2019 Inman Innovator Awards

They are the visionaries, the forward-thinking, the stubborn, the tinkerers, the obsessed, the tech-savvy and the creative minds always testing boundaries. They are entrepreneurs pushing the old ways aside, data scientists discovering new ways to examine behavior, marketers inventing new ways to showcase properties, agents developing new ways to reach clients, companies building new technologies and brokerages creating new ways of doing business. They are the Inman Innovator Finalists, and they’re leading us into the future of real estate.
Innovators of the Year
Zillow co-founders Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink

Zillow co-founders Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink came back to the executive suite of the online portal this year to transform how real estate is bought and sold. They courageously pivoted their business model and are now leading the way toward a more certain, faster and easier home sale.

Real Estate Technology

Redfin Direct is the company’s pilot of an internet-driven buyer’s agent plan that allows consumers to make direct offers on Redfin-listed homes through the company’s website.

Offer Optimizer is a comparison tool that allows homeowners to compare instant offers from industry-leading iBuyers like Offerpad, Opendoor, Zillow Offers and Redfin Now.

Forewarn is an agent safety app that provides immediate background checks for showing prospects.

3D Home is an AI-powered mobile platform for iOS devices that allows consumers and agents to capture 360-degree panoramic photos of a home and easily create a 3D tour.

Command is a one-stop mobile application that streamlines agents’ workload, allowing them to automate tasks, create customized marketing campaigns and manage databases and contacts.

Desk is a unified platform that acts as the central point from which agents can manage their email, contacts, marketing and profiles and create market reports.

The Cabin Kit is a DIY backyard guest house that can be built by two people in eight hours and is currently available for sale for $7,250.

With Buyer Graph, brokerages share anonymized buyer data and access advanced market analytics provided by RealScout. With the power of this data, brokerages are able to better advise selling clients on pricing strategies. This year, Buyer Graph continued its national expansion into California.

Dash is a market report and presentation software that helps buyers and sellers make price decisions.


With its AI digital assistant, OJO is reforming the way people search for, purchase or sell a home. Unlike other assistants, OJO is a conversational machine — backed by human intelligence — that learns about its users to understand what they are really after and serves up insightful recommendations via text and a personal web application interface.


Homeward’s mission is to make the entire moving process more convenient by helping clients buy the home they want before selling the one they have using Homeward’s cash to secure their next home.

Notarize is a digital notary startup that has facilitated more than $1 billion in online real estate transactions, marking a major milestone for a company that wants to completely digitize a process that has long been mired in reams of physical paperwork.

Endpoint Closing aims to make the home closing process simple, fast, transparent, reliable and accurate while keeping agents, buyers and sellers in the loop with web, iOS and Android apps.

The new website aims to present sellers with all of their options, from traditional agents to iBuyers and other disruptors.

JetClosing specializes in helping homebuyers and real estate agents virtually complete title and settlement transactions using their app.


REX is a low-fee brokerage out to bypass the country’s multiple listing services by using artificial intelligence to price homes and reel in buyers through online platforms.

EasyKnock is a sales/leaseback company that allows homeowners to release the equity on their home.

Reasi is a blockchain-based escrow management solution that allows brokers to serve as legal escrow agents while offering an in-app funds exchange. It also features a highly intuitive user interface and easily integrates all parties.

Peer Reputation provides agents with a peer feedback survey after the completion of a transaction.

Frontdoor is a tech-enabled and people-driven platform for home services with a nationwide network of more than 15,000 pre-qualified professional contractor firms.

Brokerage or Team

BRIX launched its Simple Offer program, giving sellers an all-cash offer within 47 hours through a portal on its own website that links directly to Opendoor.

Side is the only real estate brokerage that transforms agents into businesses. We exclusively partner with top producing agents to create, grow, and power their businesses, without the cost, time, or risk. We believe that the future of real estate is local, boutique and agent-owned.

Redfin continues to experiment with product tests and partnerships while leading the way with its mobile search application and by expanding its iBuying offer.

Metro Brokers Atlanta is a profitable brokerage that pushes the envelope with technology and new business practices in a market filled with every imaginable new business model and innovation.

Continuing its strategy to increase its market share of the U.S. real estate market, Compass has acquired agents and brokerages at a record pace. It also inked a major technology acquisition, Contactually.

Menkiti Group is an integrated real estate services company founded in 2004 with a mission to transform lives and urban communities through real estate.

Frisco, Texas-based brokerage JP & Associates Realtors teamed up with a tech company to launch an agent-centric cash offer program, JPAR Instant Offers.

Kendrick Realty invests heavily in lead generation with money the company saves by operating as a hybrid virtual brokerage with a few brick-and-mortar offices.

The brokerage has been on the cutting edge of marketing and building teams within a franchise company.

Reali is a flat-fee, full-service real estate brokerage that believes every aspect of residential real estate can be improved through relationships and better technology for a more user-centric, transparent approach.

Innovative Video/Podcast show

Bill Risser, vice president of digital strategy for Fidelity National Title in Tampa, Florida, interviews industry leaders about how they got their start, what drives them, positive changes they see in the business and what mistakes are regularly made by real estate professionals.

Byron Lazine and Nicole White are agents in Connecticut who offer their thoughts on the week’s news and industry-related topics every Friday in a video column.

The Massive Agent Podcast is a real estate marketing podcast for Realtors and loan officers, with the goal of helping them take their real estate business to the next level with lead generation and marketing ideas that will help sell more homes.

Greg Robertson, co-founder of W+R Studios and publisher of Vendor Alley, talks real estate tech with the people who are shaping it.

Industry executive Russ Cofano interviews leaders about changes in real estate to help professionals who want to learn, grow and better position themselves or their organizations for an uncertain future.

Next Level offers quick tips for businesses and interviews with leaders in the industry.

The Tom Ferry Podcast Experience, hosted by real estate and business coach Tom Ferry, is designed to help professionals grow, achieve more, earn more and fulfill their untapped potential.

The Notorious R.O.B. and Greg Robertson discuss organized real estate in a disorganized manner.

ScratchThat, a podcast hosted by Emily Chenevert of the Austin Board of Realtors, focuses on peeling the layers back on national trends in real estate.

Chelsea Peitz, an 18-year veteran of the real estate industry, shares real, actionable lead generation, branding and marketing tips in an easy-to-understand way with digestible, bite-sized formulas.

Realtor Michele Bellisari hosts conversations with respected influencers in and out of real estate with a gal-pal point of view to help professionals grow as Realtors, entrepreneurs and a side-hustle bosses.

MLS, Association or Industry Organization

The Baldwin County Association of Realtors says it’s the first in the nation to offer group health, dental and vision insurance plans that treat its 2,300 members, who are largely independent contractors, as employees of the association.

Arizona Regional MLS, Metro MLS in Wisconsin, MLSListings in Silicon Valley, RMLS in Oregon and UtahRealEstate.com, which have nearly 95,000 agent and broker subscribers combined, have teamed up to create the MLS Aligned API, an application programming interface that allows vendors such as third-party listing portals to receive listing data in real time and all at once from member MLSs.

RESO has expanded its membership to encompass approximately 850 real estate organizations while retiring the old Real Estate Transaction Standard (RETS) in favor of the more nimble Web API. It also recently ratified updates to the Web API standard that allow agents and brokers to input and update listings outside of the MLS and feed them to the MLS from another system — a feature brokers have long asked for.

My Florida Regional MLS, now rebranded as Stellar MLS to reflect its customer-centric focus, became the first MLS in the U.S. to offer a Spanish language version of itself and to provide its subscribers Remine’s new Enterprise Pro offering.

MLS RoundTable committed to taking decisive steps toward streamlining the delivery of listing data for real estate agents and brokers, including becoming certified at the highest level of RESO standards, eliminating support for the old RETS standard and creating a common data repository by the end of 2019.

MLS Grid, a company formed by several MLSs, has created a platform that offers a single license agreement and a single, standardized listing data feed for brokers and vendors who want to pull property data from MLSs in different markets.

The Austin Board of Realtors has changed its approach to member engagement, eliminating some committees and beefing up others, inviting newbies to participate in governance and building a microsite, build.abor.com, to offer more engagement options for time-crunched agents and brokers.

The California Association of Realtors has pledged to build affordable housing at its Los Angeles headquarters and has championed legislation to boost housing supply in a state where affordability is at crisis levels.

California Regional MLS continues its effort to bring more innovative technology tools to its 94,000 members, providing them with the MLS-Touch app and LionDesk’s CRM at no additional cost.

MRED, which has added features for real estate teams to its MLS, is the first MLS in the nation to launch an artificial intelligence-based compliance tool from tech startup Restb.ai and plans to launch an AI-based listing input tool from Restb.ai later this year.


Zillow began airing its first-ever iBuyer TV ads, which lean heavily into the company’s widespread name recognition and play up the program’s ease of use.

The scrolling webpage gives tips and information to all different kinds of buyers looking to purchase a home in Seattle.

Jack Ryan, CEO and co-founder of REX, a Los Angeles-based startup, and Jonathan Friedland, a brand and public policy manager for the company, penned a March 3 opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal titled, “When You Buy or Sell a Home, Realty Bites” that compares high fees in the United States to those in other countries, where fees are lower.

Homie’s movie-themed billboards draw eyes and attention for the flat-fee brokerage.

Opendoor’s one-minute ad shows the various stresses people encounter during the homeselling process and touts the ease and quickness of selling through Opendoor instead.

The National Association of Realtors launched a new ad campaign that leans into its classic “R” logo to help the public further distinguish its member Realtors from generic real estate agents.

The Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors’ 30-second ad shows the different hats Realtors wear at different points in the buying and selling process.

New Orleans real estate agent Leslie Heindel’s 365 New Orleans is focused on local artists and businesses. Every single day for one year, a new person or place is highlighted.

Inside Abode gives an in-depth look at Windermere Abode, a new boutique brokerage located in the Old Town neighborhood of Tacoma, Washington.

The Austin Board of Realtors released a two-minute video as part of their member engagement campaign to show how they are different than the average, boring member association.

Nate Ellis Award
Sam DeBord

Sam DeBord is CEO of the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO). A tireless change agent who navigates smartly between the old and new world of real estate. Embracing the role of the agent and the brokerage, he has pushed the industry forward with his credible voice, his relentless advocacy and his unmatched smarts about the real estate business.

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