Zolve, a real estate social network that launches today, allows real estate professionals to network, blog, assign ratings, and create and accept digital contracts for a range of real estate transaction services.
The site was created by Brian Wilson, a Colorado Springs, Colo., real estate broker since 2001.
Zolve joins a lengthy list of active and soon-to-be-launched real estate networking Web sites, which includes ActiveRain, BeatYouThere, Listolia, RealtorClix, Trulia Voices and Zillow Home Q&A, among others.
Wilson said his idea for Zolve took shape during his 17-month military deployment in Iraq that began in January 2006.
“While I was over there somebody invited me to join LinkedIn,” Wilson said. LinkedIn is an online business networking site that is not industry-specific. He said the landscape in those days was still fairly barren for real estate-focused networking sites.
“I was thinking it would be really neat to build a transaction-based platform for real estate professionals,” he said. He connected with a company based in India to perform programming and help him realize his vision. He interacted with the company via an online chat service, and the development spanned about 10 months.
After missions in Iraq that lasted six or seven hours, Wilson said he would return to work on the new Web site. “A lot of guys would watch movies — I would spend six to seven hours just looking at (existing) sites. I think I’ve seen every site out there on a national level.”
Wilson’s goal has been to create a site for professionals rather than consumers, he said — Zolve is open to a full spectrum of real estate professionals.
While social networking sites may help to forge relationships, Wilson said that Zolve goes a step further in facilitating actual online contracts for real estate services among the members of the community. A series of pull-down menus allow members to specify the services they are seeking or offering, and to establish a level of compensation.
“It is really structured to help real estate professionals find other great real estate professionals so they can share business with other real estate professionals,” he said.
The site is subscription-based, and the cost to join is $395 and there is a 30-day free trial offer. If subscribers don’t want to pay $395 upfront, they can choose to pay $40 a month by committing to subscribe for a one-year period.
“We’re building the mall and the agents are the shopkeepers,” Wilson said. “We just charge them an annual rent.”
Zolve also collects a fee, dubbed a transaction facilitation fee, for members’ business agreements on the platform — the fee is $95 for closed real estate or mortgage lending referrals and $19 for business deals with real estate service providers.
“The purpose is to safeguard and validate the feedback system by ensuring that money changes hands every time feedback is earned. The fees are in place to prevent members from colluding and sending fake referrals to each other in order to generate fake feedback ratings,” Wilson said.
Zolve users’ Web-based contracts for business have a “digital paper trail,” Wilson said, so that disputes can be resolved by examining the related documents. When users sign up to join Zolve they agree to accept the site’s electronic contracts as binding, he said. Both sides of a Zolve contract agreement must be members of Zolve in order to participate in those online agreements, Wilson said.
Real estate professionals can enter a profile and keep track of referrals, feedback, blog posts, invitations they have sent for others to join the network, and other communications via a color-coded menu page that lists messages chronologically. Users can view members of their professional network, called their sphere of influence, as points on a map.
Zolve features an eBay-like rating system for transactional services performed by its users. The ratings system allows users to enter detailed comments explaining their ratings. Wilson said he is a “purest” on ratings.
While some sites allow an appeal process for members to protest feedback, Wilson said, “I don’t want to sanitize (ratings and commentary), otherwise it loses its validity. You’ve got to keep it pure and valid so agents can trust it. Everyone will get a difficult case — it will all average out over time.”