From vacation rentals to Roost.com, Alex Chang has been a technology trailblazer for the real estate industry.
Prior to launching Roost, a home-search portal forged from partnerships with more than 100 U.S. brokerages across the U.S., in 2008, Chang led technology and operations for Total Move Inc., a service that guides homebuyers through the moving and real estate process; oversaw consumer-service business units for Walmart.com; and in 1997 co-founded an online vacation rental site that later merged with another company and was acquired by Expedia in 2000.
Chang, chief executive officer and co-founder for Roost, is speaking at the Inman Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7, 2009.
A self-described "recovering golf addict," "amateur real estate investor" and "home-browsing enthusiast" who holds a master’s degree in business administration from the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley, Chang responded to a set of questions posed by Inman News:
What do you see happening in the real estate market in 2009?
I think it will get tougher before it gets better. My concern is that the residential market could be in for more pain as other problems cascade — specifically some of the risks associated with the commercial mortgage market and jobs. That said, it’s dangerous to overgeneralize. Some markets are going to see appreciation, but overall I don’t think we’re going to feel like the market recovered when New Year’s Eve rolls around.
What advice do you have to help real estate agents and brokers get through this market?
You’re going to have to get creative to find customers who can and will do a deal this year. Find a sweet spot and work it. This is a market where you need to hone your message to a specific set of folks who are able to transact right now: first-time buyers; people who have been sitting on the sidelines and have cash; etc. Work your existing client base. Who in your file has been in their house for a bit, has equity and might be debating trading up? Obvious stuff, but easier said than done.
What sparked the idea to start your company?
We felt that consumers deserved a better way to search for homes via great customer experience AND great data they can trust. One without the other doesn’t cut it. And meanwhile, the industry clearly needs more accountable and leveraged marketing platforms. Finally, we recognized that the multiple listing service plays a key role in ensuring quality and accuracy of data, and we wanted to complement and honor that. Voila Roost.
What’s been your biggest challenge in running the business?
Trying to stay focused and not chasing too many rabbits at once.
What new features are in the pipeline?
Too many to comment on.
Can you share any future plans, goals?
Our plans are simple: A) Grow the Roost network from the 50 markets we’re in now to nationwide; B) Have our IDX (Internet Data Exchange, a data-exchange medium for property information) sites become the highest return-on-investment marketing channel for our broker and agent clients; and C) Offer the consumer a search experience for homes for sale that cannot be equaled. …CONTINUED
What lesson did you learn in the last year?
What would your second career choice be and why?
Software engineer. As great as our development team is, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t find myself wishing I could tinker under the hood. Our chief technology officer is obviously thrilled this isn’t the case.
What is the biggest problem in the real estate market today, and how would you fix it?
I think the biggest problem is actually a mix of factors that are interrelated and exacerbate each other.
Take a large dash of bank-owned (REO) inventory putting downward pressure on prices, combine it with a big pinch of households whose balance sheets have significantly decreased in value, and throw in a huge splash of difficult access to capital even for qualified buyers — and you have a nasty stew for residential real estate. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to top it off with some shaky consumer confidence.
My suggested fix? Ride it out. Ultimately you have to have down cycles in order to have up ones. There’s probably as much "first, do no harm" risk as anything else in more quick-fix attempts.
What do you most enjoy about working in the real estate industry?
I get really excited about trying to help folks find their perfect home and at the same time make a smart investment. This is the biggest purchase most of us will make in our lives — so it’s very satisfying to try to help people with that.
Tell us something we don’t already know about you …
The other 100 percent of my time is spent chasing after my 2 1/2-year-old son, Cooper, and keeping my 7-month-old daughter, Cayley, from eating pennies. Surprisingly, neither of them seems overly concerned with the current state of the real estate market.
Hear Alex Chang speak in a panel presentation, "Online Ad-Spend Triage: Where — or if — to spend your money online," at the Internet Marketing Summit during the Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7, 2009.
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