Editor’s note: Real estate agents are depending more and more on mobile technology, with many devices and services offering much more than the ability to make a phone call or write an e-mail while out in the field. Agents today can pull up home listings data, store reams of information and even create a listing using a mobile device. In this three-part series, we uncovered new innovation in mobile technologies and services for the real estate industry, as well as new real estate uses for devices that have been around for awhile. (See Part 1: Agents find novel real estate uses for Blackberries and Part 2: Phoning in your real estate listing.)
A Federal Emergency Management Agency agent in New Orleans standing in front of a totally destroyed home turns on her cell phone and clicks an icon. The home’s address flashes on the screen, and the agent quickly finds the property owner’s name.
This scenario is possible thanks to Smarter Agent, a company whose technology makes real estate listings and information accessible via handheld devices and cell phones.
A more common scenario for SmarterAgent technology would be helping agents find information about homes for sale, said Brad Blumberg, CEO of Camden, N.J.-based Smarter Agent.
For example, if you’re driving around a neighborhood and see a likely house for a client, you can grab yourWeb-enabled cell phone or PDA and learn the property’s price, square footage and other particulars right there on the spot.
Real estate agents are depending more and more on mobile technology, and it’s easy to see why. Mobile devices enable agents to take and make phone calls on the run, respond to leads while they’re out in the field, pull up home listings data while driving clients around, and store reams of information, such as names of escrow officers and other contacts, among other things.
A new SmarterAgent feature slated to roll out in early 2006 will make it possible to see, not just a list of addresses, but a map of a neighborhood with icons of houses you can click on to get an idea of the properties in an area, the company’s vice president of product development said.
“Currently, you can get a list of homes in a neighborhood by address with their prices and other information, ” said Diena Seager. “In the first quarter of 2006, you’ll be able to see where those houses are on a map of the neighborhood.”
Conceivably, a home buyer could stand in front of a school and bring up the map to find homes for sale within a five-mile radius, she said. It’s also possible to call up the map from a remote location, according to Seager. The maps are part of a partnership with Mapquest and Onboard.
Smarter Agent detects callers’ locations via satellite-based Global Positioning System, and then relays the property information back to callers in real time.
The consumer side of location-based services, or LBS, the technology behind Smarter Agent, is projected to become an $18.5 billion industry by 2006, according to Strategis Group. And 40 million consumers search annually for homes, according to the Pew Foundation. With these facts in mind, a number of companies are jumping on the real estate mobile technology bandwagon.
When used by consumers, Smarter Agent functions as a lead generation device, Blumberg explained. Agents can use the technology to better help their clients.
“On your cell phone you download Smarter Agent as you would a ringtone,” said Blumberg. “Then you click on an icon to access the system.” At that point, the GPS system identifies where the home buyer is, locates the homes for sale in that area and displays them in the order of proximity.
The initial screen is a simple list of options in black letters against a white background: “For sale – go!” “For sale – refine,” “Recent Sales – go!” “Recent sales – refine,” and “Call agent.”
As the agent or home buyer cursors down the list, whichever option the cursor is resting on shows up in blue.
Clicking on “For sale – go!” yields a list of homes, displayed four at a time. Because the cell phone display screen is so narrow, the addresses scroll from left to right so the viewer can see the whole address.
“We show the house’s address; last sold price; last sold date; bedrooms; baths; property type; and taxes,” said Blumberg.
Double-clicking on a property brings up the MLS feed with further information on the property. It’s also possible to call up a map that displays the property location.
“You can also display the public data on recently sold houses in the area,” said Blumberg.
This “recent sales” feature is a new addition that makes it possible for agents and sellers to get a better idea of the comparable value of homes in a given neighborhood, Blumberg said.
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