Announcing: 2014 Innovator Awards winners

Bellingham, Washington-based real estate entrepreneur Ben Kinney named Innovator of the Year

SAN FRANCISCO — Inman News today named Bellingham, Washington-based real estate entrepreneur Ben Kinney the 2014 Innovator of the Year, and announced Innovator Award winners in five other categories during the Real Estate Connect conference.

The awards, created in 1997, honor real estate companies, technologies, services and individuals who move the industry forward by making the most of new technologies and ideas that can increase the productivity, efficiency and transparency of the real estate industry.

Ben Kinney
Ben Kinney

Most Innovative Real Estate Agent

Hans and Steve Wydler

Hans Wydler

Hans Wydler

The Wydler Brothers team functions as a high-end boutique within Long & Foster Real Estate, allowing the small team to combine hands-on, high-quality and professional service with the marketing horsepower and resources of Long & Foster. Their use of branded Starbucks cards, and of drones to produce neighborhood video tours, are examples of their innovative approach.

After using a drone to create a listing video, the Wydler Brothers team concluded that a neighborhood drone tour would have a longer shelf life.

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Steve Wydler

Steve Wydler

“The neighborhood tour can be used as a tool to get more listings, but it also can attract buyers to the neighborhood to kind of solidify our agents’ position as neighborhood specialists in the neighborhood,” said Wydler Brothers Marketing Manager Rob Seaver.

Most Innovative Brokerage or Franchise

Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Generations

Leighton Dees

Leighton Dees

Broker-owners Leighton Dees and Josh Tanner have tripled the size of their Mobile, Alabama-based company in two years using technology and tools provided by franchisor Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, and also developing some of their own.

Josh Tanner

Josh Tanner

Dees sees himself as graphic designer and marketing junkie at heart who has founded several companies including ORACLE Real Estate, which affiliated with Realogy’s Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate brand in 2011.

Most Innovative MLS or Real Estate Trade Association

Houston Association of Realtors

Bob Hale

Bob Hale

The Houston Association of Realtors was the first MLS to sign up as a publisher through ListHub, launching a Texas-wide real estate portal allowing other Texas brokers to take advantage of HAR.com’s high traffic volume and cachet in competing with third-party national listing portals.

HAR CEO Bob Hale says the idea to expand HAR.com Texas-wide came from a meeting at the Texas Association of Realtors last year.

“Some of the other MLSs — Corpus Christi, Tyler, Midland — said, ‘It would be nice if we could put our listings on your website,’ ” Hale told Inman News.

Most innovative real estate app

AgentMatch, realtor.com.

Realtor.com’s experimental agent-ranking tool, AgentMatch, which briefly allowed consumers in two test markets to search for an agent using statistics gleaned from multiple listing services and client recommendations, is no more. But it’s likely to influence future attempts to explore a technological landscape in which innovation’s not only been lacking, but some would say actively thwarted.

Screen shot of search for agents in the Boulder, Colo., market using realtor.com's  AgentMatch.

Screen shot of search for agents in the Boulder, Colo., market using realtor.com’s AgentMatch.

The mountain of information consumers have at their fingertips about homes for sale, housing markets and neighborhoods seems to grow by the day. But some corners of the real estate industry have sought to keep similar statistics about agents — information that might help buyers and sellers make smart decisions about who to represent them — under wraps.

If AgentMatch wasn’t the perfect solution — some of the gripes agents had about the tool were legitimate — it won’t be long before somebody (maybe even realtor.com) picks up the ball and runs with it.

Most innovative use of new technology:

Doorsteps Swipe, Move Inc.

Property search is the raison d’être of real estate sites. But while there have been lots of incremental improvements, the process still works for the most part about the way it always has — by entering criteria that describe the attributes of a desired home or neighborhood. Doorsteps, a subsidiary of realtor.com operator Move Inc., offers a mobile search app, Doorsteps Swipe, that strips house hunting down to its essentials.

Doorsteps Swipe image via Move Inc.

Doorsteps Swipe image via Move Inc.

Swipe prompts users to browse for homes based simply on what they look like. By showing users exterior shots and addresses of listings and asking them to either “like” or dismiss the listings based on that content alone, Swipe has a shot at surfacing suitable homes that they might not have otherwise discovered.

Innovator of the Year:

Ben Kinney, CEO, Home4Investment Inc./Keller Williams Western Realty

Ben Kinney

Ben Kinney

Ben Kinney not only heads one of the top producing real estate teams in the U.S., he’s the owner and operator of seven Keller Williams Realty franchises with more than 700 agents. Recently, Kinney has used the insight he’s gained in 10 years in the real estate business to found two new startups — Brivity, which blends elements of a customer relationship system, marketing platform and task manager into a “transparency tool” that lets agents share tasks with clients, and Blossor, a long-tail listing search site that partners at Google Ventures think could be a “Zillow-killer.”


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