Brokerage

Software eliminates need for pesky vendor referral groups, emails

OwnerAide lets brokerages share branded vendor networks

Keller Williams Realty Greater Hartford encourages its real estate agents to swap the names of home professionals through its Facebook groups. But belonging to those groups can sometimes be a nuisance.

“It could be kind of annoying where you’re getting notifications of somebody who needs a hardwood floor guy and it’s not relevant to you,” said Matt Lloyd, an agent at the West Hartford, Connecticut-based brokerage. “It kind of becomes like email, like it’s another junk mail-type thing.”

That’s why he’s pumped about new software that Keller Williams Realty Greater Hartford has adopted. The software is powered by the company OwnerAide, and it lets the brokerage group together and share its preferred attorneys, loan officers, home inspectors, contractors and other vendors with its agents and clients.

Individual real estate agents can purchase a version of OwnerAide, but OwnerAide sees the most potential in selling white-labeled versions like the one Keller Williams Realty Greater Hartford is using.

Users can invite vendors to join their network, and then share that network with clients. The agent’s branding and contact information appears on a network page, keeping the agent top of mind whenever a past or present client accesses it.

“They say these are all the people that are going to help you get your house sold, and that tends to go over really well,” said OwnerAide CEO Nick Pontacoloni of agents who show off their networks during listing presentations.

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Consumers can contact professionals through the platform, and even post jobs to receive bids on projects. Agents can see the projects that past and present clients post to their network, providing conversation fodder should an agent want to get in touch.

The job-posting feature is a vestige of OwnerAide’s original plan to build a marketplace where consumers could go to request services. The startup pivoted to sell real estate software after realizing it would cost too much to build a large enough audience to make a public marketplace work.

“We saw that the real estate broker was in a really great position to curate lists of professionals,” Pontacoloni said.

Screenshot showing Keller Williams Realty Greater Hartford's OwnerAide-powered vendor network.

Screen shot showing Keller Williams Realty Greater Hartford’s OwnerAide-powered vendor network.

Pontacoloni has sold $200-a-year subscriptions to about 100 agents so far, and is piloting its white-label product, which costs $1,500 to set up and $375 a month after that, with five brokerages.

Brokerages using OwnerAide’s platform can maintain a master network of vendors that their agents can pick and choose from to create their own personal networks that they can share with clients.

Lloyd said that Keller Williams Realty Greater Hartford plans to fund part of the cost of the software by charging vendors to be listed in its network.

“It’s almost a no-brainer for the vendor where they have an opportunity to be advertising their business to 250-plus agents within our local area,” Lloyd said.

Although it does not apply to most home improvement contractors, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) prohibits providers of settlement services, such as title insurers, attorneys, mortgage loan officers and home inspectors, from paying for business referrals.

RESPA allows settlement services providers to enter into marketing services agreements with companies in a position to refer business to them, but payments must be based on the value of advertising or other services provided, and not tied to the volume of business generated. Marketing services agreements (MSAs) must be non-exclusive, and consumers must be provided with disclosures describing the real estate professional’s role in selling third-party services.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “has been active in initiating enforcement actions in this area and appears to take the view that these agreements are going to almost always be an improper referral fee, so anyone entering into an MSA [with a settlement services provider] will need to be exercise extreme caution” in regards to RESPA, the National Association of Realtors advises.