Every prospective homebuyer has come across it: a listing with a single photo attached, sometimes of dubious quality.
In a world where, at least at first, the amount and caliber of information available to consumers on a for-sale property is often determined by what the listing agent enters into the local multiple listing service, what if consumers could see notes and photos of a home from every agent and prospective buyer that has set foot on the property?
Real estate startup and Inman Incubator enrollee Homing In has launched a free mobile application with the potential to do just that. The startup’s “open sharing platform” allows home shoppers and agents to share real estate photos and notes with each other as well as anyone else with the app.
The app’s patent-pending technology also allows prospective buyers to find the nearest available real estate agent who has signed up with the app, and request a showing in real time.
Homing In founders Todd Miller and Oana Sterlacci are real estate brokers who say they have sold more than 2,000 houses in the Las Vegas market over the past five years. They own a real estate brokerage, Nevada Realty Solutions.
With the new app, Homing In seeks to fill a void in the marketplace, Miller said.
“Mobile technology has opened the door to crowdsourcing of real estate information giving the opportunity for candid information that supplements the already existing marketing information about properties,” he said.
Seattle-based real estate brokerage Redfin came up with a somewhat similar idea in 2011 with its “Agent Insights” offering. The feature allows registered users of Redfin’s website to see what the brokerage’s agents thought of listings they toured, but doesn’t include comments from prospective buyers or any additional photos. The prospective buyers who requested the tour can also suppress the comments’ public display.
Miller said part of the impetus for the app was that clients were “very frustrated” when only one picture of a house was available and were asking the brokerage’s agents to go and take pictures of the home and email them to the client. If multiple agents all get the same request, then they are duplicating each other’s work, he said.
“Our app allows people to share those photos with everyone. So a buyer or their agent while going through a house that only has one photo in the MLS can now take their own pictures, and the next person that comes along can see them from the app, before they even go to the house,” Miller said.
“Maybe they see something they don’t like and say, ‘Let’s skip this one.’ It will save them the time and hassle of seeing a house that they wouldn’t have even gone to see if more photos had been posted originally, similar to how Yelp works for restaurants.”
Currently, all notes and photos of properties are shared with anyone else who has the app, but Homing In plans to incorporate more sharing choices soon, to allow agents and consumers to share between themselves privately, for example.
Homing In also connects house hunters with agents who have recent knowledge about a property — a factor that makes the startup’s business model unique, Miller said.
“Previously, there was no way for a home shopper to know an agent that had visited a property except for the listing agent,” he said.
Homing In matches agents to consumers based on the following criteria:
1) Any agent who has taken a photo or note at that property.
2) Any agent who has taken a photo or note at a nearby property.
3) Any agent who is in the general area using the app.
4) If none of these exist, the company alerts the closest agents, even if they just downloaded the app and signed up and have never posted a photo or note.
“The Homing In system rewards agents active in the specific area where the home shopper is looking by giving them priority for home shopper showing requests,” Miller said.
“This benefits the home shopper since the agent is familiar with the home and the area, and benefits the agent by allowing connections in a geographic area.”
In an upcoming release, listing agents will be able to claim their listings and be the first agent notified of a showing request, the company said. Currently, Homing In doesn’t plan to charge listing agents for that feature because the company hopes to grow its user base, Sterlacci said.
If consumers link their app to their agent, however, then only their agent will get showing requests from them. Agents who sign up with Homing In are issued a four-digit ID number to give their clients.
“This is a protective feature so that agents understand that their clients can’t use the app to find other agents, unless the consumer unlinks with their agent,” Miller said.
Agents connected with consumers via the app will automatically have access to the photos and notes the consumers post on the app, “further strengthening the relationship by letting the agent see the home through the eyes of the home shopper,” he added.
Miller and Sterlacci came up with the idea when one of their agents asked if there was a better way for the brokerage to route sign-call leads to them instead of through the rotating phone system that called one agent at a time.
“It took too long for agents to get connected to a home shopper, and if they hung up, they were hard to get ahold of again. Our app allows numerous agents to be contacted on any listing,” Miller said.
“Also, the app takes less than one second to notify agents. Much faster than cell communication.”
The app doles out showings on a first-come, first-served basis among the agents contacted.
Homing In is not connected to any MLS, and listings do not come from any external data source other than the app’s users, Sterlacci said.
The app’s “Find Homes” feature returns only those properties that have been entered by agents and consumers. That means its current base of properties is limited: a search in Emeryville, Calif., for example, returned homes located in Manhattan Beach, Calif., nearly 400 miles away.
“As any new product of this nature, it gets more valuable as time goes on, and users and entries increase,” Miller said.
The home-search feature uses Apple Maps as a geolocation tool and therefore has the potential for worldwide coverage, though the company expects 99 percent of its users will come from the U.S. and Canada, Miller added.
Both agents and consumers can download the app from iTunes. Agents can introduce their clients to the app or include a QR code that installs the app to anyone’s Apple device on sign riders that read “Peek Inside.”
Homing In expects to roll out a feature allowing users to shoot and share videos on the app in early 2014.
The startup also plans to release a paid version of the app soon for $4.99. That version will allow notes and photos to be private rather than shared and likely offer other features, Miller said.
What do you think of Homing In’s app? Which features would you find useful? Which inspire reservations? Let us know in the comments below.