Location-based mobile applications are not the future, but the present, Matt Galligan, CEO of SimpleGeo, told attendees at Real Estate Connect in San Francisco Thursday.

Location-aware apps have exploded in the past year. Social media, entertainment, shopping, and news businesses offer apps that take advantage of smart phones’ location-aware capabilities to better engage — or gain — customers. The real estate industry can also be part of this "location-based present," Galligan said.

"Location, location, location. You guys predicted (its importance) before any of us in the tech industry. Location is context — a way to better understand your customer and your customer to understand you," Galligan said.

SimpleGeo offers an infrastructure for people who want to develop location-aware apps quickly. The company gives developers — whether in-house or contracted out — the "back-end" building blocks for such an app so they don’t have to build it from scratch.

Galligan co-founded the company in 2009 and said he had no idea how much location-based apps would proliferate in a few short months.

"People are more comfortable with downloading apps," Galligan told Inman News. Real estate professionals have the opportunity of "creating a more engaging experience for the buyer. Mobile is something they carry around all the time. It’s more effective than a computer," he said.

Galligan recently bought a home in Boulder, Colo., where SimpleGeo is based. He said he did not feel welcome in real estate. He was presented with pages full of listings, none of which were targeted to him, and with advertisements like bus ads, both of which he equated to the threatening image of a shotgun.

For examples of friendlier bits of advertising, he spoke about location-aware apps like FourSquare, which he said had gained more than 2 million users in the past year. Users "check-in" to specific locations and can earn badges or become the "mayor" of a place they frequent often.

"It’s pretty popular. It’s a way to see where you friends are," Galligan said.

Real estate professionals can take advantage of that popularity by registering their business with Foursquare and offering specials to users, he added, such as prizes or discounts.

For real estate, this might mean offering a property showing, or local market data. In addition, brokerages can register their listings on the app and offer specials there, too. Gowalla offers a similar service, and Google Map tags also allow people to add specific deals right into the interface, Galligan said.

Burgeoning location-based group coupon sites like Groupon also offer marketing opportunities. Some apps, notably those in gaming, offer the opportunity for localized in-game ads, he added.

Location-aware apps can also offer ways of finding potential buyers, Galligan said. Twitter Search’s advanced search allows users to search tweets with a specific set of words, such as "looking for a house," and then narrowing the search by location, either "near this place" or within a particular distance.

Other location-aware apps may simply be helpful to clients interested in learning more about a neighborhood. Everyblock, for example, offers school reviews, crime data, and news; Yelp offers business reviews (including some reviews of real estate agents); and Topix offers hyperlocal news.

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