In a unique marriage of video and digital media, a new company is offering a home-makeover-type reality TV show coupled with lead generation for real estate and mortgage professionals.

The show, “Home Team,” which launched in September, buys and refurbishes homes for needy but deserving people with the help of their friends and families, then surprises them with the results. The company is now putting together a lead-generation engine slated to debut in spring 2006.

“We get thousands of calls from people who say, ‘I’m just like the guy on your latest program. Can you help me?'” said Eric Gorrell, CEO of Home Team.

“Title companies, mortgage brokers and real estate agents would love to have these leads and we can segregate them (according to area and other variables) based on the dynamics of the call,” Gorrell said. The company is still working out the details of the lead generation engine, but it will utilize both phone contacts and the Home Team Web site, he said.

The show, which launched a mere three months ago, has already been nominated for a prestigious Peabody Award. It is hosted by Tray McClain, a veteran of “The Apprentice.”

One of the first-time homeowners gifted on the show, Ricky Welliver, was living in the Spokane, Wash., gym where he leads boxing classes for youngsters before Home Team gave him his house.

As is the case with many of the show’s beneficiaries, Welliver was recommended by a friend who felt the boxer deserved a break. (It is also possible for individuals to nominate themselves.)

The Welliver episode follows a group of friends as they ready the home purchased by the Home Team company for their unsuspecting friend. One buddy slaps a “Sold” over the yard sign, exulting, “No vacancy! Occupied! This is Rick’s house. Right there!” Presented with a credit card with a $5,000 limit, the group of friends and family goes to work buying home furnishings and hammering nails.

“We have people come to our Web site to nominate a friend to be on the show,” said Gorrell. “The show is not about a handout, but a helping hand. We are looking for a person who can qualify for a mortgage but doesn’t have the down payment. We make the down payment and the first year of payments.

“We follow this person around with cameras and at the same time we have a crew of friends and family on set at the house we purchased for the person. The crew works from 7 in the morning until midnight and we reveal it on Sunday,” Gorrell said.

The home recipient is kept in the dark, Gorrell said, with the company presenting a pretext for the filming (in Welliver’s case, he was told the company was making a video about ex-boxers).

In the Welliver episode, when the boxer first sees his new home, he literally jumps for joy, then grabs McClain and carries him across the room.

Welliver and other beneficiaries of the program lease the homes bought for them by Home Team for a token $1 for the first year and Home Team makes the mortgage payments for that first year. During that time, Gorrell said, the homeowner gets periodic calls to make sure he or she is on an even economic keel.

The homeowners also get education about finance and mortgages. After the first year, “we turn the house back to them,” Gorrell said, and the homeowners begin making their mortgage payments.

“We have contacts in major cities with mortgage brokers,” Gorrell said. “If we have leads that come in through our Web site, right now we just call the brokers. We’re smack dab in the middle of creating a lead generation engine.”

The company doesn’t intend to create its own engine, Gorrell said. “We are going to hook up with a company like HomeGain.”

Gorrell wouldn’t say if he had been talking to any lead generation companies. He did say that the company will pre-screen leads before passing them along to mortgage brokers and other industry professionals.

“We want to have somebody on the back side who understands the value of a good lead,” Gorrell said. “We are not going to provide them (industry professionals) every lead under the sun.”

The idea is that callers asking about appearing on the show would be forwarded to a lead generation engine such as HomeGain, which would then forward the lead to the appropriate real estate professional, such as a mortgage broker or real estate agent, Gorrell said. Specific details are still being worked out, he said.

Gorrell, an attorney who owns a Florida-based mortgage and real estate company, has considerable experience in Internet banking technology. In the 1990s, he designed the OnePipeline Automated Compliance Engine, a system that provided the legal framework for a national, Web-based third-party mortgage origination compliance system.

The Home Team CEO is optimistic about the prospects of the nascent lead-generation system. According to Gorrell, 40 to 45 percent of all mortgage transactions are first-time home buyers – Home Team’s primary audience. The company is launching a PR campaign to help drive first-time home buyers to the Home Team site.

“Currently, our revenue model is advertising,” he said. “Our typical sponsors are Ace Hardware, Home Depot, Bed, Bath and Beyond. But once we get the lead generation system in place,” Gorrell estimated that the system could eventually generate 60 to 80 percent of the company’s revenue. “The sky’s the limit.”


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