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How a real estate startup stepped up when the MLS vendor would not

Property tours today

As of today, only a select few agents in San Francisco can manage, search, sort, and map their Tuesday Broker’s property tour report using a smartphone. Everyone else is still either printing out a paper version of their tour or using a static PDF file to figure out what homes they will view and in what order. Does it seem ridiculous to you that static paper is the way business gets done in a real estate market that is home to companies like Zynga and Twitter? It does to me.

If you’ve read some of my previous columns about real estate technology, you know that I’m appalled at how slow real estate has been to adopt innovative technologies. I’m also pretty sure we have no one but ourselves – and our 900+ various MLSs – to blame.

So why are only a select few agents actually able to use their smartphones to manage their tours in San Francisco? Only one product allows agents to smartly manage their tour, and that product is currently in a private beta testing process. It has been almost five years since the launch of the iPhone – the first really easy to use smartphone – and real estate agents in the San Francisco market still don’t have an app for handling one of the most important parts of their weekly routine.

The MLS vendor hasn’t stepped up

San Francisco’s MLS vendor hasn’t stepped up to the plate. While they offer a version of the MLS that can be accessed by a mobile device, it isn’t an app, and it certainly isn’t designed or capable of managing a day’s worth of property touring. While they’ve been talking about delivering an iPad version of their product, as of today I have yet to see such a product and have no idea if or how it will manage property tours.

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Who ultimately delivered

The folks that finally delivered are (not surprisingly) former San Francisco real estate agents who got frustrated with the tools that were available to manage their business. I absolutely applaud them, love using their product, and can’t wait for the day when they’ve got all of the contractual issues taken care of so they can go live in the iOS app store. But I also worry about them.

I worry about them because I want them to be successful, and I think the odds are stacked against them. The Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) has an upcoming meeting where they hope to approve an industry standard “data dictionary” that would allow the 900+ MLSs across the nation to use a common language for defining real estate data. Think about that. It’s 2012 and an agent in California can have a completely different way of defining the number of bathrooms (and their various ½, ¼, ¾ iterations) than an agent in Maine or Florida.

Requirements of innovation

While it might seem paradoxical, innovation requires industry standards. If the real estate industry is serious about attracting the talent and money needed to deliver world-class technology solutions then the real estate industry needs to get serious about industry standards. The team behind Theo Tour in San Francisco has put a lot of blood, sweat, and code into a product that serves seven square miles. Imagine what they could deliver if their market spanned from Los Angeles to New York.

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Written By

Matt Fuller brings decades of experience and industry leadership as co-founder of San Francisco real estate brokerage Jackson Fuller Real Estate. Matt is a Past President of the San Francisco Association of Realtors. He currently serves as a Director for the California Association of Realtors. He currently co-hosts the San Francisco real estate podcast Escrow Out Loud. A recognized SF real estate expert, Matt has made numerous media appearances and published in a variety of media outlets. He’s a father, husband, dog-lover, and crazy exercise enthusiast. When he’s not at work you’re likely to find him at the gym or with his family.

35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. Gary Little

    January 27, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    So who are these "former San Francisco real estate agents"? How can I get a preview of what they've done? Do they have a website?

  2. Lenore Wilkas

    January 28, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Living down the road from you in Silicon Valley I can't agree more! We are still using paper for tours whether in SAMCAR land or SILVAR land. Crazy, isn't it? You'd think that we'd all be the first ones in the US testing this stuff but alas the powers that be just don't get it. Great to know SFAR might be the leader on this for our region and hopefully the others will follow, with their tails between their legs.

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