Chris Freeman, chief technology officer for real estate tech company WolfNet Technologies, has worked with the company for more than a decade and saw it grow "from two guys in a basement with three clients" to a company that now serves about 40,000 clients.
He oversees programming, database and systems administration. He enjoys two kinds of golfing — the flying disk and original small-ball version — and also enjoys hiking, camping, skiing, rock-climbing and traveling.
Freeman will discuss multiple listing service issues during a session at the upcoming Inman News Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7, 2009.
He responded to a set of questions posed by Inman News:
What do you see happening in the real estate market in 2009?
The statistics show a slow drift towards a more balanced market in most places. Closed and pending sales are up over last year in many markets, including my home area of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. However, prices are lower, mostly by double-digit percentages. So, after a very seller-oriented market of a few years ago, followed by a buyer’s market last year, the pendulum is swinging towards the middle once more.
What advice do you have to help real estate agents and brokers get through this market?
If you are an agent or broker and have made it this far, you must be doing a number of things well already. My advice is to use technology to its fullest potential. Too often, I have seen Realtors make a technology purchase only to have it sit around gathering dust. A Web site or IDX (Internet Data Exchange, a system for brokers to share property data with other brokers online) solution does nothing on its own. It’s like a stack of brochures: They do no good unless you get them out in front of your clients. If you’ve got great tools, promote them and use them.
What made you join your current company?
I joined WolfNet over a decade ago because of a friendship with our chief executive officer, Joel MacIntosh. He is someone I have always trusted, and after knowing him personally and professionally for many years now, he is still my first choice to be in business with. When I came to the company he said, "Hop on the bus. Not exactly sure where we are going, but I am sure it will be a great ride."
The ride had its bumps the first couple years, but it has been a wonderful ride ever since — and we went from two guys in a basement with three clients, to about 40 people on staff, and more than 40,000 clients. Plus we have a much better map of where the bus is going now, even if we take the occasional detour.
What’s been your biggest challenge in running the business?
Our largest challenge is to stay innovative in a way that directly helps our clients with their business. It is easy to create bells and whistles with technology, but true time-savers and applications that make our clients more productive and profitable take a lot of brain grease to bring to fruition. There is no resting on your laurels in this industry, and that keeps it fresh, exciting and always interesting.
Can you share any future plans, goals?
We are working on a lot of "under the hood" changes, which will make our products more flexible and even easier to update and maintain. Technology developers are inherently lazy, so we program everything so it is as easy to work with as possible. When new and better methods become available, we work hard to take the best advantage of them. The more we can make it possible for our clients to do what they want themselves, or to have our customer service department do what clients want and need, while they are on the phone with a client — the more it frees up our developers to create and innovate.
We are also working directly with more and more MLSs, doing things such as data-sharing through RETS (Real Estate Transaction Standard, a data standard for exchanging real estate information) when multiple MLSs allow combined data, as well as public IDX search solutions for MLSs that distribute leads equitably to all of their participating members. …CONTINUED
We have always had great relationships with the MLSs we work with and it is wonderful to interact more directly with them to provide solutions for them and their members.
What lesson did you learn in the last year?
That even the best so-called "experts" can be very wrong. Even though now most people say they saw the economic and real estate market downturn coming, 99 percent of them are citing revisionist history. I go to a lot of the industry conferences and most people were initially predicting a much softer landing.
Experts ranging from Ben Bernanke to Alan Greenspan to Warren Buffet all ate a big helping of crow over the last couple years and they are in good company. Being humbled at times is a wonderful reminder of how little we know about some things.
What would your second career choice be and why?
If there were any money in it, I’d be an alpine ski guide. There isn’t much that is better than playing with gravity in deep mountain powder, fresh mountain air and rugged scenery as far as one can see.
What is the biggest problem in the real estate market today, and how would you fix it?
Financing and the related backlog of foreclosure-related or otherwise distressed homes are what I see as the biggest issues today. Some banks were obviously too loose with their lending and now some have swung the pendulum too far the other way. I have seen people with stellar credit ratings and more than the 20 percent down payment have to jump through some amazing hoops for a standard home loan. If you develop a fear of betting, stop betting the long odds but do not stop betting on a sure thing.
The distressed properties are a very real problem and are difficult to deal with. Some banks appear to be using the De Beers Diamonds approach of not flooding the market with all of their inventory at once. Rather, they are using supply-and-demand economics 101 and trickling foreclosed listings in slowly so prices do not drop too precipitously.
This is great in theory, but the reality is there are a lot of banks holding onto a lot of listings and this still has created a large price drag and will simply have to run its course before prices even out.
What do you most enjoy about working in the real estate industry?
The people. There are so many dynamic personalities in this industry, and it always keeps it interesting and exciting. Real estate attracts a lot of type "A," entrepreneurial men and women who are flowing with ideas. Grabbing those ideas out of the air and pulling them down to where the rubber meets the road is where I find a lot of enjoyment and fulfillment.
Working in the real estate industry has always felt right. It is great to come home at the end of the day, knowing you are helping people find what is likely their largest investment and the place they call home.
Tell us something we don’t already know about you …
I’ve already spilled the beans about skiing, but I’m also an avid rock climber and motorcycle rider. Hopefully those things somewhat balance out being such a geek!
Hear Chris Freeman speak during the "MLS Hell: Coping with Data Normalization in an Abnormal Industry" panel session at the Connect Tech workshop during the Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7, 2009.
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