By RYAN BASEN
Robin Greenbaum was talking with a friend last year about an idea for a new business.
She had a vision to build a real estate version of Facebook, she recalled. Not convinced that would work, the New York City Realtor hatched another idea. "My ‘ah-ha’ moment was, ‘I don’t need Facebook. I can build the Twitter of real estate.’ "
Greenbaum is planning to launch CobrokeNation.com this month (the Web site is currently inactive). She hopes for the site to serve as a social networking center for Realtors, replete with Twitter-like data feeds about what properties they are showing, and property listings.
The slogan: "If Twitter asks the question, ‘What are you doing now?’ Cobroke Nation asks the question, ‘What are you showing now?’ "
Greenbaum plans to generate revenue by charging to list properties, and she hopes to grow the service to serve an international audience.
Some real estate professionals question whether that business model can gain traction, as there are many free options for displaying property information online.
Brokers, service providers (contractors, painters, etc.) and guests will be able to register on the site. Guests may search through a directory of Realtors and subscribe to a Realtor’s Cobroke Nation page to keep up with the Realtor. They may also create a profile, search through listings, and request an appointment for a showing with a Realtor.
Service providers have the same site capabilities, and also may sign up to be listed in the directory and have Realtors subscribe to their pages.
Brokers have the same capabilities as service providers. In addition, they may book showings, create property listings, post updates for their subscribers about what properties they plan to show and have shown, and invite other brokers to join the site.
A broker’s profile will feature a photo, contact information and brief biographical info. Users may also view which properties the broker has shown and plans on showing, and the broker’s scheduled open houses and other events.
Property listings will feature photos and the usual details, and be linked to their locations on Google Maps.
Greenbaum, 30, grew up in suburban New York as the tech-savvy daughter of an engineer. She learned to type at 14 to keep up in online chat rooms. She started her real estate career with a summer internship in New York before her senior year at Boston University, and has worked for the past decade in Manhattan. She is now with Prudential Douglas Elliman, specializing in West Side real estate.
Greenbaum was an early adopter of Twitter, the 3-year-old site that lets users post brief announcements for other users to view via a text message or the Web.
"If you ask a real estate agent, ‘What are you doing now?’ that question can be very valuable," she says. "It enables brokers to more efficiently manage time if you know where other brokers are at. If you have a last-minute appointment, you can look online and see if someone else is positioned to sell the (place)." …CONTINUED
Greenbaum says she plans to roll out the site nationally later this month, relying on her connections with New York Realtors to jumpstart it. She will charge between $1 to $15 per listing. She hopes to later add an iPhone application and launch a sister site aimed at consumers.
She is funding the Cobroke Nation launch and running the company on the side from her Manhattan apartment. In the long term she hopes to make it her primary vocation. Some agents wonder if that’s viable, though.
"I can put (listings) on Craigslist for nothing. I can syndicate to the world for nothing," says Kris Berg, owner of San Diego Castles Realty.
"I’m not going to say if it took off I wouldn’t be interested, but right now is a very dangerous time to be rolling out something that has a fee attached to it," Berg says. "I have got so many opportunities to spend my money right now and we as agents have such vast exposure for our listings — exposure we don’t have to pay for. It doesn’t sound like something I would immediately be drawn to."
Meanwhile, Addy Saeed, a Toronto Realtor with Re/Max Active Realty, says Cobroke Nation could succeed. "It’s one more place where listings can get exposure and help sellers sell a property," he says. "Any exposure we can provide to our clients, it’s a good investment."
But, Saeed adds, the site must generate a lot of clients to work. "This is a business, as well as a service industry," he says.
Greenbaum contends Cobroke Nation is unique enough to find a valuable niche. She says the site could help brokers work together to sell properties, much like agents at the same large firm.
"Access to properties — that is, I think, one of the most valuable pieces of information," she says. "That’s what we offer … It’s the bottom line: Can you get me in?"
Ryan Basen is a freelance writer in Charlotte, N.C.
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