SAN FRANCISCO – Earl Lee, president of Prudential Real Estate Affiliates, received a special Inman Innovator Award for “Individual Innovator” Wednesday during Real Estate Connect 2005. The Innovator awards honor cutting-edge technology, business models and pioneers in online real estate, brokerage and mortgages.

Lee oversees the development, strategy and vision of a real estate network of more than 1,800 offices and 58,000 sales professionals. Under Lee’s leadership, Prudential became the first major real estate franchise to launch an aggressive strategy to capture Internet consumers.

Industry observers say that Lee is personally driving this new vision with support from Prudential executives who see the power of the Internet for a real estate franchise. Plus it could differentiate the New Jersey insurance giant from the franchise pack.

The company in 2004 bought online real estate brokerage eRealty and announced a significant distribution deal with Yahoo! to provide visitors to Yahoo! Real Estate pages access to comprehensive and detailed real estate listing information from a Prudential broker in their selected market area.

Past recipients of the Individual Innovator Award include HouseValues CEO Ian Morris in 2004, eRealty CEO Russ Capper in 2003, and LendingTree CEO Doug Lebda in 2002.

Inman News for the first time this year gave a special award to the U.S. Justice Department for promoting open competition in the real estate industry. The Justice Department this year has ramped up action relating to alleged antitrust behavior within the real estate industry, warning legislators in several states not to pass rules or legislation they say could restrict competition and harm some business models.

This month, the Kentucky Real Estate Commission tossed out former restrictions on real estate rebates to settle a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department, which charged that the state’s ban could result in higher prices for real estate services and limit competition among real estate brokers.

Also, the agency continues to investigate the National Association of Realtors’ rule for online listings display. The Realtor group in May decided to send the rule back to the drawing board to appease the department’s antitrust concerns and a final rule is still pending.

Inman Innovator Awards were handed out Wednesday in eight additional categories, including Most Innovative Real Estate Brokerage, which went to both Chicago-based Baird & Warner and Real Living.

The other finalists in the brokerage/franchise/Realtor category were Century 21 Sussex & Reilly, Prudential California Realty, Smarter Agent and the “RE/MAX Internet Team” by Damon Pace.

Century 21 ClickIt captured the award for Innovative New Business Model. The other finalists in the new business models category were ByOwner.com, Expert Realty, Home Discovery, iPayOne.com, IsoldMyHouse.com, One Percent Realty and Prudential Real Estate Affiliates.

Google Earth and Cendant’s Lead Router were co-winners in the Most Innovative Technology category. Other finalists in this category were CleanOffer, CreditXpert, DocuSign, FlashMaps, HomeKeys Value Search, HousingMaps.com, MapQuest Business Solutions, Real Data Center, RealBird and NAR’s Center for Realtor Technology.

The award for Most Innovative Web Service went to HomeGain, which was recently acquired by Classified Ventures. Other finalists in the category were NexTag, Real Data Center, RealEstate.com, RealtyTrac, Redfin, StartPoint, WhereToLive.com and IndyMac’s Zona Hipotecaria.

The Most Innovative Mortgage Company award went to Metrocities Mortgage. Bank of America, Countrywide, DiTech, First Metropolitan Mortgage and Wachovia also were finalists in the category.

The New York Times Real Estate section and Curbed.com were co-winners in the Most Innovative Media Site category. October Research Corp., Brownstoner.com, PropertyGrunt.com, RealEstateJournal.com, RIS Media and Realtor Magazine online also were finalists in the category.

The award for Most Innovative Rental or New Homes Online Service went to ApartmentRatings.com, which competed with other finalists Apartments 24-7.com, NewHomeTechnologies.com, PropertyBridge, RealRenters and SubletInTheCity.com.

The award for Most Innovative Real Estate Data Site went to Fidelity’s Mortgage PhD site. Other finalists in the category included ByOwnerDaily.com, OnBoard LLC, RE-Data.com, Terradatum and The Mercury Alliance.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to jessica@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 133.

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