Data aggregator ForeclosureRadar on Tuesday made available a widget that allows real estate brokers and agents to provide information on foreclosed and bank-owned properties through their Web sites — and keep the leads the search tool generates for themselves.

Data aggregator ForeclosureRadar on Tuesday made available a widget that allows real estate brokers and agents to provide information on foreclosed and bank-owned properties through their Web sites — and keep the leads the search tool generates for themselves.

The search tool is currently available only for California, where ForeclosureRadar collects information on foreclosed properties. But the company expects to roll out its Foreclosure Listing Exchange (FLX) platform in other markets by the end of the year.

Unlike foreclosure sites aimed directly at bargain-hunting consumers, ForeclosureRadar has positioned its FLX platform as a tool for consumers to use in conjunction with a real estate agent or broker, rather than on their own.

"The big issue that we see is the buyers in the market right now want a bargain on a property, and they believe that foreclosures are bargains," said ForeclosureRadar’s founder and president, Sean O’Toole. "But they don’t think a Realtor can help them find them bargains."

That’s because distressed properties may not show up in the local MLS until after they have been seized by the bank. Foreclosed properties may never show up as listings at all if they are auctioned off on the courthouse steps.

As a result, many bargain-hunting buyers are going to foreclosure data aggregators like RealtyTrac to buy access to records on homes that have entered the foreclosure process.

"We think that’s a disaster for the consumer, and a disaster for the Realtor," O’Toole said, because buying distressed properties is a complicated undertaking that’s fraught with risk. “If there’s a transaction a consumer should get professional help with, this is at the top of the list."

O’Toole says that by helping consumers find distressed properties through Realtors’ Web sites — and then compare the properties they find to others on the market — ForeclosureRadar is out to "change the perception forever (and demonstrate) that Realtors can help you find a bargain on real estate, including foreclosures."

Once a buyer comes through the door, they may learn that there are better deals on properties listed in the MLS.

"If you capitalize on that inquiry, and then help them find the right property and use foreclosure data to show them it’s a bargain, you’ve gotten a buyer off the fence without having anything to do with foreclosures," O’Toole said.

ForeclosureRadar collects information on properties from the time they enter the foreclosure process until they are auctioned off or become bank-owned. That information is also helpful in helping sellers come up with realistic valuations, said John Melo, chief executive officer of California-based real estate brokerage Century 21 M&M Associates.

"We need to be able to say, OK, in your neighborhood, there have been five foreclosures, and two have been auctioned and three have gone back to the bank — it’s a pricing tool," Melo said.

Century 21 M&M installed ForeclosureRadar’s FLX platform widget as part of a beta test on March 1. Since then, it’s generated nearly 200 leads from investors and home buyers, Melo said.

With offices in Stockton, Modesto, and other cities in California’s Central and San Joaquin valleys, Century 21 M&M Associates is located in "the foreclosure capital of the world," Melo said. More than 70 percent of pending sales in the MLS in the markets the company serves are bank-owned properties, he said.

Because the homes that generate leads from ForeclosureRadar may not be listed in the MLS, Melo said one key to handling them is making sure they go to agents who are trained to handle foreclosures, short sales and bank-owned properties. Century 21 M&M routes all of its ForeclosureRadar leads to a team of 20 to 25 agents companywide Melo said, to make sure they are serviced properly.

The leads are handled by a lead routing application offered by Realogy, which turns e-mails into phone calls that are pushed out to a team of Century 21 M&M agents who specialize in bank-owned properties and foreclosures. Within minutes of a potential buyer submitting their information through the ForeclosureRadar widget, they are getting callbacks from Century 21 M&M agents, Melo said.

ForeclosureRadar offers agents access to its foreclosure database and analyses tools for $49.95 a month. The search tool widget can be added for an additional $20. Installing the search tool requires no more than copying and pasting supplied code.

Pricing for broker and company bundled services including customized, fully-branded, foreclosure search for company Web sites depend on the size of the company and Web site traffic.

Either way, the leads generated by the search tool widget go directly to agents, brokers or their company.

For now, ForeclosureRadar’s services are limited to California. O’Toole said the rapid growth in foreclosures — and the amount of work required to track them through every stage of the process — delayed the company’s plans to expand outside of the state, which he now expects will take place this year.

Although RealtyTrac did not respond to calls for comment, the company’s Web site promises access to 1.3 million property listings nationwide and says agents who join the company’s agent network can buy "exclusive leads" when they pay to reserve territories.

RealtyTrac promises partners that their Web sites will become "an active portal for consumers interested in foreclosure information — an extremely hot topic that everyone is talking about."

Another aggregator of foreclosure data, Foreclosure.com, promises "the best … leads for real estate agents" generated by "5 million motivated buyers who search our Web site each month."

For $20 per ZIP code, Foreclosure.com allows real estate agents to post a "vCard" — a clickable advertisement with the agent’s contact information — that is displayed with search results.

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