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!

Pocket Listings And “Off Market” Real Estate

If you follow us on Twitter, you’ve already heard. There will soon be a network to post, search, and sell pocket listings (PocketListings.NET). Off-market, pocket listings, whatever…they’re out there, they’re bought and sold, and real estate agents will soon be able to share information amongst themselves on a much larger scale, which we hope will increase an agent’s opportunity to sell their pocket listings, and ultimately open up some doors for buyers and sellers beyond what is listed on the MLS.

The market has changed, the internet is here and not going anywhere, agents have valuable information about off-market properties that until now (when we launch) has been difficult to communicate to a large audience, and it’s time for something new. We can’t tell you everything, but we can tell you it will be cool. So get yourself a Twitter account and follow @pocketlistings for updates.

-PocketListings.NET [coming soon!]

SFAR Making Our Lives So Much More Efficient, Really?

Is it us, or does the San Francisco Association of Realtors just like to make things complicated (Remember the Token Code?)

www.SFRAO.com is a new web site developed by the Association to provide detailed information on tweets broadcast by the Association. It is shown as a link at the end of each tweet that requires more than 140 characters to provide the kind of detailed treatment of a subject that REALTORS® will find useful. Just ahead of the link is a “D” number (i.e., the “Details” number). If a tweet has a D number and you are interested in seeing a more detailed explanation of the subject, jot down the D number and click on the link. Once on http://www.SFRAO.com, enter the D number of the tweet. Then enter your member ID and password. A title relating to the tweet will display. Click on the title and the details will appear.

All of this secrecy! Is it really necessary?

Map of Retrofit Projects Completed in the Bay Area since the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake

Living in earthquake country, we get asked all the time, “Is this home on bedrock or landfill.”

The next question, “Do you know if this building has been retrofitted?” Usually, we don’t, but that might be changing. Check out this new user-generated mashup where you, the visitor, can add a project that has been retrofitted. We’re guessing it’s an honor system type thing and thinking it could be pretty useful. What about you?

Click to find out what buildings have been retrofitted in the bay area

Cool idea, cool map, but we’re thinking when the users start adding all the retrofitted projects to the map, those bubbles (pinpoints) might get a bit cluttered. No big….Along comes the 9.0 shaker, we clear the map, and start all over….if we’re still around.

-earthquakeretrofit.org
-Map of Bedrock Vs Landfill (San Francisco

Average Property Rental Rates In San Francisco

Being heavily focused on selling real estate in San Francisco, and not renting it, we’re always on the lookout for a quick and easy tool to help answer that question, “What do you think this place would rent for?” Aside from actually contacting a true expert in the field of rentals and having them go in and take a look at the property, our hands have been tied. Not any more. There is a new website out there tackling this very problem, rentBits.com, “a free national rental search engine that also offers free rental rates pages for over 4,000 cities in the United States. Using data from over 7,000,000 rental houses, condos and apartments, the service gives renters, property managers and leasing agents key information on average rental rates in their city.”

rentbits1

The above screenshot is from their San Francisco page (obviously we only care about San Francisco), and you can get to that page by following this link. Have a look around. We find it pretty informative, but then again we only have a few minutes to check things out these days and put them out there for you to pore over in detail.

-rentBits.com

More Sara, Less Zestimate

Having just spent 4:45 of our lives watching this entire spiel about “while the Zestimate’s fun to kind of get an idea…”, it’s really not accurate so don’t waste your time, we’re left with a few thoughts.

1. Sara is cute
2. Sara’s lip gloss sparkles
3. Sara’s hair shines, but how would it look brunette
4. Sara is really thinking the Zestimate is a total load of shit and will go up and down 3 times a week whenever they refresh the data, and she can’t believe she has to read that drivel, but her options will pay off someday, so she’ll keep reading and thinking of her next pedicure
5. Why a turtle neck?
6. More Sara, less Zillow psycho babble
7. Yes, we love poking fun at Zillow, always have, always will…that doesn’t mean we don’t admire their technology and vision.

Google Goes Real Estate Search

To the untrained eye it might look as if our lovely city by the bay has the Chickenpox. Alas! ‘Tis not the case. It’s just Google getting into the game of real estate, and leave it up to them to do it right (maps.google.com/realestate).

[Note: These below maps are embedded on this site and you can play around all you want right here...how cool is that!?]

Not a fan of the Satellite image search, and need to know your streets? Go for the basic street map:

Wondering if your future home is on a hill and whether you can sell your Thigh Master? Zoom in and go Terrain:

[Note: You can even go Street View]

Wondering if you’re future home is close to public transportation and how the traffic in the area is? They have that too.

In fact, you can get photos, webcams, wikipedia and all sorts of information about the area you want to put down roots all by clicking around the maps.

Proximity to good coffee? It’s probably on there too.

It makes searching for a home by area so unbelievably simple (not as simple and effective as actually getting in the car or walking your future ‘hood…assuming you’re not relocating cross continent), but simple nonetheless. Contacting those with the listings and not getting shuffled to some third party site that is essentially rebroadcasting MLS data on their site (which Google is then able to “crawl” and display…we’re guessing) is a bit tricky. The information certainly has a time delay as to what is displayed, when you click on properties there is enough error that we’ve discovered to make us not entirely certain about the price or details of a property and whether it is, in fact, still available, and price reductions aren’t showing up all too real time either, but the data is there, and it’s cool. Really cool. It just needs to find its wings, and we have no doubt it will.

Check it out, if you haven’t done so already.

Ask Us: Should My Agent Advertise On The Real Estate Blogs

Where readers ask, and we (the community) try to answer:

Hi,

We have a house in SF that’s been on the market for 3 weeks with minimal activity. Our agent is doing the traditional stuff but no presence on blogs, etc. Should she be using yours and/or other sites to market our house? What are the options/costs? What kind of ROI can she/we expect?

[Owner]

Great question. The short answer, yes…she should have it all over the blogs and social networks. By being on MLS alone it is fed to the biggies (Trulia, Zillow, Redfin, Realtor.com, etc.), but the social networking power of blogs (like this), Facebook, and Twitter should not be ignored.

ROI, no idea, but the costs are negotiable and a few thousand extra eyeballs per week can’t hurt, especially when those eyeballs are browsing the real estate porn of cyberspace.

Good luck. Next time (and tell your friends) when you list with us, your home will be on theFrontSteps until it is sold. No questions asked.

Neighborcity.com…Waste More Time

A reader kindly forwarded us to a “new” website called, Neighborcity and we gotta say, aren’t Trulia, and Zillow enough?

neighborcity1

We didn’t see anything on this site worth discussing that isn’t already found elsewhere. To us, this site is a complete waste of time. Focus your time on Trulia, Zillow (if you must to get a very, very, very rough estimate of your home’s value), and your local MLS. If you want community, go to Trulia, but beware the Realtor answers are usually loaded to bait you in.

Oh, one last thing, check the ranking of agents on Neighborcity. We’ve learned our lesson about calling out fellow agents, but that data is clearly flawed.

Thanks for the tip to the site, best of luck to them. We are fans of technology in real estate and applaud all efforts, but we weren’t impressed. We look forward to be proven wrong.

[Editor's Note: Okay, we took another look at the site from the perspective of someone shopping for a home somewhere in the country. We're used to dealing with internet savvy buyers and sellers, so we're a bit jaded. We can see value in the site for those that are just beginning their home search and land on this site a la Google.]