Editor’s note: Mapping has quickly become an essential part of real estate Web sites as map-based searching offers a more streamlined, interactive way of looking for homes. Brokers and agents are still sorting out how to incorporate maps into their Web sites and turn them into a lead-generating tool. In this three-part series, we go beyond the buzz to uncover what mapping can do for real estate business. (See Part 1 and Part 2.)
Mapping has become the next big step in enhancing the online real estate search experience for consumers. But it’s also a critical part of the real estate agent’s day out in the field, making mobile mapping a highly useful technology for industry practitioners.
Some new technology and partnership developments have married mobility and mapping functionality with the real estate industry. While these gadgets and wireless services seem to be a match made in real estate heaven, adoption overall is still slow when comparing the number of users to the number of licensed agents.
Mobile Crossing and Pocket Real Estate this month formed a partnership that will provide a GPS navigation system with added functionality specifically for real estate agents. And ESRI teamed up with Baynet in January to add optimized routing map functionality to Baynet’s wireless PocketMLS real estate service. Smarter Agent, which uses location-based technology to send consumers information about houses they are standing in front of, also has mapping functions.
Mobile Crossing, founded in 2004, is a privately funded Silicon Valley company that develops global positioning system (GPS) devices, which use satellite connectivity to detect where a person is located. Using Pocket Real Estate’s technology, Mobile Crossing’s new WayPoint Pocket Real Estate Edition combines turn-by-turn spoken directions with complete database access to the agent’s multiple listing service.
“It has all the basic and advanced GPS features you’d have on a navigation system,” said Calvin Chu, director of product management at Mobile Crossing. “But also for the real estate agent, if they have access to the MLS, they can take the listing or set of listings and copy them over into the device by hooking it up by USB… and on there it contains all the details of all the properties.”
The real estate edition includes built-in mortgage, loan, home equity, loan balance, rent-versus-own analysis and loan amortization calculators. A new quick search function can locate properties by MLS number or address, and price, location, bedrooms, bathrooms and other data from the MLS are provided on the screen.
Agents can use the device to queue up a number of properties at once and generate driving directions for a complete property tour. And they can use it to check market statistics and manage contact lists.
The WayPoint device also doubles as a Windows mobile PDA organizer, which users navigate using a stylus pen. Switching back and forth from a GPS navigation system to a PDA requires pressing just one button on the lower right side of the device, Chu said.
Agents can use it to check real-time weather and traffic. “That comes built in for one year,” Chu said. “Depending on the city you live in it will show traffic reports with a picture of all the highways that have sensors” to show blockage.
The WayPoint device for real estate is ready to ship, Chu said, and the company is trying to create partnerships with real estate boards and MLSs to offer it to members at a discounted price.
In the Baynet and ESRI partnership, real estate agents using the patented PocketMLS product can enter a list of properties they want to show and their portable device will then give them the best route, with turn-by-turn directions to get them from house to house. Agents can e-mail the directions directly to clients.
“(Agents) don’t have to enter the property address,” said Sanjeev Goel, vice president of operations at Cupertino, Calif.-based Baynet. “They just have to select which properties they want to show (from the MLS)” and PocketMLS will show the most optimized route.
“Agents used to spend about one hour making photocopies of maps, marketing everything and taking (buyers) around,” he said. “It’s all about time management for agents.”
The PocketMLS technology currently is available to more than 1,000 agents, according to Goel. The company has MLS partnerships in all of Northern California, Southern California, Indiana and Washington and soon will be adding Maryland and Virginia, he said.
In addition to new mapping functions, PocketMLS enables agents to search the local MLS for available listings right from their portable device. They can view up to 100 listings for each search and see multiple photos for properties. Other functions include saving searches, e-mailing listings to clients, and calculating mortgages.
The service works on any Palm OS/ compatible mobile PDA or PDA-phone combo, Blackberry or Pocket PC.
At Philadelphia-based Smarter Agent, which has three patents on its location-based wireless technology, the company also incorporates mapping into its mobile real estate capabilities.
With Smarter Agent, consumers can download the company’s wireless application right onto their cell phones and using location-based technology they can pull up data on homes while they are driving around the neighborhood or standing in front of the property. The technology automatically identifies where the user is located and connects them to nearby homes’ information without having to search the MLS to figure out which property it is.
“I don’t think people realize that with location-based service, they don’t have to do anything,” said Smarter Agent CEO Brad Blumberg. They only need to click on the Smarter Agent application on their phone, making searching for real estate a new mobile experience.
“Any property is like a digital billboard now,” Blumberg said.
The service also enables people to find out prices on recently sold homes in their location.
Blumberg believes the future is mobile and sees many possibilities for location-based technology outside of real estate. For instance, he said, this could be used by tourists to retrieve historical information on a city’s landmarks, among other things.
Smarter Agent has been banking on the future of mobile for some time. The company received patents in 2002 and built the first mobile location-based services real estate application in 2001. It has signed contracts with cell phone carriers and multiple carrier launches are expected this spring as the carriers themselves start launching location-based services, according to Blumberg.
“This is a launch year for us,” Blumberg said. Sprint/Nextel and Verizon have announced LBS navigation products availability in the last month and are anticipated to go live this spring.
While Smarter Agent has been waiting for the carriers to go live to spread adoption of LBS, Blumberg said that Smarter Agent beta testers actually bought two houses using the application in their home searches.
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