Eventually, the advent of disco destroyed Mike Barnett’s musical desires, and he relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona in 1985. Following in his father’s footsteps, he opened the Barnett Agency. Although the agency was a full service real estate brokerage, Barnett soon became the Copper State’s first buyer-broker.

  • Former musician Mike Barnett helped Property Panorama become profitable again just a year after being named CEO.

As far as Mike Barnett is concerned, “the day the music died” wasn’t February 3, 1959 — a fateful day in music history when a plane crash took the lives of rock ‘n’ rollers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. For him, the music died in the mid 1980s with the advent of disco.

“Disco killed my urge to do anything more in the music business,” said Barnett. Up until that point, he had managed several bands and spent two and a half years on the road with the hippie comedic duo Cheech and Chong.

Mike Barnett

That’s when he came to the realization that he wasn’t a musician at all; he was a business man who would go on to rebuild Property Panorama, one of the country’s largest providers of virtual real estate tools.

Origins in real estate

In a sense, Barnett has returned to his fourth generation real estate roots: He sold houses for his father on the weekends during his high school years, so he’s simply back in the family business.

Out of high school, Barnett had no consuming interest in real estate; music was his thing, so off he went to San Diego. Hanging out on Pacific Beach near La Jolla — where the ratio of women to men was a favorable six to one, he points out with a smile — he ran into a character known only as The Elf. And before he knew it, The Elf got him a job as a roadie for Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong.

Detour through the entertainment industry

Barrett made his way up in the business quickly. “I ended up being their manager for two and a half years,” he said during a rollicking dinner table interview about his colorful rock ‘n’ roll life with Cheech and Chong. It was during Barnett’s time with the pair that Marin and Chong wrote “Up in Smoke,” their 1978 classic which also featured future stars Edie Adams, Stacy Keach and Tom Skerritt.

Barnett left Cheech and Chong because of the lousy deal the team received from that picture. “I realized artists needed representation,” Barnett explained. So in 1974, he started the Barnett Agency, one of the first full-service management companies for movie actors, song writers and recording artists.

He ended up representing Bonnie Bramlett, the first white woman to sing with Ike and Tina Turner as one of the Ikettes. He also represented singer-songwriter Willy DeVille; Fats Johnson, musical comedian and former lead singer for the New Christy Minstrels; and the Amazing Rhythm Aces, a country rock group that featured a blend of country, rock, blues, reggae and Latino.

With music still in his blood, Barnett and several partners started MSS Records — the initials stood for Muscle Shoals Sound. The partners were members of the Swampers, or the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, which was a group of studio musicians based in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

The shift back to real estate

Eventually, the advent of disco destroyed Barnett’s musical desires, and he relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona in 1985. Following in his father’s footsteps, he opened the Barnett Agency. Although the agency was a full service real estate brokerage, Barnett soon became the Copper State’s first buyer-broker.

Using technology tools acquired during his years in the entertainment business, he consulted with the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service. It was then that he “realized there was a real opening for a technology company” to handle all the data the listings produced. Back then, he said, most real estate practitioners were “complete technophobes.”

From there, he became chief technical officer at RISMedia, working directly with owners John Featherston and Darryl MacPherson to establish a path and hire the team that would take the RISMedia magazine from solely a print publication to an online platform as well.

His next stop was with the Internet Crusade, where he partnered with founders Saul Klein and John Reilly to create one of the business’s first online real estate communities and blogging systems. Known as RealTown.com, it continues to host the popular RealTalk, AETalk and MLSTalk realty communities as well as several others.

Barnett also created the web learning platform for ePro, and helped build the course content for the program, which focuses on how agents can brand themselves on the internet. He spent several years traveling the United States and Canada teaching thousands of Realtors how to use technology in their businesses.

Growing Property Panorama

In 2010, Property Panorama came calling. The company was experiencing a large burn rate at the time, and — facing numerous software, corporate and vendor issues — it was near insolvency. Within a year, however, Barnett was named chief executive officer, and Property Panorama became profitable soon after.

In the process of going from red to black, the new CEO led a change in corporate culture and management, and recruited key employees to reinvent every facet of the company. And from there, InstaView was born as a totally hands-free virtual tour.

Today, the patent-pending software program strings images together to create a virtual tour “without an agent or his MLS having to lift a finger,” said Barnett, now the company’s president and CEO. The program uploads 20 million images an hour and, when an agent changes an image in his or her listing, “we are in sync with the new image within 15 minutes,” he adds.

Property Panorama has contracts with 171 multiple listing services and, as a result, the InstaView program is available to some 550,000 active agents, or roughly half the nation’s real estate licensees. “We dominate the market,” Barnett boasts.

Five photographs can be used to create a tour at no charge. For a fuller tour with more photos, agents pay $1.99. There’s also a premium model.

There’s a lot of time and distance between the Southern California music business and Property Panorama’s Independence, Ohio headquarters. For Barnett, it’s been an interesting and exciting journey, and after listening to his stories and explanations for a few hours, you get the feeling he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Lew Sichelman’s weekly column, “The Housing Scene,” is syndicated to newspapers throughout the country.

Email Lew Sichelman

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