Who’s Going to Be at This Year’s FWD Innovation Summit? One Former Judge’s Thoughts on this Year’s Contestant Line Up

Last year, when I was one of the judges on the FWD Innovation Summit, I wrote up a fairly rigorous analysis of the participants so that I could be prepared for their presentations.  This year, I won’t be judging, but I will be live-blogging the event on Tuesday here on this blog, so I did the same thing.

Basically, I looked at each app or website and wrote up a short description of what they are and how they would apply in real estate. And just out of habit, I came up with one question for each of them that I’d ask as a judge. I thought it might be helpful for those of you attending the conference, who want a thumbnail introduction to the companies and what they’re presenting.

I want to be clear that these are my own very unofficial impressions based on their site or their app. I may have some stuff wrong, because I’m not very bright.  If I’ve mis-described any business, I apologize and will update this post with any errors if you bring them to my attention.

I should also be clear that I don’t represent the FWD conference, Realogy, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, the Rand family, or really anyone else.  My observations are my own.

In the chart and the discussion below, I’ve organized the companies’ solutions according to three categories. I should note that this is my own organization, not something that came from Realogy or from the companies themselves, and that the one-line “descriptions” are just my own short-hand for what I see as the main driving purpose of the site or app:

  • Home Search (6): Sites and apps that assist buyers during the home search process, mostly portals.
  • Marketing (4): Sites and apps that help agents market homes.
  • Business (5): A bit of a catchall for sites and apps that helps real estate professionals manage their business (including apps designed for property managers and developers).

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Home Search:

Closing Time

Closing Time is a web-based service designed to help make the home buying transactional process easier.  You sign up, answer a bunch of questions about yourself and the home you’re buying, and you get a detailed checklist of steps you need to take, which are fully customized to your personal needs and the location of your home.  The site is designed for home buyers, but the company offers an integrated enterprise solution allowing brokers to create customized checklists for their clients that can, for example, promote affiliate partners throughout the transactional process. (Full disclosure: my company is talking with Closing Time about setting up the enterprise product).

Key Application: It’s a great way to manage the transactional process for your clients.  Set your buyer up with an account, and she’ll have a detailed checklist of steps she needs to take to buy her home that will prompt her with email alerts and reminders.

Key Question: How can Closing Time fully address transactional challenges in a document-intensive process without ever touching any of those documents?

 

Curb Call

Curb Call has one of those really simple elevator pitches: “Uber for real estate agents.”  Let’s say a buyer is standing out in front of a home for sale, and wants to see it right away.  She can use the Curb Call app to call up a list of available agents in the area, screen them based on their app profile (i.e., ratings, etc.), and “call” them to come by the home to show it.

Key Application: If you can get a big enough installed user base of users and agents, this provides a novel way for clients to find an agent who is available for immediate gratification: show me this house right now!

Key Question: The Uber connection is clever, but is that kind of immediate gratification possible when most home sellers require advance notice to show a home?

 

Househappy

Househappy is an image-based home search portal. When you log in, you don’t see a traditional home search screen with filtering options – instead, you see row upon row of home photos, which you can click on to get the full details and the rest of the images.  You can also use more traditional options if you want to narrow your search, but photos are front and center as the search idiom.  The listing feed comes through listhub, which provides the listing agent contact information, and agents can also set up a profile to “claim” their own listings.

Key Application. Househappy is a clever, fresh, very visual take on traditional home search, using images instead of filters or maps as the dominant criteria.

Key Question: You market the site as a free community platform for all users and agents, so where is your revenue going to come from?

 

Lasso

Lasso is a bookmarking service for real estate, an answer to the challenge posed when buyers use multiple sites to look for homes.  You install a bookmarklet on your browser toolbar, and whenever you see a property you want to save, you just click the tool and save it to Lasso. Then, when you log into Lasso, you’ll see all your saved properties in one place in a very Pinterest-type layout, where you can rate the property, take notes, and share it.

Key Application: Lasso seems to be creating a more social approach to home search, one that not only anticipates including a real estate agent, but also other people who might be interested (friends, family, spouse, etc.).  For a client who insists on using a national portal as well as the local company site, or multiple portals, agents might find it helpful to encourage the client to “corral” all those properties in one place to organize their search.

Key Question: This solves the problem of clients who use multiple home search sites, but can’t they also solve that problem by just using one site?

 

Retsly

Retsly is really something different from the other participants at FWD.  It’s not a consumer- or agent-based product.  Rather, it’s a real estate software API that was featured at Realogy’s “Hackathon” last fall at the NAR conference, giving contestants a cleaned-up database of listings upon which to build creative apps during the contest.  And now it’s available to other app and website developers as a platform upon which to build real estate related products (indeed, Curb Call, another FWD contestant, is featured on the Retsly site as a user).

Key Application: Not for agents, not for consumers.  But for web developers, the API provides a clean data feed of listings, which become their development platform.

Key Question: Who should be using this, and how much data do you actually have?

 

Zumper

Zumper is a national real estate portal site and app for home and apartment rentals.  Using traditional filter-based and map-based search, users can look for rentals submitted by landlords, brokers, and apparently through some third party sites (a number of the listings I looked at came from Hotpads).  For agents, you can set up a “Pro” account and post your listings, syndicate them to other portals, market the listings through email, and manage leads through the site.

Key Application: A dedicated rental site with good, reliable, up-to-date data would be really useful to consumers, giving them the same quality experience that home buyers currently get from any number of online portals. And agents might value a one-stop solution to marketing rentals to portals.

Key Question: What’s the value to a real estate agent with another portal dedicated narrowly to rentals when most real estate sites and portals already market rental properties?

 

Marketing:

 

Beamly

Beamly is a micro-location marketing app designed to enhance home showings, particularly for new construction, using the Apple iBeacon technology.  The app works with special Bluetooth-enable proximity “beacons” that look like hocky pucks, and which trigger informational displays when visitors come close enough to them. The app comes from BrightDoor, a specialist in home builder online marketing, and is expected to be launched this summer.

Key Application: You put the beacons in strategic spots around a home.  When visitors come to the front door, the app displays neighborhood amenities, the floor plans, or anything else you set up.  When they get to the kitchen, the app highlights special features or possible upgrade finishes.  You can even track where people are going, maybe even where they are lingering.

Key Question:  What does this app add for a typical home showing, when an agent is usually present to highlight features of the home?

 

Matterport

Matterport provides three-dimensional photography that could provide a really exciting way to market properties.  Here’s how it works.  You get a Matterport-branded 3D camera and set it up on a tripod in a room.  It spins around the room, capturing not just pictures but also dimensions and spatial relationships. You then upload the data to the Matterport site, which creates a 3D image model of the space using fancy technology that I quite frankly don’t understand.  But it looks very cool (and not dissimilar to last year’s FWD grand prize winner, Floored).

Key Application: If 3d imaging technology works the way that Matterport says, it could leapfrog video marketing as the best way to market properties online. More immersive than still photos or video, and actually easier to create than standard video.

Key Question: How feasible, in both time and money, is it for someone to buy your camera, set it up in the living room of their new listing, and build a 3d model of that home right now – today?

 

Slide Bureau

Slide Bureau is a presentation and slideshow iPad app that provides hundreds of design templates, including dozens built specifically for the real estate industry.  You download the app, choose a template, create your customized slides, and share your final presentation through the web.  Many of the templates are interactive, meaning they pull real-time data directly from services like Google Maps and Twitter – so you won’t have to copy and paste data or use screenshots.  Users can also suggest new templates if they can’t find what they need.

Key Application: Depending on the growth of the template library, agents could find some interesting ways of presenting information to clients or doing promotional presentations.

Key Question: What do you see as the advantage of creating presentations like this on an iPad, which is generally seen more as a content-delivery rather than –creation device?

 

SmartExpose

SmartExpose is an international digital real estate marketing development company that provides white label software for iphone and iPad apps, webpages, and project pages.  You can either create your own set of multi-device apps, or advertise properties in one of the established SmartExpose marketplaces.  You can also create an individualized iPad magazine, using a mix of standardized and customized content.

Key Application: Agents and brokers might like the turnkey aspect of creating an interactive iPad-based magazine that could be used to display properties or promote the company.

Key Question: The online versions of your materials look slick, but how customizable are they?

 

Business:

CO Everywhere

Co Everywhere is an app and web service that lets you pick a place that’s important to you, and then follow social media and news content generated from that location.  You just go on a map, circle the area of interest, and then you’ll get a rich, unfiltered stream of hyper-local content from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yelp, and other news and social media sites.  For example, I circled my hometown and was immediately inundated with tweets and Facebook posts generated by people in the area.

Key Application: Real estate is hyper-local, so anything that helps an agent tune into what’s going on in her neighborhood or geographic farm can be a real asset. I could see agents picking 7 or 8 locations to follow and checking in a few times a day to see if anything interesting pops up.

Key Question: Co Everywhere seems to pride itself on an “unfiltered” feed, which might be good for 20-somethings who want to follow the club action, but are you building curating features for professionals who want to use it more selectively?

 

Deductr

Deductr provides a streamlined way for real estate agents to track and monitor their expenses to ensure that they maximize their small-business tax deductions.  Using the website or a mobile app, you can record transactions, document your income, account for your working hours, and track your mileage to build customized reports that can help ensure you claim the appropriate deductions and monitor your business performance.

Key Application: All financial services apps require a little discipline, because you have to remember to log your transactions and all that, but agents could find this very helpful not just for maximizing deductions but analyzing their business performance.

Key Question: Real estate agents are busy and often don’t have the time to process every transaction – how much of the tracking can be automated so that they don’t have to?

 

Go Connect

Go Connect is a task management checklist app for real estate agents, designed by a practicing real estate broker in North Carolina (full disclosure: the founder Zach Schabot is a friend).  The app allows an agent to track all her leads, clients, listings, and transactions, set up customizable checklists for particular processes, and then manage those tasks through an intuitive reminder and scheduling system.  The interface is very straightforward, the CRM integrates with your phone’s contact list, and the site provides a number of helpful instructional videos.

Key Application: I’m a big checklist guy, so I love this kind of stuff, even while I recognize that this is the kind of thing that you need to go “all in” on in order for it to work correctly.  But once they’ve done the initial customization and set up, agents might really find value in a single app that provides CRM, reminders, scheduling, and task management.

Key Question: Agents are not generally going to take the time to customize their checklist templates, so is there a broker enterprise solution that would allow for a broker to create templates customized to the company’s operations and apply them for all the agents in the company?

 

Kisi

Kisi allows you to use your smartphone to replace keycards for any keyless entry access control system. Let’s say, for example, that your apartment building uses keycard access for a parking lot, you can use Kisi to replace the keycards and allow people entry just with a swipe of the app.  Even better, the building manager can control access, giving out virtual “keycards” via email from the app, track all entries, and revoke access when the need is complete.

Key Application: I could see this being a huge advance for commercial buildings that use keyless access systems, or even real estate brokers who have keyless entries for their offices. Rather than tracking who has access cards, you could turn on an agent’s key when they join the company, track who is coming in and out of your office, monitor traffic patterns, and eliminate access for agents who are terminated.

Key Question: Do you see this as having any kind of applicability to replace the lock box system that most agents use now for listed properties?

 

Remotely

Remotely is a home automation app-based service designed primarily for landlords and tenants, which allows you to control locks, lights, thermostats, home security, etc. remotely through the app.  You need to install all the home automation hardware from their vendor partners, including keyless lock systems, thermostats, sensors, and alarm equipment, but you can then monitor everything about the home remotely (I see what they did there!) through the app or the online software for a monthly fee.

Key Application: Home automation is really hot right now, and Remotely is going after a narrow segment of the market: renters, landlords, and possibly second-home markets.  I could see second-home owners loving the idea of remotely controlling their home security, lights, and keyless entry with the convenience of a smartphone app.

Key Question: The monitoring service is relatively cheap, but what is the average cost of the hardware that you need to make it run correctly?

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