“We want our technology to help level the playing field,” says the chief technology officer at Mad Valorem, “giving smaller independent agents and brokers access to many of the same tools and data available to agents working with big national firms.”

Todd Albert is the lead software developer and chief technology officer at Mad Valorem.
Time at current company: Almost three years (since August 2012)
Describe what you do in one sentence: I lead a team of developers and work directly on all facets of our web application from the back-end database to the front-end user interface and the interactivity between the two.
Age: 39
Degree, school: Ph.D. in geography from Florida State University; M.S. in atmospheric science from the Ohio State University; B.S. in geography from the University of Florida
 
Location: Downtown in the historic district of Delray Beach, Florida.
Social media: LinkedIn, Twitter
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What do you do? Please elaborate and be specific.
I work for a real-estate technology startup as the lead software developer, working to make commercial-grade GIS (geographic information system) tools and national real estate data available to the public.I am constantly switching gears between bringing on new property data, optimizing our database back-end, improving the user-interface and operation of the website front-end, and managing my development team, and of course I am always getting feedback from the operational side of our business that works with our users. We manage a database of over 98 million total parcels and addresses, as well as managing daily data feeds from various MLSs (multiple listing services). We make every effort to keep our site updated with the most current information from MLSs and other public resources.How’d you end up in real estate tech?

I have a Ph.D. in Geography, was studying glaciers and climate change, taught at the university level for 15 years, and ran my own program in Tennessee. I’ve been programming as a hobby since I was 7 and taught programming and GIS before making a move to the private sector.

In 2012, I relocated to South Florida and met Steve Mackey, a third-generation real-estate investor and broker with a degree in computer science. Steve had been working on a new tool for investors that incorporated public and private data sources to identify investment properties. Needing a programmer versed in GIS, he hired me away from academia. Our work soon progressed beyond the creation of his algorithms for our private use.

Today, Mad Valorem provides high-end real-estate technology and tools to consumers and local agents throughout Florida at no cost, with a rollout of over 45 million additional properties nationwide in the next 100 days.

What aspects of real estate are you trying to make better? What is one thing you would like to fix about the real estate industry?

Just five years ago, most people looking for a home to buy started the process by calling a local agent. Today, everyone I know starts their search online long before they ever contact an agent. The consumer now has access to tools and data that were only seldom available to the consumer or to smaller local brokers just a few years ago.

We want our technology to help level the playing field, giving smaller independent agents and brokers access to many of the same tools and data available to agents working with big national firms. We partnered with one local brokerage to roll out and test this strategy, and we have been overwhelmed by our ability to create online visibility for them on par with some of the largest brokerages operating in their market.

What’s your favorite part of what you do?
Working for a start-up, I am constantly being challenged in new ways and pulled in a variety of directions. My job is seldom repetitive, and I find great variety in the tasks at hand. I also love seeing my ideas evolve into reality.
What products have you had a part in developing in the past?

At one point, Steve and I created a web-based application for direct marketing where a local businesses could combine location-based, feature-based and event-based criteria (for example, all homes in a community with an air-conditioning unit that is over 15 years old that have sold in the past month) and create a mailing list. The local business could create custom mailing lists and mailers on the site, and have the mailers sent directly to the addresses that matched their criteria all at a fraction of the cost of any of our competitors.

While this product was gaining popularity, MadValorem began requiring our full attention and we pushed this idea to the back-burner, but we believe some of this same technology may evolve into a useful tool we can make available to agents nationally to better identify and predict those homeowners most likely to become future sellers.

What are you working on right now? What are the challenges?

Presently, my team and I are building up some local pages that highlight the features of each community. It is challenging because communities are defined in various ways and there are so many communities just in our county alone.
Favorite Twitter account?
@GuyKawasaki – author, speaker, entrepreneur, and evangelist.
Favorite food?
Asian foods (Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Korean) are generally my go-to staples, but the cuisine I crave the most is good Ethiopian food. I haven’t lived near a good Ethiopian restaurant in 15 years.
Favorite video game? (Or book, if you don’t have a favorite game).
More of a reader than a gamer, my favorite author is Tony Vigorito. I game very rarely, but really like “Dead Island”.
Favorite city?
I’ve lived in 17 cities and traveled extensively. My favorite city to visit is Vienna, Austria. My favorite city to live in is Delray Beach.
Favorite band or singer?
Mofro – they’re a bluesy band from Florida and sing about the natural beauty of the state, among other things.
What do you hate about technology?
I am a techno-nerd in every way. I embrace new technology and tend to be an early-adopter. This is somewhat at odds with my hippy, tree-hugger, backpacker side, which frequently needs to escape from technology into the woods, a walk on the beach or a visit to a local botanical garden.
Do you think technology can change the industry?

Every time I get a glossy mailer from my local Realtors, I wonder how many people in my generation still begin their property search by calling the realtors from these brochures. There is no question in my mind that better technology will make more informed consumers, and thus require Realtors to find more ways to add value to real-estate transactions. Historically, much of the agent value was derived from their access to the MLS and other property data. While this remains the case in part, much of that same data can be found for no cost at sites like MadValorem.com, Zillow, realtor.com, and so on. Universal access to data, together with more transparent online customer reviews of agents and brokers will drive new real estate business to agents and brokers who are truly experts and specialists in their local communities. Technology favors the best qualified agents and brokers, not just the ones with the biggest brochure or the brokers who have the most expensive brick and mortar office in town.

In or out of real estate, is there one problem, large or small, that you would like to solve?

As a climate scientist, I wish that I could see the world switch to clean energy (solar, wind, and biodiesel). I’ve resigned myself to the fact that these changes will not take place in time to slow the rising tides that accompany the rapid loss of land ice globally, and I have to accept and observe the catastrophes to come.As coastlines flood, a lot of wealthy people will have to relocate. This could be a boon for the real estate industry!What motivates you? 

I really love what I do. It’s exciting to see my ideas and work become reality and end up leading to young agents closing million-dollar deals. Being a part of a startup really keeps things fresh and stimulating!

Are you a real estate hacker interested in participating in our profile series? Email amber@inman.com.

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