Most real estate startups remain within the confines of providing users with information and traditional agents with leads. But there are a few tendencies we can hop on to facilitate the connections between parties engaged in exchange on the real estate market. Uberization or rather instant gratification is what happens all around us, and real estate is no exception.
We believe that traditional buy/sell/rent sector of the real estate industry can be transformed by connecting supply and demand directly with the help of technology. One way to do it is by enabling on-demand real estate showing tours right from a customer’s smartphone.
On-demand real estate showings
There are at least three startups, such as Naked Apartments, AgentPair, and CurbСall, that connect consumers who want to get inside a home with nearby real estate agents ready to take a new lead.
New York based Naked Apartments gained steam in the rental market by letting renters instantly book showings. In fact, the listing site pioneered what we call “showings on demand.”
Half of the time customers’ journeys to requested apartments don’t end with a single flat, since an agent typically shows a client multiple nearby units during one visit. According to the Naked Apartment’s report, renters scheduled more than 3,000 showings in June using the app’s “Viewings on Demand” feature, 12 percent of which resulted in closing.
The speed of access to property can be a decision-making factor for renters. But the homebuyer market can also benefit from a mobile solution of the same sort.
In a world where everything has already been done by large companies like Zillow and Trulia, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. And this is exactly what AgentPair doesn’t want to do. The app pairs homebuyers who already narrowed their search using apps like Trulia with selected real estate agents as quickly as possible so they can tour more places in less time.
CurbСall also orients at the homebuyers who are already equipped with knowledge about the homes they like. Consumers can have an immediate tour of the property by hailing a real estate agent who’s available in the area where the listing of their interest is located. Curb Call works with partner brokerages including Realty One who pay a monthly fee for the service under the condition that only their agents can receive leads from the Curb Call buyers.
Even Redfin, one of the biggest real estate listings providers introduced on-demand home touring in the form of a “Go Tour This House” option on the app’s page which displays a home for sale.
Scheduling home tours
Scheduling tours in a real estate app can be done in two ways. One is by turning every listing into an open house that an app’s users can see on their own schedule. The other one is by putting a “tour” button next to every agent that operates in a selected area.
By clicking on the button “Go Tour This House” in Redfin, customers can select their preferred date and time, and how long they’re available for a tour. After the request is submitted, the system will send a confirmation email to the customer and a special tour coordinator employed by Redfin will make a phone call to clarify all the details. When everything is arranged, a user gets on location and meets an agent there.
In Curb Call, every agent has an account where they can log in, set their status to “available” and simply wait. When a homebuyer wants to see a home nearby, an agent in that area will receive a notification saying: “[a buyer’s name] near [location] has requested a showing from you.” The agent can either decline this request, or receive a buyer’s contact information which includes a phone number and a price range. If the agent chooses to accept the request, he or she can call a buyer or send an SMS right from the app’s page with the buyer’s contact details.
AgentPair takes a bit different approach. It lets consumers request tours from specific agents, not listings. All a user needs to do is specify the location of a home he/she wants to tour and choose an agent. The latter will be alerted immediately by the system. Once the tour is confirmed and accepted by a real estate agent, a user can choose a preferred date or send the agent a message with pickup details.
In Naked Apartments, a renter requests a showing on an app which gets seen by a number of real estate agents. The first to respond gets the lead.
Today’s mobile real estate apps carry millions of property listings which can be pretty overwhelming and confusing for homebuyers. In addition, these apps tend to send homebuyers different notifications for all kinds of properties that don’t necessarily interest the consumers.
Developing a real estate app that directly pairs customers with real estate agents can offer access to properties that have a bigger chance to match homebuyers’ preferences than any advanced search parameters (taking into account that this option is also available).
Better user experience can be achieved by enabling messaging features that bring together multiple communication media once the connection between a home seeker and a real estate agent is established. Chats in a real estate app can be implemented in the following ways:
Non real time messaging
It’s the fastest and easiest way from a developer’s viewpoint, since in this case message transport is implemented through regular HTTP requests. However, this option isn’t quite suitable for a real estate app which requires immediate communication between a home buyer/renter and a real estate agent/broker.
- Hybrid messaging
A combination of technology used for developing non real time chats with push notifications is what hybrid messaging is all about. A couple of years ago we used this method of implementing chats while developing Agentfolio for Zillow (now the project is shut down). Agentfolio was a tool for real estate agents and their clients to search, comment on, review and share information about homes they are evaluating.
In this app, we accomplished communication between a server and a client through HTTP requests. The message would go to the server and then, the server would send a push notification to the client. By clicking on a push notification a user was directly transferred to a dialogue screen in the app which was automatically updated with a new message.
Quite obviously, SMS is the easiest way in terms of implementation, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t use our creativity to enhance SMS messengers with unique features.
AgentPair, for example, uses Pairbot SMS assistant which is essentially a text-based real estate concierge that uses device’s native texting software. Pairbot adds contacts from the agent’s contact list and sends reminders to call a customer. It’s also a useful tool for consumers. Like Apple’s Siri, Pairbot helps them get the information on demand from a team of real estate experts employed by AgentPair. The customers can ask any question from “How much will it cost to remodel my kitchen?” to “What are the best schools in my neighborhood?”
Real time messaging
Real time chats enable constant connection between a client (app) and a server. In this case, the server knows online/offline statuses of each user and will make sure a message is delivered to a participant of a conversation instantly. Real time chats are typically implemented with the help of XMPP protocol. This protocol has to be transported across the network by using a transport binding, such as TCP/IP (used with native clients on devices), HTTP, or WebSockets.
There is a number of ready solutions for integrating real-time chats into an app both open source and paid. Some of them include:
- Pubnub provides global cloud infrastructure and key building blocks for real-time interactivity.
- Layer provides powerful APIs and SDKs for developers to build rich communications experiences which include chats, voice and video messaging.
- Socket enables real-time bidirectional event-based communication.
- Twilio is a platform that enables phones, VoIP, and messaging to be embedded into web, desktop, and mobile software.
- Matrix is an open standard for open, distributed, real-time communication over IP. Matrix allows you to integrate your own real-time communication infrastructure service to their ecosystem.
- Actor is an open source messaging system with rich mobile and web clients that can handle millions of simultaneous users. It uses their own protocol for communication between server and clients.
Real time messaging is the best option for the real estate applications because it allows for more personalized user experience and greater responsiveness.
NOTE: Our RnD team is working on a fundamental research in communication technology which will include considerations of the above-mentioned solutions among a lot of others. We’ll share the results of this research with you in the next couple of months.
Apps that support showings on demand cater to consumers’ growing appetite for immediate gratification, but they also raise a number of concerns for some agents, homeowners, and homebuyers/renters.
1. Homeowner’s convenience
Homeowners don’t always want to have potential buyers visit their homes at any hour and on short notice. Regarding the “for rent’” market, though, it’s typically not an issue.
Traditionally, a buyer first meets an agent in the office to go through an interview and only then do they arrange a showing. Apps like Curb Call, however, don’t assume that an agent be acquainted with a potential buyer, and meeting a stranger might be dangerous.
That’s why Curb Call developed a system called Radius. When a real estate agent goes on a showing, he/she can put a corresponding status (“on a showing”). The app will track the agent’s current location on a map and display it on the brokerage’s Curb Call dashboard. If the agent unexpectedly leaves the showing, Radius will automatically trigger an emergency alert to the broker and to an emergency contact. In addition, the Curb Call app will immediately notify the broker and an emergency contact if a real estate agent hits a “Panic” button in the app.
3. Agent quality
Trust is one of the most important factors for establishing good reputation for your service. Marketplaces like eBay, Airbnb, and Etsy, built trust via social validation in the form of reviews, recommendations, and ratings. You can also read the technology stack behind Airbnb.
Uber goes even further with their background driver’s checks which implies county, federal, and multi-state criminal check. They also incorporate anonymous feedback about a ride and driver ratings, not to mention their Code of Conduct that every driver needs to comply with.
After a home tour is over, a real estate app can offer homebuyers or renters to write how they felt about the agent’s friendliness and their local knowledge. This way they can help other renters or buyers know which brokers to trust and how to navigate the waters.
Why “Uber for real estate?”
So called “Uber for real estate” has a huge potential to revolutionize the whole industry and undermine well-established rules by challenging the vision of the traditional players. The change in the real estate sector, and not only there, is inevitable for the following reasons:
– The possibilities afforded by new technologies can’t be left out. An “Uber for real estate” removes friction in the user experience by providing on-demand direct connection between a buyer/renter and a real estate agent circumventing unnecessary bureaucracy.
– Instant gratification, sharing economy, interest in innovation, demand of best for value and low cost are the emerging behavioural trends that a consumer wants.
– Proliferation of on-demand services like Uber is seen across a range of different industries worldwide.
– The majority of the workforce will shift to self-employed contractors in the future. Technology platforms which provide services on-demand make it easier for contractors to get customers or work from around the globe. When it comes to real estate apps, an agent’s work life becomes more flexible, allowing them to fit their job around their schedules and this way generate more leads.
Despite the obstacles, “uberization” of the real estate industry has clear benefits and there is a big chance that an app that chooses this road will become a differentiator on the real estate market.