SAN FRANCISCO — On Thursday morning, Mike Griffiths was zipping along under the influence of caffeine — a monstrous can of Monster Energy drink and a can of Red Bull energy drink stood beside his laptop as he typed code.
That capped off the "espresso or two this morning," he acknowledged, and "I don’t usually have coffee."
That wasn’t the only "java" that Griffiths, 22, was tapping into.
As senior programmer for a three-person team competing in a race to build a real estate Web application over a two-day period, he was already deep into a project involving Java programming language, PHP, Ajax, MySQL Administrator and other techie development tools that would assist in meeting a fast-approaching deadline.
Griffiths has worked for Real Estate Webmasters, a real estate technology company based in Nanaimo, Canada, in the province of British Columbia, since he was 19, and he’s a sort of "rock star" when it comes to programming, said Morgan Carey, company president and the head of the small team that entered the challenge.
"Now it’s crunch time," Griffiths proclaimed — the deadline for the challenge was midnight Thursday.
Dubbed "Connect Create," the first-ever developers’ competition during the Inman News Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco featured two teams that built two separate applications within a 48-hour period during the conference. The Real Estate Webmasters team actually completed their app in 36 hours.
Diverse Solutions, a real estate technology company based in Santa Margarita, Calif., also entered a team in the challenge. While there was extensive pre-planning to conceptualize the app, the rules provided that all of the coding had to be performed during the competition.
The Real Estate Webmasters team was building a simplified IDX site builder – IDX is an acronym for Internet Data Exchange, a broker-to-broker system for exchanging property information and displaying it online.
The application would allow individual agents or brokers to build and customize IDX sites on their own, with options to include interactive mapping, Zillow’s automated valuations, and details on neighborhood amenities via WalkScore.com and Onboard Informatics.
Carey hand-picked Griffiths and Philip Pond, the company’s creative director to do the "heavy lifting" for the project.
Pond, he said, is a "designer who can code" and Griffiths is a programmer who "understands design." …CONTINUED
The team occupied a conference room during the show, working in a row on their three PC laptops. Some conference attendees dropped in to check on progress and suggest add-ons for their new app.
The team had turned in at about 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, said Pond. A headphones-equipped Griffiths was bobbing his head to the Sly & The Family Stone tune "Dance to the Music" when a visitor popped in to check their progress that night.
That same night, the Diverse Solutions team had been fighting off exhaustion with Coke Zero, cupcakes and coffee. They worked through the night on Tuesday and didn’t get much sleep at all, save for the occasional accidental nod-offs, team members said.
Their experiment in software development and sleep deprivation had been going well, though Jennifer Orser, the team’s graphic designer, said she did mistake hand lotion for hair conditioner on Thursday morning.
Justin LaJoie, CEO for Diverse Solutions, brought a three-person team to compete, and they were creating an automated system for rating real estate professionals based on a range of multiple listing service data on past transactions.
Software engineers Jonathan Mabe and Andrew Mattie handled the coding for the project.
"We’re going into this knowing this will probably never see the light of day," LaJoie said — he was skeptical about whether real estate professionals and MLSs would embrace the use of transaction data in developing an algorithm to rate agents’ overall performance.
"We’re building this as an experiment in transparency, showing people what can be done."
The Diverse Solutions teams worked out of an offsite location – a suite at San Francisco’s Galleria Park Hotel.
Seated on plush green couches, Mabe and Mattie were feverishly coding on Wednesday evening. A Walgreens shopping cart was parked before them on the purple carpet – its contents included a 12-pack of Coke Zero and a bag of potato chips.
Mabe said there were definitely some rough patches during the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday. "We started asking, ‘When does Starbucks open?’ every half hour.
There were some very productive periods too, and Orser commented that there were hours-long stretches when the only sound in the suite was the music playing on the Pandora Internet radio station and the rattle of fingers on keyboards. …CONTINUED
This team worked exclusively on Apple laptops, though the software engineers were running them in PC mode.
Mabe said the group caught another wind on Wednesday when the team was introduced on stage during the Real Estate Connect conference, though Mattie was noncommittal on how much sleep they would get Wedneday night.
"We plan on some sleep. I don’t know how much or when," he said.
On Friday, it was the moment of truth for both teams.
They were invited back on stage to demonstrate their real estate apps before a crowd of onlookers in the Grand Ballroom of San Francisco’s Palace Hotel.
The Real Estate Webmasters team was first up.
Morgan explained that the IDX Builder tool would perhaps cost $10 to $20 per month if it was actually developed, and was intended to be affordable for those real estate professionals who could not shell out thousands of dollars for a more robust IDX solution. (Click here to view a demo of the tool.)
He demonstrated a social networking widget through which real estate professionals could log into Facebook or Twitter to syndicate their listings information there.
A team of judges, including representatives from Point2 Technologies, real estate consulting firm W&R Studios and the National Association of Realtors’ Second Century Ventures tech incubator, asked questions and commented on the apps presented.
The Diverse Solutions team was up next, and LaJoie explained the many variables that factored into the mix for the rating system of real estate professionals.
Among the variables: listing price vs. selling price, number of price changes, time on market, volume of sales, price-range of homes listed and sold, location of homes listed and sold, types of homes listed and sold, number of photos included for each listing, and number of open house, among others.
LaJoie explained that the Agent Scouting Report application (see a screenshot here) could be used by sellers seeking Realtors who were most successful at selling homes in a particular neighborhood area, for example, or within a specific price range.
"Wouldn’t it be great if there was some way to evaluate agents like sports stars are evaluated?" he said. The team developed a star-rating system, with five stars as the highest possible rating.
"Some of you guys are going to love to love it, some of you guys are going to hate it," LaJoie said.
Moderator Brian Boero asked the audience whether they thought there would be interest in releasing such an application, and many hands went up.
LaJoie stated in a Twitter post following the event, "Our app at … Connect was very well received. We weren’t sure how the industry would embrace it. Gambles do pay off."
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