WASHINGTON — As consumers flock to download iPhone apps for real estate from big names in search, like Realtor.com, Zillow and Trulia, brokerages are eager to get in on the action, too, executives at a Colorado-based software developer say.
With the Apple iTunes store supporting keyword searches, brokerages want to establish a strong presence there so they’ll turn up high in the search results, said Alex Levy, president and CEO of Hillside Software.
While many brokerages are focused on their rankings on search engines like Google, Levy says they now also have to woo the iPhone user who gets up on a Sunday morning and searches for a real estate app.
"It’s like Google — the guys who get on first will turn up on the first page" in searches of the iTunes store, Levy said, manning his company’s booth at the National Association of Realtors Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo.
Hillside will build branded iPhone apps for real estate brokerages, multiple listings services and Realtor associations. Clients so far include two large Colorado brokerages, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage of Colorado and RE/MAX Professionals, and on Thursday the company signed up Northeast powerhouse Long & Foster Cos., Levy said.
Of course, it’s not enough to just be first — an iPhone application needs to provide the tools that consumers find useful, like map-based search and the ability to organize photos, video and notes they’ve taken about homes they’ve visited.
Hillside Software’s iPhone application, BestHome4Me, has those capabilities, and also allows agents to monitor their clients’ activities, Levy said. Agents can see the notes, photos and video their clients collect in the home-search process, allowing them to play an interactive role in the search process.
BestHome4Me also runs on the iPad, and integrates with Hillside Software’s lead management software. The company reports that it’s willing to partner with others, such as Delta Media Group, on third-party application programming interfaces (APIs) that can link the app into their preferred customer management application (CMA), Levy said.
Based in Greenwood Village, Hillside Software has been providing software for the real estate industry for more than 15 years. Levy said he’d been planning to retire when, caught in a rainstorm with his wife on vacation in Italy, he used his iPhone to find his way back to their hotel.
The iPhone’s potential as a platform for a real estate application was suddenly obvious to him. With years of experience in software development under his belt, Levy said he thought he could probably have an iPhone app ready to go within a month. It took a year to put together an app he was satisfied with.
In the end, having a deep application turned out to be more important than being first, he said.
"There were a lot of people who rushed out (iPhone apps) and didn’t get it right," said Josh Simpson, Hillside Software’s director of marketing and training.
Some iPhone app developers lacked knowledge about the real estate industry and the needs of consumers and real estate professionals, Levy said.
The BestHome4Me iPhone app is priced at $10 a month for individual agents, and Levy said some app users have purchased other products the company offers to manage leads and contacts.
App-ranking site TopAppCharts.com does not currently list a numeric ranking for the app, which the site states was ranked as high as 55th in the "Business" category for iPhone apps — the site has offered app rankings dating back to Aug. 1, 2009.
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