I decided to call Daniel Burrus, entrepreneur and technology forecaster, because I saw that he was going international with his suite of iPhone and iPad apps, which includes Complete Homes and Complete Rentals. However, once I got him on the phone, we spent a lot more time discussing how he transformed his company’s apps business into a marketing tool for Realtors.
Burrus is one of those fascinating people who attempt to stay five steps ahead of the market. His company, Burrus Research, seeks out global innovations in all areas of technology, and, as he told me, "I developed a model 26 years ago for predicting technology change, and I’ve been extremely accurate."
He founded five other companies, including Visionary Apps LLC, which creates smartphone and tablet tools.
"I didn’t start out thinking real estate," he said. "When I looked at where things were going, there were few business apps. I came up with 100 apps I wanted to create: things such as supply chain and logistics apps. But the first apps I decided to create were for real estate because I found there were 120 million searches a month for foreclosed homes and there were no foreclosure apps." His solution: the Complete Foreclosures app.
At the same time, Burrus took a look at homebuying apps and saw plenty by local companies advertising local properties, but nothing national. The same was true for rentals. So, instead of launching one product, Visionary Apps unveiled three simultaneously, at the beginning of 2010.
"When we launched our three apps, within the first week we were ranked as the 17th most downloaded app," he said. "We were also rated No. 6 out of all business apps. We stayed between six and 10 for about a year."
Recently, Visionary Apps announced it has gone global, with its suite of services available in Australia, Canada and United Kingdom. In the United States, the apps are free, but overseas there are slight charges. It’s the compensation issue that made Burrus think about doing something for Realtors.
"When I started this in 2009, there was no way to make recurring revenue on any app," Burrus said. "In other words, either an app was free and it was a form of marketing or people would buy it, but once they downloaded it that was the end of compensation. I wanted recurring revenue and I wanted to create a brand. I had a different strategy."
What Burrus decided to do was morph the existing app into a marketing tool for Realtors.
The concept was simple: it would "sell" ZIP codes to real estate agents — one agent per ZIP code. "When someone is looking for a specific property they get the usual information plus the listing of just one agent," said Burrus. The cost is $24.99 a month.
This has proved enticing. "Many of the ZIP codes were purchased," Burrus said. "The most any Realtor has purchased is 50. Many have purchased 20 to 30. The least amount purchased was three."
It seemed a good idea for Visionary Apps, because if it sold all the U.S. ZIP codes the company would receive recurring revenue of more than $1 million a month. The question: Is it also good for Realtors?
I checked in with two real estate agents.
Kathleen Droste, a real estate sales associate for Otis & Ahearn in Boston, listened to a presentation about Complete Homes and thought it might be a way to separate her from the pack.
"I bought an iPad and use this with my listing appointments. It blows clients away," Droste said.
More importantly, a buyer standing on a Boston street corner can open the appropriate app on the iPhone and can see a particular property, along with Droste’s picture, cell phone number, website and bio.
Droste bought six of what she said are the best ZIP codes in Boston. And how did she do?
"Even in Boston, which was very strong during the down economic times, I increased my business 7 percent using this tool," she said. How can she know if her business increased solely because of Complete Homes? The answer: All lead responses are filtered through Complete Homes and are identified as such.
In the Midwest, I also checked in with Jeremy J. Hausmann at The Real Estate Co. Lake & Country in Oconomowoc, Wis.
"I heard about it by word of mouth and by going to Complete Homes and using it," Hausmann said. "I decided to do it because I have a very focused area that consists of just three ZIP codes. The thought of not just marketing my own properties, but every property within the ZIP codes, was attractive."
Hausmann works the lake country about 30 miles west of Milwaukee, which is mostly primary residences with some second-home buyers coming out of Chicago.
"I’ve been using it a year and it has been real effective," he said, although, unlike Boston’s Droste, he hasn’t calculated just how effective.
"The Complete Homes app is useful, because if you are driving around and see a home for sale, you can just hit the app and get all the data. You don’t have to get out of your car and run to get a data sheet out of the mailbox," Hausmann said. And that’s important, especially in the Wisconsin winter. Who wants to get out of a warm car to find a data sheet in the freezing rain?
"The Complete Homes app allows buyers to find a particular house, get all the data, and at the same time it is my contact information they are reviewing," Hausmann said.