In October, mid-Atlantic regional multiple listing service MRIS announced a "Real Estate Innovation Contest" that sought new technologies and ideas to power the industry forward by improving the ability of real estate agents to serve their clients.
John Heithaus, an industry veteran who last year joined MRIS as chief marketing officer, has previously hinted about the arrival of real estate technologies that better match real estate consumers with agents and with homes.
Heithaus earlier told Inman News that he envisioned "real estate matching technologies — like an eHarmony for real estate," becoming more robust. "It’s only a matter of time."
Heithaus said last week that MRIS hopes to bring a matching platform — which is based on a "user metrics inference engine" technology that the MLS was introduced to via the innovation contest — to real estate consumers this year.
What’s a user metrics inference engine? Heithaus explained that it’s a bit like those matching technologies in use by such giants as Amazon, Netflix and Pandora.
"In this case we have on our server tools that monitor and track users’ performance, where they’re going, what they’re doing, which (properties) they save to Facebook," he said. "When we hand the lead (to the listing agent) it will come with a little portfolio about that user."
In November 2008, MRIS revealed a revamped public-facing real estate search site, HomesDatabase.com, that was intended to compete with other major real estate search portals.
The site is now leading in some important statistics, Heithaus said, namely return visits and average time on site: the typical visitor to the site in May returned about seven times and spent about six to seven minutes per visit, Heithaus said. HomesDatabase.com still has some catching up to do in total unique visitors, which lately has ranged from about 300,000 to 400,000, he noted.
The new tools, once implemented, will allow visitors to the HomesDatabase.com site to register to gain access to advanced tools, such as saving files in an online folder. Features at the site will eventually provide such interesting data to agents as what home features are most interesting to site visitors, Heithaus said, for example: "Every time they look at pictures (online), they (view) the kitchen — you can infer certain preferences from their clicking."
MRIS has launched a new photo upload tool for its members, called Media Connect, which features photo uploads that are faster than the Flickr.com photo-sharing site and allow agents to upload up to 30 photos. A text field allows agents to identify the rooms and other areas of the property that are identified in individual photos.
On July 1, MRIS plans to implement an improved property-sorting feature at HomesDatabase that can call out condos and townhouses, for example, or short-sale properties and foreclosure properties, he said. Also on July 1, MRIS plans to launch mobile-optimized versions of its website for mobile devices, including smartphones and iPads.
The next planned feature will be a lifestyle-search capability at HomesDatabase, Heithaus said, allowing prospective buyers to hone in on properties that fit their lifestyle.
The site’s "inference engine" matching technology is expected to go live in September or October, Heithaus said, and a collaboration center that will allow registered users and agents to drag and drop listings, photos and other information in a folder should be complete in fourth-quarter 2011 or first-quarter 2012, he said.
"The collaboration center will keep our customer at the center of the conversation and facilitate the homebuying process by gathering all these links," including news articles, listings and photos. Consumers can invite other people, such as family and friends, into the collaborative process, Heithaus said.
"It makes the buyer a whole lot smarter. It’s not just property-centric — it’s the whole ecosystem."
Digital transaction documents and digital signatures will be a part of this collaborative platform, he said. In March, MRIS announced that it had selected Instanet Solutions to provide e-signature services for its members.