Real estate agents and the brokers, franchisors and vendors that provide services to them are using increasingly sophisticated — yet seemingly low-key — marketing techniques on social media channels.
But there’s nothing low-key about the technology they’re using on the back end to generate and manage leads all the way through the closing process.
Finalists for the 2012 Inman News Innovator Awards have developed tools and services that improve the real estate transaction process and experience for consumers and industry professionals.
This year’s award categories include:
- Most Innovative New Technology
- Most Innovative Brokerage or Franchise
- Most Innovative Real Estate Website or Web Service
- Most Innovative MLS or Real Estate Trade Association
- Most Innovative Real Estate Startup
- Most Innovative Mobile App
- Most Innovative Real Estate Social Site or Social Service or Blog
Following a nominations process, an Inman News review team considered the full list of nominees and selected the list of finalists below. Finalists include nominees as well as other candidates selected by the Inman News review team.
Winners chosen from the list of finalists will be announced Thursday, Aug. 2, during the Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 1-3.
An additional annual award, the Innovator of the Year Award, recognizes an individual who embodies the spirit of real estate innovation. This award, which is not open to nominations, will be announced Thursday, along with the People’s Choice Innovator Award, an annual award that is based on a popular vote of Inman News readers.
Most innovative new technology (2012 finalists)
Cartavi, which provides cloud-based real estate document management, this year implemented full integration with e-signature provider DocuSign, allowing subscribers of the two services to access both via a single sign-in process.
DotLoop NOW is a "light" version of DotLoop’s paperless transaction management platform available at no charge to individual agents — particularly those who may be with a broker that doesn’t provide such technology.
ESignDashboard iPad app, GoPaperless Solutions Inc.
GoPaperless Solutions Inc. this year released its cloud-centric eSignDashboard iPad app for document management with electronic signature, annotation, sharing and syncing capabilities. Agents can synchronize updates of electronic documents across multiple devices including computers, tablets and smartphones.
Homes.com’s Homes Connect
Homes.com’s Homes Connect integrated marketing platform allows agents to import their social media contacts into a prospect manager, generate market reports for clients, and manage their websites using a single login.
ListHub’s Real Estate Network
Move Inc. subsidiary ListHub added another dimension to the business of syndicating real estate listings to third-party sites like Zillow and Trulia when it created the Real Estate Network, which allows real estate brokerages and multiple listing services to syndicate listings to websites operated by participating national franchisors including Century 21, Coldwell Banker, Realty Executives International and RE/MAX
Listingbook AI allows real estate agents to provide their clients with access to local MLS data through Listingbook. Buyers and sellers who sign up to work with an agent gain access to public records, recent and past sales, community and school information, taxes and loan estimates. Real estate agents can use Listingbook AI to monitor and collaborate with their clients.
Market Leader’s integrated Marketing Center
Market Leader, the lead vendor behind Keller Williams’ eEdge integrated lead management, marketing and transaction management platform, has used its acquisition of Sharper Agent to provide its new integrated Marketing Center to agents with other franchisors and independent brokerages.
Zillow Premier Agent websites and contact management platform (CMP)
Zillow created a buzz this spring when it announced that it would offer free websites with IDX listing display to its "Premier Agent" advertisers, and $10 a month for others. The sites feature integration with another new tool from Zillow — a customer relationship management (CRM) platform for managing leads and customer contacts generated online.
Most innovative brokerage or franchise (2012 finalists)
American Home Realty Network Inc./NeighborCity
Licensed as a brokerage in California but known largely for its website, Neighborcity.com, American Home Realty Network Inc. operates a referral business, publishing agent rankings based on their transaction history. The company was hit with two copyright lawsuits filed by MLSs not long after rolling out profile pages for 850,000 agents.
Atlantic & Pacific Real Estate LLC
Founded in 2008 by a group of industry veterans, Atlantic & Pacific Real Estate is now operating in 24 states after picking up office leases and recruiting agents formerly with RealEstate.com, Realtors in 10 markets last year. Parent company Carrington Holding Co. invests in mortgage-backed securities, and operates loan servicing and property management subsidiaries, giving Atlantic & Pacific an inside track to the REO business.
Already the dominant player in its market, Minnesota-based Edina Realty made waves in November when it announced that it would stop syndicating listings to Realtor.com, Trulia and other national, third-party listing portals. While some critics wondered if the brokerage was hoping to "double end" more deals, Edina Realty continues to allow other brokers in its market to display its listings.
Howard Hanna Real Estate Services
In the great debate over the syndication of listings to third-party websites, other brokerages complained about ads appearing next to "their" listings. Pennsylvania-based Howard Hanna went out and made a seven-figure investment to promote its listings on Realtor.com and Zillow — and preventing ads and lead forms for other companies’ agents from appearing alongside them.
Prudential Americana Realty
After growing transaction sides by 39 percent in 2011, Las Vegas-based Prudential Americana Realty was ranked by Real Trends as the 22nd-largest brokerage in the nation by closed sides. Founded in 1979, the company has continued to expand during the downturn, joining forces with Arizona Properties and merging with Century 21 Moneyworld in 2011.
Realty One Group Inc.
Founded by stockbroker and computer programmer Kuba Jewgieniew, Henderson, Nev.-based Realty One Group grew sales volume by 20.4 percent in 2011, to $2.6 billion, and was ranked by Real Trends as the 23rd-largest brokerage in the nation by closed sales volume. Jewgieniew says the company’s business model is to attract quality real estate professionals and empower them by offering more resources for less money.
TheRedPin.com Realty Inc.
Launched in September 2010 with a focus on the new condo market, Toronto-based TheRedPin.com expanded into resales in January, launching what it claimed was the first virtual office website (VOW) in the Toronto market after the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) finalized rules allowing members to operate VOWs.
Village Real Estate Services
Founded in 1996, Nashville-based Village Real Estate Services strives to "recycle housing," by focusing on older, established neighborhoods, and infill condo and loft developments. The company’s elegant website is user-friendly and information-rich. Broker Brian Copeland is a social media marketing expert who helps educate agents nationwide.
Most innovative real estate website or Web service (2012 finalists)
When Edina Realty announced that it would stop syndicating listings to Realtor.com, Trulia and other national, third-party listing portals, the Minnesota-based brokerage was betting that it could drive more traffic to its own website, EdinaRealty.com. The site — redesigned last summer by 1000Watt Consulting to simplify the search process for consumers and help them access market data, including sold property information — broke into the Experian Hitwise rankings of top 100 real estate websites nationwide in June.
When the National Association of Realtors last year rescinded a rule change that briefly allowed franchisors to display all of the IDX listings in markets where they had affiliated brokerages, franchisor ERA Real Estate employed a workaround at ERA.com: transmit consumers’ search requests to affiliated brokers’ IDX websites, and allow them to view the results without leaving the main site.
A free social networking site that allows neighbors to connect and communicate privately online, Nextdoor recently raised $18.6 million in its first round of funding from several investors, including Zillow Chairman and co-founder Rich Barton. Nextdoor will take a cue from social network heavyweights Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and use the funds it’s raised from investors to improve the site’s user experience and user base before attempting to generate revenue.
In development for a year, Realtor.com International launched last year with 4.4 million listings and translation capabilities in 11 tongues, including "double byte" character languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean that can pose challenges for programmers. The site exposes U.S. listings to overseas buyers — framed Realtor.com search results had previously been displayed on WorldProperties.com, the official site of the International Consortium of Real Estate Associations (ICREA) — and allows users to search for homes in 20 other countries.
Founded in Austin, Texas, in 2004, RealtyAustin claims its property search website is the most widely used in the market, reaching more than 240,000 visitors a month. The site not only offers all the bells and whistles, such as keyword and map search, neighborhood guides, market statistics and a blog, but offers registered users a deeper set of listing data including property tax information, days on market, price reductions, and price per square foot.
Known for the rich data it provides to consumers on its "virtual office website," or VOW, Seattle-based brokerage Redfin continues to innovate. Redfin.com — one of only two brokerage websites on Experian Hitwise’s list of the 20 most visited real estate portals in June — now features a do-it-yourself comparative market analysis (CMA) tool for consumers. Redfin had to pull the plug on an even more revolutionary idea — "Scouting Reports" revealing the transaction history of individual agents to consumers — citing problems with the accuracy of MLS data. Not everything Redfin tries changes the world, but the brokerage never stops trying.
How do you unseat the official listing portal of the National Association of Realtors — Realtor.com — to become (according to Web metrics firm Experian Hitwise) the most visited real estate portal on the Internet? By innovating. Critics could once dismiss Zillow as the site where consumers went to see how much their neighbor’s home was worth. Today Zillow offers a deeper set of for-sale listings and rentals and more sophisticated insight into local housing markets than it did during the housing boom (not to mention mortgage quotes). The site has moved to strengthen its ties to real estate brokers and agents by providing more services, moving into territory once dominated by Realtor.com operator Move Inc.
ZipRealty — Powered by Zip
When ZipRealty closed down brokerage operations in a dozen metro areas in 2011, it sought to make the most of the audience it had built in those markets by securing IDX listing feeds from other brokers for display on ZipRealty.com, providing referrals to those brokerages in return. The Emeryville, Calif.-based brokerage’s "Powered by Zip" program is now up and running in eight markets: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Tucson, Salt Lake City, Nashville; Raleigh, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla..; and New York’s Hudson Valley. According to Web metrics firm Experian Hitwise, ZipRealty.com remains the most visited brokerage website in the nation.
Most innovative MLS or real estate trade association (2012 finalists)
California Regional MLS
It may be that there’s no other way to do business when you’re trying to build a statewide MLS in the most populous state in the union, but the California Regional MLS is breaking new ground by offering its members multiple MLS and IDX platforms, not to mention listing syndication and mobile solutions. MLSs often choose a single vendor to provide services in those areas, whether members are thrilled about them or not.
Canadian Real Estate Association/MLS Domains Association
When the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced it would accept proposals from groups interested in creating and managing new top-level domains — the part that’s tacked on to the end of domain names, like .com and .org — a group of multiple listing services banded together to create and manage a ".MLS" top-level domain. This year the MLS Domains Association boosted its odds of succeeding by moving over and letting the Canadian Real Estate Association take the lead in the ICANN application process. If succesful, CREA will limit the use of the ".MLS" top-level domain to websites operated by MLS Domains Association member MLSs.
Denver Metro Association of Realtors (DMAR)
Brokers and agents sometimes complain about having to join more than one Realtor association in metropolitan areas that are carved up among several associations. But when merger talks get started, it can be tough to convince association members that cost efficiencies that can be achieved by consolidation won’t come at the expense of reduced services and less accessible leadership. In Denver, talks that began with seven Realtor Associations culminated last year in the merger of three boards: the Denver Board of Realtors, the North Metro Denver Realtor Association, and the Jefferson County Association of Realtors. The merged associations are now known as The Denver Metro Association of Realtors.
Information and Real Estate Services LLC (IRES)
The regional MLS for eight Realtor associations in the Loveland, Colo., area, Information and Real Estate Services LLC (IRES) redesigned its public-facing site this year to include an open house tab, green design property features, and accessibility features such as ramp access, wide doors and proximity to a bus stop. IRES also displays listing data for the Metro Denver and Colorado Springs area through data-sharing partnerships with Metrolist and Pikes Peak MLS. The MLS is a charter member of FBS’ Spark Platform, a platform that will allow software developers to create products for brokers and MLSs using standardized data from more than 100 MLSs.
Multiple Listing Service of Long Island Inc. (MLSLI)
While some MLSs still debate whether or not to operate a public-facing listings site, the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island Inc. (MLSLI) partnered with Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Real Estate Digital (RED) to rebuild MLSLI.com as a mobile-enabled listing portal with new lead routing capabilities. The site provides property-specific data on open houses, and school and neighborhood reports integrated with listing data.
National Association of Realtors
Does the world really need a ".Realtor" top-level domain name, in addition to the more commonly used .com and .biz domain name extensions? If granted permission by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to create the new top-level domain, will the National Association of Realtors administer its members’ use of .Realtor websites with a heavy hand? Only time will tell. But the fact that NAR began working seven years ago on an application the trade group submitted to ICANN this year demonstrates that NAR leadership is capable of looking far into the future.
Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO)
The Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) is a group with a thankless task — foster the development and use of data standards across the real estate industry. To the uninitiated, RESO’s Data Dictionary — a project that seeks to create some common vocabulary for data fields used by MLSs — might sound arcane. But the Data Dictionary is expected to make it easier for vendors to develop streamlined "plug and play" tools that they can market to participating MLSs without extensive modifications. The bottom line: more tools for real estate agents.
Buyers in San Diego County, Calif., can now search for homes for sale on a public-facing MLS operated by Sandicor Inc., the MLS owned and operated by four area Realtor associations. Sandicor hired CoreLogic Inc. to build and host the map-based search site to turn consumers’ focus back to brokers and agents and away from third-party sites like Zillow and Trulia.
Most innovative real estate startup (2012 finalists)
Founded in 2011, LeaseRunner digitizes the rental process for property managers and tenants, including rental applications, background checks, e-signatures and rent collection. The interface is designed for use by property managers, applicants and tenants, with property managers initiating the service by sending an email to prospective tenants.
LockBoxSwap does one thing: buy and sell Supra and SentriLock lockboxes. The company says buyers can save 30 to 50 percent off of retail prices, and sellers don’t have to bother with the hassle of tracking down a buyer.
Minneapolis, Minn.-based MobileRealtyApps offers integrated mobile solutions to brokers and MLSs that provide text message and phone response on listings. The company’s HomeSpotter augmented reality feature overlays property information on images seen through a device’s live camera feed. This year, MobileRealtyApps partnered with St. Paul-based Northstar MLS to provide what it said was the first MLS-branded augmented reality mobile application.
National Family Mortgage LLC
A "peer-to-peer" mortgage lender, National Family Mortgage helps families structure real estate loans to relatives, making mortgages more affordable and keeping money in the family. The company passed the $30 million mark in total loan origination this year, at interest rates averaging 3.49 percent. About half of loans the company has arranged have been used to fund home improvement projects or to refinance an existing mortgage.
Professionals Realty Group USA
With roots in Australia, franchisor Professionals Realty Group USA (ProsUSA) opened its U.S. offices last year in Scottsdale, Ariz., with former Realty Executives International CEO Glenn Melton in a top management role. ProsUSA offers an advanced technology platform and protected territory for a flat fee based on the number of homes in their market, rather than the transaction-based royalty employed by many franchisors. This year ProsUSA launched the Professionals Invest USA Network, whose member brokers specialize in providing services to investors.
Real Estate Digital (RED)
As a spinoff of Lender Processing Services Inc. led by a management team from LPS’ Real Estate Group, Real Estate Digital (RED) hit the ground running in 2011 with a full stable of products and services for agents, brokers, franchisors, MLSs and Realtor associations. Clients include California Regional MLS, MLSLI, Metrolist, MRIS, and My Florida Regional MLS.
RealSatisfied helps brokerages and individual agents measure their reputations by gathering direct feedback from clients using surveys that measure their strengths and weaknesses. The company hopes to stand out in the crowded field of agent ratings with its detailed and standardized statistical reporting and ease of use.
Launched this year, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based ZonicRealty.com offers buyer rebates and a lower commission structure for sellers, in conjunction with an online, paperless platform and in-house social tools designed to inspire collaboration and empower sellers to post about their home, neighborhood, schools, and other selling points on Facebook and other social media sites.
Most innovative mobile app (2012 finalists)
HomeSnap by Sawbuck Realty
Users of online brokerage company Sawbuck Realty’s HomeSnap iPhone app can retrieve details on more than 90 million homes in the country including current value, last sale date and price, and local schools by snapping a picture. The app relies on information about the user’s location, rather than the image that’s captured, to determine what property to retrieve information for. In markets where Sawbuck Realty operates as a broker, the HomeSnap iPhone app taps into multiple listing service (MLS) data on current and recently sold listings. For properties not listed in the MLS and in markets where Sawbuck Realty lacks access to MLS data, HomeSnap relies on property tax and other public records to serve up details like last sale date and price, number of bedrooms, bathrooms, lot size, and school attendance boundaries.
Houston Association of Realtors (HAR) iOS app
Designed for consumers and agents alike, the Houston Association of Realtors’ iOS app for iPhone and iPad features MLS data that’s updated every 15 minutes, and a map-based search function that automatically refreshes to display listings as users scroll through maps. HAR members also have access to their leads, listings and their company’s listing inventory — plus a more complete set of listings data that includes days on market, price changes, tax information and showing instructions.
New York Times Real Estate app
For navigating New York City’s fragmented real estate market, it’s hard to beat the Old Gray Lady’s mobile app, which provides advanced search options for open houses, recent price reductions and FSBOs, linking to listing detail pages on brokers’ websites and offering one-touch dialing or emailing of agents. Users can research sales activity, view nearby school info, and upload their own notes and photos of individual properties. Plus the free app provides access to the newspaper’s real estate news.
NorthstarMLS apps for iPhone and iPad
Available to member agents only, the NorthstarMLS app features integration with members’ Matrix account, allowing for searches of active listings, off-market properties and open houses. Search by city, ZIP code, price, style or find nearby homes using the iPhone’s built-in GPS locator. This year, NorthstarMLS partnered with the app’s developer, MobileRealtyApps, to add "HomeSpotter" augmented reality capabilities. Property information is overlayed over images seen through the iPhone’s live camera feed as the user scans their surroundings.
Open Home Pro for iPad
This $3.99 app from Andrew Machado promises to help agents get the most out of open houses by collecting contact information from walk-ins on their iPad and generating automatic follow-ups. Open Home Pro creates and displays listing pages for all of your properties, soliciting feedback from buyers. All data collected by the app can be exported to spreadsheet file or customer relationship management program like Top Producer.
Redfin iphone and iPad apps with push notification
Not only do Redfin.com’s registered users have access to a deeper set of virtual office website ("VOW") data than typically found on many public listing portals, but this summer the technology-based brokerage updated its iPhone and iPad apps with push notification. Users of Redfin’s iOS apps can now see new listings and price drops within 15 to 30 minutes of MLS updates, giving them a leg up on other buyers in markets where tight inventories makes competition for available homes intense.
TownSelect iPhone app by Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate LLC
Featuring local information content powered by Onboard Informatics, The TownSelect iPhone app by Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate aligns with the franchisor’s "lifestyle" branding. TownSelect uses the iPhone’s GPS location tracking to access neighborhood data on schools, restaurants, shops and home prices. Users can create photo albums of their favorite properties, organize and rank the photos they take, and share them on Facebook.
Trulia for Agents (iPhone and Android)
Trulia’s agent app provides instant lead notification, and syncs with agents’ Trulia accounts in real time, keeping contacts and recent activity accessible. Agents can check in to homes they tour and share check-ins on Facebook and Twitter to raise their profile online. The app makes it easy to check out nearby listings while conducting tours with clients.
Most innovative real estate social site or social service or blog (2012 finalists)
EPostcards, Imprev Inc.
Imprev Inc.’s ePostcards are designed to help agents spread the word about their open houses, listed properites and "just solds" on social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and Pinterest. While visually compelling, the ePostcards have been stripped of much of the branding associated with more traditional marketing efforts to facilitate a low-key approach best suited for social channels.
Nudge, 1000Watt Consulting
Nudge is a Web-based mobile application designed to show off a real estate agent’s knowledge about local market factors like inventory, time on market and asking price trends. The app acts as a "call to action" for prospective clients when shared on a blog or social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
By sending customer satisfaction surveys to past clients of participating agents and brokers, ReachFactor says it can collect "a mountain of real-time feedback" that can be broadcast automatically through integration with LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social marketing channels. ReachFactor not only helps generate leads, but boosts conversion rates, the company says.
Move Inc./SocialBios HyperSocial Tools
Using "technology and talent" acquired in its acquisition of social media search platform SocialBios, Realtor.com operator Move Inc. this year began offering "HyperSocial" profile pages and agent recommendations integrated into the Realtor.com "Find a Realtor" directory and spanning Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google and Foursquare.
Real estate brokers and agents are using Pinterest, the social sharing service that allows users to "curate" digital content like photos, videos and other media, much the same way they use Twitter — to raise their profile among prospective clients with common interests, rather than to promote listings.
Trulia Trends blog
Pitching itself as "real estate data for the rest of us," the Trulia Trends blog crunches data from the listing portal and other sources in a sophisticated but understandable fashion. Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko explains data trends and surveys, putting them in the context of current events, using charts, graphs and "heat maps," and other visualizations that Trulia’s famous for.
Like CEO Glenn Kelman, Redfin’s blog strives to "tell it like it is," interpreting housing data and trends without the relentlessly positive spin employed by some brokers and agents. The blog — much of it written by Kelman himself — naturally paints Redfin and the services it provides in a favorable light. But readers can also expect to see frank discussions of the brokerage’s ups and downs as it continues to experiment with new ways to deliver services to clients.
Mark Thoma, a University of Oregon economics professor, often finds himself agreeing with Paul Krugman, which is to say Thoma skews to the left of many real estate professionals. But Thoma’s blog is as much about curating macroeconomic content as commenting on it. It’s worth reading for anyone who’s wondering which direction the global economy will lurch next.
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