Editor’s note: In this four-part series, we highlight four of the finalists for the 2005 Inman Innovator Award and profile their contributions to the real estate industry. This year, 66 real estate, technology and media firms have made it to the final nomination round and will compete for the coveted awards.

Editor’s note: In this four-part series, we highlight four of the finalists for the 2005 Inman Innovator Award and profile their contributions to the real estate industry. This year, 66 real estate, technology and media firms have made it to the final nomination round and will compete for the coveted awards. (See Part 1: Give us this day our daily leads; Part 2: OnBoard LLC founders make sense of real estate data and Part 4: Giving credit where credit is due.)

A few months ago, Pennsylvania Realtor Gary Segal’s clients were using his competitor’s Web site because it was easier to navigate and more user-friendly. Fighting back, Segal chose WhereToLive.com to design his new site.

Eden Prairie, Minn.-based WhereToLive.com designs Web sites for real estate brokerages and also supplies search technology for the sites. The company’s combination of sophisticated search and mapping technologies sold Segal and his group on WhereToLive.

“Our sales team was trying to make a decision as to which technology firm to use to develop our Web site. Then (WhereToLive) came out with their Version Two, which had the SmartMap, and when everybody saw that, it pushed them over the edge,” said Gary Segal, who runs a sales team with his wife Chris at the office of Keller Williams in Blue Bell, Pa.

Now, a month later, Segal says, “our clients are looking at our SmartMap and the whole MLS on our Web site,” instead of finding properties on the competition’s site and then calling his office. “Now, we understand some of the competition’s clients are using our site.”

The SmartMap, an example of which can be seen on the WhereToLive homepage, is a graphic map of the United States. SmartMap search technology provides an interface to search the MLS, connect to real estate service providers, check property values and review listings in a given geographical area.

“The SmartMap makes it easier if you are looking at a certain area,” said Segal. “It works like Microsoft Streets. You draw a little box in the area where you want to search and all the listings in that area pop up.”

Moving the cursor over the map, a consumer can click on the area they’re interested in – say, central Michigan – and then hold the button down while moving the cursor to create a square. When they release the cursor, the map zooms down to a larger view of that specific area. Orange pushpins in the map indicate the properties for sale.

“You hover over the listing,” moving the cursor so it’s on top of the push pin, “and the price, the address, the MLS number and a small photo pop onto the screen and if you want more you can drill down by clicking on it,” Segal explained.

In addition to the SmartMap, WhereToLive technology also offers extensive search capabilities.

“You can do a detailed search for any property in any town or municipality,” Segal said.

When searching for properties, consumers can specifically design their own search using a plethora of characteristics including price, geographical area, property type such as residence or commercial, style such as Colonial, number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

“We do understand that when someone looking for a house goes online they want photographs of houses, where they are and how much they are. They don’t necessarily want pretty pictures of Realtors, they want information and they want it quickly,” Segal said.

Segal said some of the advantages of WhereToLive.com are how quickly one can print a brochure for the house and how fast they can access statistical information about schools and demographics. He said, “It’s easier to navigate the MLS on the site than it is to navigate the MLS itself. You can go to the WhereToLive site and have it in a flash.”

Segal has been a Realtor for 17 years. His sales team was one of the first to use WhereToLive to develop its site because Segal knew Roald Marth, the company’s CEO, from Marth’s former company, Superstar Computing. The two met when Segal was at a RE/MAX brokerage.

“I knew Roald from Superstar Computing. He came in and trained RE/MAX agents on how to use PCs when that was a new thing in the late 1980s, early 1990s,” Segal said.

Currently, WhereToLive.com has clients mostly in Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Founded in 1999, the company almost went under during the perilous days of the dot-com bust, but survived after laying off half of its staff in 2002.

Before the SmartMap was integrated into Eden Prairie, Mn.-based WhereToLive’s search technology, there was a photo of a map but no zooming capabilities or plotting of properties were offered, explained Elizabeth Chesen, WhereToLive’s chief operating officer and cofounder with Marth.

“Lots of companies have mapping capabilities, and many have detailed search,” said Chesen. “It’s the combination and the elegant interface that distinguishes us.”

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to janis@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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