby steps…baby steps.

For more information:
-BHGRealEstate.com
-The rise of consumer-centrid real estate [Inman News]
-J.D. Power and Associates’ recent fourth annual Home Buyer/Seller Study [J.D. Power & Associates]

Marina Has The Hotties, Inner Richmond…Apparently None

I was just clued in to a new startup website that is striving to allow you (people on the move from city to city, ‘hood to ‘hood, house to house) to learn about a neighborhood based on the reviews, comments, and opinions of locals. It’s a simple concept and easy to see the value. Hell, I tried going block by block to clue people in on the different San Francisco Neighborhoods in my Tour De San Francisco (real estate), but I only made it halfway through. Hence, the value I see in NabeWise.com.

It’s a startup, so the site is pretty lean with content at the moment, but I expect that will change over time. Regardless, how can you resist checking out a site that ranks where San Francisco’s Most Beautiful People hang out. Surprise, surprise! It’s the Marina! Sorry Inner Richmond (no really I am sorry cuz I live here), you are last on the list.

For the record, it is ABSOLUTELY imperative that you take such criteria into consideration when buying or selling a home in San Francisco, but you should not base whether you work with one particular Realtor over another on looks alone.

Speaking of hotties…check out the NabeWise Team.

-NabeWise.com [Website]

Pocket Listing. Not On MLS. Buyer In Need. No Problem. PocketListings.net Launches Nationwide!

Although you might think theFrontSteps has been completely sleeping these past months, you probably forgot we’ve been busy building a place for real estate agents to post the thousands and thousands of pocket listings they have throughout the year. Not only can they post pocket listings available to be sold, but post they have buyers who are looking for something they just can’t seem to find on MLS. There is no limit on how many times you can post, it’s completely FREE to join, and any type of property is fair game (Commercial, Residential, Land, Houseboat, etc.). It’s kind of like Craigslist meets Google meets eHarmony for off market real estate, and we’re not just for San Francisco. Today, we go nationwide!

Yup, we’re live (in beta) and we want you, and you, and you to check it out, use it, and tell 100 of your bestest of best Friends.

Non agents (i.e. Public) are welcome too! Just contact your agent if you see something you like.

Here’s the best thing…we’ve quietly been live and testing the site for a couple of weeks, and trying to keep it relatively under wraps, but already have agents who have joined us from Santa Rosa, San Francisco, San Diego, Burlingame, Belmont, Pacific Palisades, and Palo Alto, CA to name a few. Still other agents in Scottsdale, AZ, Miami Beach, FL, Bend, Oregon, and the number of agents joining are growing at a very surprising rate.

We’ve had great feedback from our initial users, four agents who’ve already contacted each other about potential matches, and we think we’re ready for all of you. So go check out and use PocketListings.net.

Here are some direct links to some noteworthy pocket listings already posted:
-Click here to see the very first pocket listing ever posted on our site (A $2.4M home in Scottsdale, AZ).
-Click here to see the most expensive pocket listing posted so far (A $5.5M home in Palo Alto, CA).
-Click here to see the most unexpected post so far (A $60,000 parking space in San Francisco, CA).

PocketListings.net is absolutely ROCKING and we haven’t even begun. Don’t wait, get in the game!

To keep updated on our happenings, we have a substantial number of “Friends” already on our Facebook Profile (also serving as our blog), so we’d be delighted to have you come join us there.

Our Twitter page is growing every day, and is also the place every single one of our posts is fed. Huh? Fed? Yep, you can follow us on Twitter, you can follow our hashtags for #plcity, and you’ll see every single post in real time. No need to search, no need to sort. Just browsing for all of you real estate porn addicts. Follow us @PocketListings.

If you liked watching theFrontSteps grow to over 500,000 readers*, you’re going to be more impressed with what we do with PocketListings.net, so we hope you find a way to be a part.

-PocketListings.net
-Facebook.com/pocketlistings
-Twitter.com/pocketlistings

*in our heyday, we had ~500,000 unique visitors per year, right here on these very theFrontSteps.