Real Estate 2.0 Market Leader: Homethinking.com

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Here is the fifth and final installment in my Real Estate 2.0 Market Leader series. Homethinking.com is a relatively new entry into the field, but one with a very interesting business model. They promise to allow you to connect with and review agents currently selling properties in your market (unfortunately, they don’t seem to be live in Oregon quite yet).

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Using their site, you can see exactly what homes an agent currently has listed (with the requisite Google mashup, of course) – more importantly you can see many of the properties an agent has just sold and exactly how much it was sold for. This is an extremely disruptive move and one that I’m not sure many are ready for yet…

In any case, here is my interview with Niki Scevak, Founder of Homethinking.com

1. What’s your elevator pitch? How would you describe your company in 50 words or less?

Homethinking helps home owners select the most exceptional realtor to sell their home with. We do that by monitoring what each agent has achieved in the past and collecting consumer reviews about the job they did.

2. What inspired you to create your site? What need did you identify that your technology could meet?

The decision to engage a realtor is becoming one of the most financially significant decisions in a consumer’s life (6% of the value of their home). At the same time, choosing one has never been harder: the number of realtors in the US has ballooned from 750,000 in 2000 to 1.2 million today.

But that’s just the numbers. We were really inspired by the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, which basically showed how the real estate industry should not have to be. By opening up objective data around the performance of each agent, and consumer reviews about the job they did, we hope that home owners wont get stuck with an Al Pacino or Jack Lemon selling their home.

3. What has been the biggest challenge getting your site off the ground?

The biggest challenge has been interacting and dealing with the real estate data we compile. Discovering and cleaning the raw data and reducing our margin of error.

Dealing with the eccentricities of different markets is a constant challenge we seek to overcome. For instance, in areas like New York, where co-op ownership is common, or places like Texas, where home sales data are not public record.

4. Real estate is generally seen as a conservative industry, what has the general reaction been to your site?

The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive (except from agents with poor reviews and results). No really. I know each interviewee will say the reaction has been positive to their service but I can honestly say that both consumers and agents have embraced the service. Consumers love the transparency and the great agents love their record being out there in an objective environment for all to see. In the end, we want to create rock stars that will have the best chance of achieving exceptional results for home owners. We don’t want to reduce or eliminate the role of realtors but rather recommend the best ones.

Our belief is there are way too many agents out there and we hope to point home owners to the great ones and away from the poor ones.

5. Who is your typical user?

Our typical user is a home seller seeking to list their home with a full service Realtor. That tends to skew the demographics older (45+) and slightly toward females.

In terms of geography, the majority of our users are in California, where home prices are high, the market has turned the most dramatically away from the seller and where the decision as to who should sell a home is more considered.

6. What’s your business model?

Our business model is very similar to that of Google and Yahoo search, whereby agents are able to be placed in the top three sponsored listings of a particular geography and only pay if a home owner contacts them via the phone or email.

7. Who have you identified as your biggest competitors? Why?

Our primary competitors are lead generation firms like Housevalues. Another deep belief of ours is that the lead generation industry has lost the trust of the consumer and is ripe for change. We hope to flip the model on its head by putting the consumer in control of the contact (rather than having it disappearing behind a form and then auctioned off to the highest bidder and re-sold 14 times).

And to a lesser extent the yellow pages companies. If anything, we aim to be a focused Yellow Pages 2.0 firm.

8. What have you found to be the most effective ways to market (i.e., build the brand awareness/mindshare of) your site?Companies like Apple and Google have shown that building great products is the only way to market. Great design, powerful features and ease of use are today’s marketing. Everything else – PR, search engine optimization, advertising – stems from there.

9. Web 2.0 is often defined as a web-based service that lets people collaborate and share information online. How does your site either a) incorporate these ideas or b) plan on incorporating these ideas in the future?

We allow sites to syndicate out our data via RSS and more recently GeoRSS, whether they be reviews of agents or recent home sales data in a particular geography. Of course we also allow consumers to post detailed reviews about their experience with agents online and email that to their friends and neighbors.

10. Why do you care about real estate?

In Australia (where I am originally from), we have a saying “A man’s home is his castleâ€?. No other asset has such financial and emotional significance than a home. It’s part science, part art and part pornography. In no other industry are consumers so enraptured than in real estate.

At the same time, the Internet has the potential to have such a profound effect on the masses of real estate related information. How could we not be excited!

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In the next installment of Real Estate 2.0 Market Leaders series I’ll be looking outside US borders at what developments are happening around the world. If you know of any sites based in Europe, Canada, Australia or elsewhere that you’d like to see featured, please post them in the comments below.

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