Power to the brokers.
It’s a simple philosophy that drives Visient Corp., a new real estate consulting and technology company based in Sarasota, Fla.
Ira Luntz, a 25-year industry veteran and former CEO of real estate technology company Threewide Corp., is CEO at Visient – a company that he describes as “broker-centric.”
Visient is focusing on Internet-based lead generation and listing management systems for real estate brokerages and multiple listings services. The company is building an automated property valuation system that combines MLS and public property records data and will allow its clients to offer detailed comparative market analysis reports. A consumer-focused Web portal is in the works, too, and is expected to launch this summer. The company’s customer relationship management system routes leads from several sources into a single management system.
Brokers’ main assets are property listings and customers, and brokers are “sick and tired” of third-party industry players standing in the way, Luntz said. Companies like LendingTree are charging “exorbitant fees” for leads that brokers should be generating on their own, he said. “The broker is doing all the work and paying huge fees. That’s got to stop.”
Visient aims to roll out a full suite of broker-focused technologies that will put brokers’ key business assets back in their own hands.
“This gives the brokers the ability to fight back against the interlopers – disintermediating the disintermediators. Unless something changes in the industry really quickly, unless brokers start taking control, the whole thing is going to blow up,” said Luntz, who was one of the founders of Clareity Consulting, a real estate consulting company.
The industry is at a crossroads now, he said, with the National Association of Realtors embroiled in an antitrust lawsuit with the federal government over the trade group’s online property listings policies. At the core of this lawsuit are issues of data control and ownership. The U.S. Department of Justice is charging that Realtors’ policies are too restrictive while the Realtor group counters that its policy provides for the public display of vast amounts of real estate information.
While it’s unclear how the issues in the lawsuit will play out, Luntz said it isn’t too early for brokers to decide their own destiny.
Visient is not anti-MLS – in fact the company offers products to MLSs and brokers alike. The company is giving brokers tools to build their own property listing systems, he said, apart from the traditional MLS systems, most of which are owned by local Realtor trade groups. “It’s a confusing time. There is still an MLS at the center which is a utility service,” he said, though brokers can also have their own peer-to-peer listing systems that feeds data into the MLS. Brokers could use these systems to decide how to supply listings to other Web sites, he said.
“I think MLSs right now are almost at a standstill, almost like a deer caught in headlights. Brokers are making demands, consumer portals are asking for data, people are scraping for data illegally. (MLSs) are overwhelmed. I think the time has really come for brokers to step it up and take control.” The money, Luntz added, is in the leads.
Visient’s broker-based listing systems provide data encryption and protection that adds security to consumers’ personal information that brokers are increasingly collecting as they expand into other business areas such as mortgage applications and credit reports, Luntz said.
Through an exclusive five-year agreement with another company, Visient has access to data from 220 MLSs across the country, Luntz said, adding that he cannot name this vendor for contractual reasons. That huge data resource will supply the company with plenty of information for its valuation and market analysis tools, which he said could be “better than Zillow,” an Internet venture by Expedia’s founder that offers free home valuations.
Visient’s broker users can offer the Visient valuation engine on their Web sites and drum up leads by requiring consumers to register, he said. Visient’s tools will allow brokers to monitor lead sources, assign leads to offices, track follow-through on leads, and measure the effectiveness of various lead sources, Luntz said. The company could also potentially assist a group of brokers operating in a local market to establish a large regional portal to capture more Web traffic and generate leads for all of the participating brokers.
The national real estate market is in transition, and brokers may be tightening their belts and looking for more competitive advantages as the market slows, Luntz said.
Among Visient’s product offerings is Broker Xpress and Agent Xpress, which offer lead capture, tracking and management technologies, map-based property searches, data integration with various MLS data exchange standards, and printable property brochures, among other tools. Another offering, X-Tend, offers a range of tools for MLSs and brokers, including message boards, custom virtual tours, wireless access, news calendar, report designer, access to public records, custom agent and office Web sites, and mapping tools.
The company’s first customers include Prudential Palms Realty of Sarasota, Fla., and Prudential Preferred Realty of Pittsburgh, Pa. Prudential Palms worked with Visient to consolidate data from several MLS systems into a consumer portal. In addition to serving real estate brokers and MLSs, Visient also targets the mortgage and insurance industries.
Luntz said he has not lost sight of a decades-old dream he has held for the real estate industry. “People know me as the ‘MLS guy.’ My dream is to have a national MLS owned and operated by the brokers and I haven’t given up yet.”
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