The meteoric rise of Uber, an app that lets you request a driver from your smartphone, has inspired a slew of entrepreneurs to introduce "on-demand" services to other industries, including real estate.
At least three startups now connect consumers who want to immediately peek inside listings they discover on the street or online with nearby agents ready to show the homes at a moment's notice.
Screen shot showing Naked Apartments' agent app.
The listing site Naked Apartments pioneered what it calls "showings on demand" in the hypercompetitive New York City rental market in July 2013. The feature now supports 150 showings a day, said Joe Charat, CEO of Naked Apartments.
Showings on demand -- which Charat said was inspired by Uber and the peer-to-peer rental site Airbnb -- is increasingly becoming the focus of Naked Apartments, and thousands of agents rely on it as their "primary lead source," according to Charat.
It's been such a hit, in fact, that the site recently launched an iPhone app whose primary purpose is to help agents field showing requests faster.
Previously, cellphone congestion would cause some agents to receive showing requests a few minutes after others. Since the agent who claims a showing first gets the showing, that put some at a disadvantage.
Naked Apartments' new iPhone app eliminates the problem by routing requests through the app's messaging service, not sending them as text messages. The app also saves agents time by letting them message consumers directly through the app, instead of having to email or call them.
"We had to build a product that was faster than text messaging," Charat said.
Just because showings on demand have gained steam in New York City's rental market doesn't mean they'll catch on in for-sale markets around the country.
The main appeal of Naked Apartments' implementation of the feature in New York City is that it offers consumers a leg up in a market where apartments rent at warp speed. People in other parts of the country generally have a lot more time to make offers on homes than they do to sign rental leases in NYC.
"I don't think that speed of access to the property is a decision-making factor for homebuyers," said Waheed Subhani, founder of Neighbourhood Expert, a Canadian provider of "amenity maps" for real estate companies. "It may work like Uber, but calling a taxi and buying a home are worlds apart."
Perhaps, but San Diego-based HouseCall thinks that consumers would like to order showings just like they can order cars on Uber. Co-founder Roland Ligtenberg described HouseCall as "Uber meets Angie's List." (Angie's List is a popular online directory for businesses.)
The app has allowed users to schedule appointments with home professionals including electricians, plumbers, landscapers and junk removers since launching in November 2013.
"You click a button and they'll be at your house right away," Ligtenberg said. "We do the whole workflow; we do the invoicing; we do the payments. Everything happens in the app."
Shortly after launching the app, Ligtenberg said his team realized that agents were fueling adoption of HouseCall by recommending the app to clients.
"The Realtors were giving out the app being like, 'Hey, instead of bugging me for a handyman or electrician, just use this app, they're all vetted," Ligtenberg said.
So HouseCall decided to introduce features that cater to their biggest promoters. In the next month, the startup will roll out a feature that lets agents compile a roster of preferred vendors and then share it with clients.
Another feature will let users request immediate showings, just as they may request services from other vendors. Unlike what the company does with other vendors, HouseCall won't charge brokerages or agents subscription or lead fees.
Not so with Curb Call, an app whose sole purpose is to facilitate showings on demand. Brokerages pay a monthly fee to equip their agents with the app.