Looking for homes can be a pressing matter — especially when you’re using a touch-screen.
TableTouch Inc., a San Francisco company, offers a technology that allows consumers to literally window-shop for homes on the Web by touching a window at a real estate office.
The company’s technology features a computer display screen that is mounted against an office’s window glass. A weak electrical charge allows the monitor to sense and react to the touch of the window just like the click of a mouse on a Web link — similar to ATM machines that allow users to press a display screen rather than physical buttons.
Several real estate offices are using the technology, dubbed the StoreFront Browser Monitor. The cost of a 19-inch monitor is about $6,000 and a 23-inch version costs about $7,000, plus additional costs for accessories, usage reports and other options.
The screens can be used to search a company’s for-sale property inventory and multiple listing service-listed properties. Consumers can access detailed information about properties and view virtual tours. The display screens must be customized for the touch-based technology, which does not allow scrolling that is standard to Web browsers.
“People are curious and go and take a peek at it,” said Chris Massetani, director of marketing for Cashin Co., a brokerage company with eight offices and 400 agents in the San Francisco Peninsula area. Her company installed a single window-touch screen at an office in a Portola Valley shopping center and is considering whether to install a screen at another office in downtown Burlingame.
The screen has led to some new business, Massetani said, adding that the device might be most effective in a high-traffic area that draws tourists.
“It really needs to be somewhere where there is foot traffic and changing foot traffic,” she said.
Jim Humphrey, vice president of business development for TableTouch, said real estate companies can craft their own privacy policies for how the phone numbers are used. Massetani said some users of the touch-screen system may be “a little reluctant” to enter their cell phone numbers.
TableTouch passes along leads to its clients who use the screens, and the company also provides detailed reports of user statistics. Humphrey said real estate companies may consider renting window space in a high-traffic area to install a screen and create a virtual office that is open 24 hours a day.
Randall Kostick, general manager for San Francisco-based Zephyr Real Estate, was impressed enough by the TableTouch technology to personally invest in the company. Zephyr installed a screen in its Noe Valley neighborhood office in San Francisco.
“It is probably the most street-friendly office that we have,” he said, and generates an average of one inquiry a day in which a user enters a cell phone number to request information.
The company’s Webmaster customized the Web site to work on the touch-screen display, Kostick said. The display works best on north-facing windows, he said, as direct sunlight can obstruct the visibility of the screen. “The screen really stands out in the evening,” he said. “It lights up like a Christmas tree.”
Humphrey said TableTouch is developing a tool that allows window-screen users to enter their e-mail addresses to receive property information. The gloves must come off when using the device — the technology requires the touch of a bare finger to work properly.
Another company, Massachusetts-based LocaModa, offers another interactive real estate window-shopping technology that allows consumers to control the screen display and search through properties using a cell phone. This StreetSurfer technology allows users to view detailed information on selected properties and to press “0” to leave a phone message for the broker.
TableTouch is offering technology products and services for other industries — its Web site provides examples of a video store touch-screen solution that allows consumers to view store information and movie trailers, and the company is pursuing other applications for retail shops and property-management companies.
The company has a patent pending on its TAP Table, a $4,500 unit that features a Web-connected touch-screen embedded in a table. TableTouch is building several of these units that will feature real-time news from the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper’s online SFGate.com site, and the tables will be located in Tully’s Coffee shops, he said. The tables are equipped with wireless Internet and are Bluetooth-enabled, allowing users of mobile devices to hear audio as they are viewing an online video, for example.
“Our thrust right now is the real estate industry and the media industry,” Humphrey said.