Kicking off 2012
2011 was the year of growth, perseverance and blowback in which hundreds of companies launched and saw huge rounds of funding despite a defunct economy. For 2012, we are watching many startups as they grow, but we also have several legacy brands on our watch list as we hear rumors of big changes coming this year.
The following 60 brands were narrowed down from hundreds of companies that we have covered at AGBeat that are vying for your attention this year, and all 60 are poised to dominate in 2012.
500Startups.com takes early state companies, gives them seed investments of $10,000 to $250,000, puts them in their startup accelerator program with over 160 global mentors, Silicon Valley work space and prides themselves on offering access to a vibrant startup community.
There are now dozens of accelerator programs, but 500Startups is on our watch list not only because several of the companies they have seeded appear on the pages of AGBeat and even on this very list (like Loku), but because they specialize in lean startups which is brilliant during a down economy where we are seeing bloated startups hoarding cash whose chances are not guaranteed simply because they have money. Read more about 500Startups.
Even prior to airbnb’s jaw-dropping round of funding to the tune of $112 million in 2011, the company was a rising star in the tech world, earning praise and traffic in high volume. Starting off as a Y Combinator backed company with an initial investment of $20,000, the company was quickly seeded by Sequoia Capital and others for $600k in 2009 and ultimately funded in 2010 by Ashton Kutcher, Greylock Partners and others. The company was a model for how to handle bad press in 2011 as a user came forward after her rental was robbed and destroyed, after which, AirBnB was publicly apologetic and took steps to insure rentals and circumvent future problems, refusing to let their name be destroyed. With the praise still rolling in, we expect to see big, creative moves from the company now that they’re rolling in money.
Amazon rocked the world with their 2011 announcement of the Kindle Fire, looking to compete head on with the iPad by making the more portable tablet so inexpensive it could not be ignored. Many called it a potential iPad killer and while that is not likely, selling one million Kindle devices every week in December 2011, they are a serious contender. Amazon has aimed to keep the Kindle Fire so inexpensive that they are selling nearly at cost, but are funneling users into their ecosystem to buy songs, books and apps. Watch for Amazon to make more traction in 2011 as their Appstore explodes to match Kindle sales. Read more about the Kindle Fire.
As part of this fall’s “TechCrunch Disrupt” conference, ApartmentList was introduced as a disruptive force in the rental search category, aiming to combat complacency in the marketplace and at launch, they already have more data sources than any startup we’ve seen in recent years- ForRent, ListHub, HotPads and so on. The search is easy for users to understand and is based on the premise of recommendations based on lifestyle and integrates Yelp listings onto the map search. Most sites either master information or master novelty- ApartmentList does both. Even though lifestyle search is not exactly new, it is still heating up and we anticipate this feature, ApartmentList’s disruptive attitude and high profile talent will catapult them in 2012. Watch a video demo of ApartmentList.
In 2011, Apple was able to outsell any single tablet and any single smartphone, without even releasing a legitimately new product, rather sold updated products that were barely a departure from the previous generation. Imagine if the company had excited the world with new products or drastically updated products? Apple is sitting on more cash than the federal government and has a long history of innovation which will not stop with the passing of Steve Jobs. Anticipate long lines for whatever products they announce later this month, possibly a Kindle Fire competitor?
Software developers, Avatron.com released three insanely innovative products in 2011 that raised the bar for the industry. First, they launched “Air Display” which wirelessly turns an iPad into a second monitor for a Mac or PC. Next, they launched “AirDictate” which uses Siri voice technology to dictate text from your iPhone directly and wirelessly to your Mac. Lastly, Avatron launched “AirSharing” which makes an iPad or an iPhone an external drive, doing away with the need for a Flash drive. These three apps are genius and we will be watching for Avatron to come up with even more brilliant products in 2012.
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate
Relatively young real estate brokerage, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate expanded into several new markets in 2011 and we anticipate their growth will continue in 2012. BHGRE is not on the list of companies to watch for their growth, however. Not only are there rumors of new things on horizon for the company, they have been relatively quiet lately which is abnormal for the brokerage which has spent most of their time since launch in the limelight. The announcements they are on the verge of making could make a big impact in the industry this year, stay tuned.
BetterVoicemail.com for Realtors is still in beta on iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices to not only transcribe voicemails so they can be read in an agent’s palm rather than putting the phone up to their head in front of clients or while in the car, but offers visual indicator icons that tell the agent the number that called, which property they called about, and if they requested a tour. Recently, we reported that their next step is to integrate the same voice recognition software that is rumored to power Siri (voice activated personal assistant system for iPhones) to not only improve voicemail transcriptions, but Co-Founder Steven Knapp tells us, “later usage could be to do away with the need for phone tree style prompts because we’ll be able to ask ‘What property are you calling about?’ ‘When would you like to schedule a showing?’” When BetterVoicemail leaves beta in 2012, they could literally destroy their competitors. Learn more about BetterVoicemail.
BrightNest launched late in 2011, claiming they “will redefine home maintenance,” as it offers home care tips, weekly reminders to users and step-by-step instructions for home maintenance. “Think of us as the owner’s manual for the American Dream.” The timing for the launch of the optimistic company with a fun, cheerful site design is perfect, given that millions of homeowners are opting to remodel over buying a new house. The AGBeat team is pretty savvy about home maintenance, but we have all learned a lot from the BrightNest tips and if we love the look, feel and content they produce, we know consumers do as well. Watch for BrightNest to go mainstream and get some serious funding in 2012. Learn more and get a beta code.
Having already acquired Real Living and GMAC Real Estate, Brookfield Residential Property Services made a major power play recently by buying up Prudential Financial Inc.’s real estate brokerage and relocation business for $110 million, making Brookfield the second largest global relocation operation and third largest residential real estate brokerage in North America. Prudential franchisees will be allowed to use the Prudential name until the expiration of their franchise agreement. We will be watching Brookfield closely in 2012 not only to see what other acquisitions they make, but how they roll them all together under the Real Living banner across the continent – there could be some serious moves made this year.
Recently launched startup CheckYourLandlord seeks to avoid rental scammers by offering a means of screening the person claiming to be a landlord and is working to educate renters of the potential pitfalls of rental scams. The service allows renters to check the property to make sure there are no pre-foreclosure notices of default against the property for free, and users can check information about the property and landlord, which they suggest doing before signing a lease. Additionally, users can verify the property ownership status as well as the landlord’s civil and criminal background. We have heard rumors that the service will be adding a lot of new features like the possibility of renters being able to check agent license statuses, so we will be watching how the company grows in 2012. Read more about CheckYourLandlord.
ClearHouse subjectively screens inspectors and acts as the independent party to assign an inspector and make the reports available to buyers via the web. Some analysts point to a small group of inspectors as partially to blame for the housing collapse, as flawed inspections (such as inspections passing without an inspector ever going inside a home, rather driving by and visually assessing) caused flawed housing prices. In an effort to bring transparency to a major piece of the transaction, ClearHouse is tapping into the consumer sentiment that (true or not), inspectors are loyal to agents, not consumers. Because transparency is still the name of the game and inspections are a contentious issue more and more every day, we anticipate adoption of ClearHouse will increase in 2012 as real estate professionals recommend the product to clients and consumers find it on their own. View a short video about ClearHouse.
CoreLogic is about to single handedly make or break millions of deals across the nation as they have partnered with the major credit agencies to be the information provider that gives lenders the equivalent of a second credit score or a shadow credit score for all Americans which includes previously unreported data like utility bills, property tax liens, child support, whether borrowers are underwater on a home, have taken a payday loan and rumors that cell phone bills and the like will eventually be included. Borrowers that were once off of the grid will now be on the grid, and high scoring consumers may be hiding behind other dings. Lending will remain tight in 2012, so this new shadow credit score could make a tremendous impact on how all borrowing is done.
Real estate startup Diggsy.com launched to take real estate search into a completely different direction. Rather than focusing on more widgets, forums, map features and the like, they are doing the opposite and paring down real estate search to the core basics with minimalist design. Simplicity and speed are their goals. In a short period of time, they’ve gone from a simple search to a national contender. Diggsy will see more partnerships in 2012 and although we have heard rumors of new features coming soon, if their focus remains on the singular task of home shopping, 2012 could be their breakout year.
Still a young company, DotLoop just finished a boom year despite a wrecked economy and shrinking Realtor base. The company partnered with EXIT Realty and Keller Williams to form the first “brand wide offer-to-close” solution, reaching 1,000,000 signatures across 700 cities by 80,000 agents in 2011. More national partnerships are expected in 2012 and earned a 40 percent tax credit incentive from the City of Cincinnati, the company opened large urban offices to prepare for a doubling in their staff in the coming year. They’ve been very public about their anticipated growth and if they meet their stated goals, they could be a household name in the industry in a matter of months.
EveryBlock, a hyperlocal news site (“a news feed for your block”) has come a long way since we first wrote about it in 2008 as a source of blogging inspiration. Since then, it was acquired by msnbc.com in August of 2009 and in 2011, they unveiled their next generation product wherein they are not just a one way communication device, it is now open to two way conversation and encourages collaboration between neighbors. Hyperlocal digital news is going to be hot in 2012 as people tune out the increasing volume of social networks like Twitter and focus on connecting with their neighbors. Watch for EveryBlock to grow in 2012 and see new features and possibly acquisitions for growth.
Launched in 2008 by the folks behind HGTV at Scripps Networks, FrontDoor sought to connect homeowners not only with properties through their real estate search of over four million listings. The company brought on a cast of bloggers from across the country, but the project seemed to lose steam by 2009. The company has undergone a rebrand and given their expertise in lifestyle entertainment and how hot lifestyle is right now, we have a gut feeling that 2012 is the year of FrontDoor’s resurrection. The real estate industry should watch the company to be a consumer influencer in short order.
After years of watching Twitter and Facebook fail and succeed, Google rebranded across the board, linked all of their services together and launched their own social network in 2011 which already has 62 million users. With more traditional marketing via television and digital marketing, along with a built in user base of Gmail users, Google+ could be the hottest social network in 2012 and go mainstream. Google+ expert Paul Allen has forecasted the network will have 400 million users by the end of 2012. Pay attention to Google+, it is going to blow up in 2012.
San Francisco based HelloFax.com launched early in 2011 and we were immediately enthusiastic that a low cost, totally digital option had the potential to go mainstream for going paperless. While there are much more complex digital signature companies available that offer more sophisticated options for business, HelloFax has relaunched with their newest suite of features which include requesting signatures from other parties. For the rare fax we have to send, we all use HelloFax as does much of the tech world – 2012 will be the year the company goes mainstream and gets their major round of funding. Read more about HelloFax.
With the clever tagline “happier, not broker,” homingCloud is a growing disruptive company in the real estate space, with an anti-agent attitude. The service is like a dating site for home sellers and buyers (or renters), cutting out the broker middle man. Buyers post what they’re looking for and magic website robots match them up with sellers selling similar products. It’s what we imagine a website would look like if Craigslist.com and Match.com made a little baby website. Despite more consumers using agents in 2011 than any recent period, in cities like New York where brokerage is complicated, homingCloud could make a pretty serious dent in the market in 2012. Watch a video intro to homingCloud.
HouseFix.com aims to bring social recommendations to the home repair industry, giving homeowners a place to opine with known social connections about contractors in context rather than blindly reading strangers’ recommendations of repair professionals. The service also seeks to give contractors a way to have a stronger web presence, but more importantly, scores them based on user input and gives them a tracking mechanism for their projects. We pitched the service to our readers as the CarFax of homes which the company has adopted as part of their own pitch. We have high hopes for HouseFix’s growth in 2012 and believe they fill a serious hole in the industry that consumers could take to in droves this year.
HubSpot offers an all-in-one marketing software platform for small and medium sized businesses, claiming over 4,000 companies using their services to increase their site traffic and convert leads. They offer website management, blogging, search engine optimization, lead management, marketing analytics, email marketing, landing pages, and social media monitoring. Although well known in tech circles, the company is on pace to be ubiquitous across all industries as they saturate new markets. 2012 is going to be an explosive year for HubSpot as they break out to dominate the serving of fringe industries and become a staple in marketing departments – look for their client base to double this year.
Inhabi is a brand new company that claims to be the “easiest way to find an apartment online” as they are known as the eHarmony of matching renters and landlords. Inhabi acts as an effective conduit for communication between landlord and renter as users simply create a profile describing their ideal rental and landlords search renters which is how the magic happens. We’ve said for a long time that renting is the new black and as the economy continues to bounce at the bottom and the stigma surrounding renting fades, all things rent will be ultra hot in 2012, especially Inhabi as they seek to be the conduit and give renters that sense of security that they aren’t being scammed or getting into something they would rather run from, a la eHarmony. Read more about Inhabi’s launch.
KeepSum, known as Groupon for real estate, is one of our favorite discoveries of 2011 as the company was launched by a real estate professional who had a simple belief that they could bring group buying to individual agents, especially on products already being used or tools that are industry specific without having to wade through junk deals. The site offers up to 60% off on services and just like Groupon, offers a lower group rate for a limited time. It’s simple in concept and design, and with some of the partnerships we have heard rumors about, the company will hit its stride as it continues its launch in 2012. It would be genius if one of the major real estate media sites acquired KeepSum, but we anticipate a round of funding in 2012 is more likely. Read more about KeepSum.
Klout measures influence across the web which has been critical in an era when social proof became the name of the digital marketing game and companies obsessed over the scores they had, along with how their employees and even potential employees were ranked. The company came under fire recently for overstepping privacy bounds and creating ghost accounts for future users, even minors. Some question the accuracy of the scoring mechanism and a movement began late in 2011 by users encouraging others to delete their Klout profiles. Despite the negative attention, 2011 was the year of their biggest round of funding ($8.5 million). Watch for Klout to add features and gain a tremendous amount of traction in 2012 – maybe your clients will ask your Klout score before hiring you? We’re being serious…
Kred is a social scoring tool that says it is “the first totally transparent social scoring system to evaluate influence among communities and reward generosity.” They emphasize that “small close networks of normal people are the rock stars of influence.” While the Scobles of the world dominate with impressive Klout scores, Kred believes that offline achievements and influence within a small community is really where it’s at. “We all have influence somewhere,” the company says. Kred is less than 30 days old and has the potential to take on Klout in 2012 in a major way as an alternative. It is likely that many will use both scores to profile various forms of their influence, but social scoring is going to be white hot in 2012, especially as Kred enters the fold. Read more on Kred.
LeaseRunner is a young startup offering a simple web app designed to help landlords, property managers and renters transact the entire leasing process without paper while maintaining security. Leasing is hot not only because homeowners are becoming renters, but because the technology associated with the industry is finally catching up to the needs of renters and landlords, years after residential real estate sales technology has mastered the game. LeaseRunner has a few competitors, but stands to gain the most traction in 2012 as they make leasing completely digital at a reasonable price that will help adoption. 2012 will be a breakout year for the new company. Read more about LeaseRunner.
Recently launched Loku.com is “big data for local” contextual search engine helps people find news, deals, businesses and events in a hyperlocal area using an algorithm that defines and ranks local content across the web uniquely. The user interface is gorgeous, easy to scan, and certainly meets their standards of “helping you live a more local life” whether using a browser, smartphone or tablet. It is interesting to compare trends even in different parts of a city. A quick search of 78701 (downtown Austin) was dominated by fitness, music and arts while 78641 (Leander, a suburb north of the city) was mostly civics and education, both of which are accurate results for those areas. We love that Loku brings people back together online whereas the web traditionally splinters people. Hyperlocal is hot and the talent behind Loku will skyrocket the company in 2012. More about Loku here.
After months in private beta, Lovely got a huge vote of confidence by high profile investors and aims to seriously disrupt the rental search process. Besides clean, modern design, the site boasts an innovative tool called the “renter resume” which helps renters to “stand out,” but we see it more as a means of prepping a renter to apply, priming the pump if you will, a move that landlords will surely enjoy. The information requested is relevant and private. The company wants to make renting better – a complex task yet a simple core belief that shows in everything they do. Currently, it is only available in San Francisco, but we anticipate Lovely will explode nationally in 2012 and become a staple in landlords’ offices across the industry. Click here for lovely details about Lovely.
Mountain of Agents
Realtor rating site, Mountain of Agents solicits ratings based on a non-subjective set of criteria including marketing expertise, geographical mastery, trust and compassion, active interest, helpfulness, and referrability. Most compelling is trust and compassion- an element that is difficult to critique but highly important in the industry. The user interface looks great for Mountain of Agents and while other ratings sites are tedious and often confusing, we find this site to be extremely clear and well thought out with the Realtor in mind. They launched early in 2011 and kept up a demanding pace of adding features and expanding their reach. Because of their 2011 pace, they are most definitely a company to watch in 2012 as they seek to innovate. Read more about Mountain of Agents.
In 2011, Move bought social search platform, SocialBios not only for its ability to create a single social hub for online profiles and create an interactive “about” page, but for the company’s talent which was likely used to strengthen Move’s secretive lead generation product, Move Cycle, which quietly launched at the annual National Association of Realtors convention this fall. The new product incubates a consumer from their visit on Realtor.com all the way through the process and into Realtors’ Top Producer CRM (customer relationship manager) as a client. This reduces the number of tools it takes to manage one client and helps existing Move clients by streamlining the process in a big way. Because little promotion has been done yet by Move, the culmination of all of their products into one is going to make a huge splash in 2012 given their existing massive (and growing) user base. Watch a quick video demo of Move Cycle.
In 2011, Co-Founder and CEO, Caren Maio led apartment search and bookmarking site, Nestio to a $750k round of Angel funding with a breakout year having gone from a small site to a national search tool with impressive partnerships with the likes of eBay and NakedApartments. Nestio has reached into a hot sector and created a product that can legitimately make search easy for all renters which they (renters) are begging for. We anticipate 2012 to be an even bigger growth year for Nestio as it streamlines apartment hunting, compares units side by side and offers bookmarking across other search sites.
Late in 2011, Zillow co-founder Rich Barton helped launch NextDoor.com as a Board Member and investor. The company seeks to bring neighbors together in a secure environment that offers simple organization and with functions similar to existing social networks that consumers should easily comprehend. The service is available in 200 neighborhoods and each user must verify their address – no anonymous users named “JoeMama2009? at NextDoor. The design is gorgeous and as mentioned previously, hyperlocal is where it’s at in 2012 as consumers tire of the segmented, disorganized feel of the web – NextDoor is poised to be a huge hit this year.
Still in private beta and focused on one city, NuHabitat is a beta brokerage that seeks to modernize real estate – no easy task. We hear claims every day of the next big brokerage that is going to change the world and that is so tech savvy it will blow your mind, but NuHabitat is less talk and more action. The company says their mission is to give consumers better data, allow them to make a more informed decision and have a better shopping experience. Their pitch is that there is data consumers should have access to that only agents do, so he’s giving it to them. Founder Jeffrey Burke said, “Unlike other real estate brokerage sites that just use an HAR plug-in for search, NuHabitat was developed from the ground up. Using the latest in real estate technology we provide the most accurate and comprehensive search results updated every 10 minutes,” directly from their local MLS. Brilliant. Watch NuHabitat take off like a rocket when they finally launch to the public- they’re quietly giving the public what they want. Read all about NuHabitat.
Any company that saves real estate brokerages capture our attention, as OnlineEd did recently, taking their traditional and diverse real estate training from the offline world online in modules that no longer require brokerages hire a highly paid speaker and pay their lodging for a month as they train their agents. What sets them apart is quality content that promotes conversation about educational topics in a way that commits information to a Realtor’s memory and aides in getting agents to think more deeply via lesson plans and dialog points about their business. The modules range from social media strategies to HUD contract writing, not just technology and marketing as are commonly the exclusive lesson topics of web training. As the full program is made available in 2012, this legacy company is going to rock the training world. Read more about OnlineEd.
OpenCongress.org launched in 2011 and dramatically changed how Americans access government information. Leaders continue to promise transparency but it simply doesn’t exist, so OpenCongress is devoted to transparency in high level government. All bills introduced are uploaded to the site and with a free account, you can track specific bills, changes to those bills, notes you or other people place on the bill and can even watch their popularity (or lack thereof) as to how people on the site vote them up or down. It has built in sharing buttons and RSS buttons as well as offers contact information for your local legislator so you don’t have to hunt that down. We use the site extremely frequently and believe all Americans should. 2012 will be the year of massively explosive growth for the site due to the upcoming elections. Check out OpenCongress now.
Mobile social sharing app, Path proved in 2011 that despite the theory that all people should share everything openly (like Facebook advocates), some demographics are simply not ready for social sharing public, or are early adopters and have tired of the demand for transparency. Because Path is limited to 150 connections and is a more gorgeous version of Twitter + Facebook + Instagram + Foursquare that only allows your small network to see your updates, the success and $8.65 million round of funding received in 2011 has the tech world drooling over Path. The company is brand new and has already rejected a $100 million buy out offer from Google – imagine what they can do with their recent funding and the empowerment of turning down Google. 2012 is the year consumers will tire of being overly public and turn inward – which is where Path will be waiting for them.
Pinterest’s pockets exploded in 2011 as their valuation of roughly $200 million netted two huge rounds of funding – $10 million in May and another $27 million in October. The invitation-only photo sharing site experienced skyrocketing traffic in 2011 and is one of the top tech brands of the year with users evangelizing for the company very much like the first Twitter users enthusiastically evangelized. Users are spending an exorbitant amount of time on the site and visits have increased 4,000 percent in the second half of 2011. No other company grew quite the way Pinterest did in 2011 and they are just getting started – we believe that Pinterest will be a true household name in 2012.
In 2011, Point2 launched the MLS Certified program, “an initiative designed to drive higher standards in property data publication” with a pending trademark on the MLS Certified logo as a “trust symbol to support higher real estate data standards and consumer expectations online.” Point2 syndicates from over 240 MLSs with over 1.1 million listings to more than 50 consumer sites. The MLS Certified™ logo will appear on Realtors’ listings of participating boards. Because of the continuing controversies surrounding real estate data and NAR committee votes regarding MLS data, IDX feeds and the like, 2012 will be the year people start paying attention to the oft overlooked MLS Certified program. Read more about the MLS Certified program.
Professionals Realty Group
Making profitable lemonade out of lemons, ousted leaders of troubled brokerage Realty Executives International (REI) banded together to bring Professionals Realty Group to America from Australia. The group offers a twist on the flat fee brokerage model that gets away from the traditional real estate split. Although franchisees tell us there is bad blood, they say the PRG team is focusing on their growth and looking forward rather than backward. PRG is now in growth mode and we anticipate the company will be able to make a lot of positive noise in 2012 as their numbers grow.
In 2011, dozens of Realtor rating systems launched, but RatedAgent was noteworthy because they offer unedited feedback from consumers about agents, even their hand written responses. Additionally, the company got attention because agents that enter the program agree for all reviews from consumers to be visible – in other words, agents cannot just highlight positive feedback, it’s all or nothing. As of November, they already had over 10,000 participating agents and had launched a pilot program with the California Association of Realtors, likely based on their March 2010 partnership with MLSListings, Inc. as they developed standards for agent reviews, seeking to give better controls over the information. The company has aggressive growth goals which puts them on our list of companies to watch. Read about RatedAgent’s launch.
ReachFactor launched late in 2011 and has the potential to be one of the biggest game changers in 2012 as it features a twist on agent ranking, rather acts as a detailed, rich, interactive profile for an agent’s local network. The company innovates the directory concept, starting with the idea that they serve as an interactive profile for agents to use rather than a database of agents they want consumers to come search through- it acts as a verification source that can be embedded in a website or Facebook. They offer a Foursquare-esque activity tracker for agents to check in to all properties they preview, tour, list, etc. to show legitimate and relevant activity in their social stream. Everything is funneled to the agent, where they say it should go, so when an email address is entered into the system by a consumer, that information is not used to generate traffic for themselves by drip marketing, nor is it resold as some sites do. We genuinely believe the agent-centric nature of ReachFactor as opposed to almost any site offering agent ratings or rankings and as they gain traction in 2012, you’ll be hearing this brand name a lot. Read much more about ReachFactor.
ReallyMet is an iPhone app that encourages users to share people you meet with your real friends. Users can check in with other people when they meet in person, emphasizing the real connections between people. There is a gaming component that encourages users to build up their social network and with each check in with a real life connection, relationship statuses change from “acquaintance” to “inner circle.” The more people you meet and “level up the relationship class” with, the more your overall social level increases. Real life meetings can be made relevant by sending messages, posting photos, and rating the “meet.” You can check in, post a “shout out” message or comment, upload photos and discover who you and your real life friends really have in common in real life, hence ReallyMet! As with Path, the desire is high to network with real life friends and keep them separate from your thousands of connections you have yet to meet. Look for ReallyMet to blow up in 2012 as they launch their Android app and quietly dominate private networking. Watch a quick video about how ReallyMet works.
Last fall, RedBeacon launched their iPhone app wherein through the app, users can shoot video (or photo or voice memo) of any home maintenance problem they are having or the project they need done and submit it immediately to the RedBeacon network of nearby home service providers that the company says they have not only checked license status, but they’ve interviewed and done a background check on, which is above and beyond the screening offered by competitors. Approved vendors get a score and the service is known for being one of the fastest to get quotes back to the homeowner. RedBeacon embodies being transparent and consumer-centric which is why it is a brand to watch in 2012. Watch a short video on RedBeacon.
Rather than offer real estate rental search, RentChimp helps consumers find rental units with full social media integration allowing users to collaborate in a meaningful way on their search and keep them organized. Founder, Clark Giguiere said, “We’re not another real estate search engine. Search is saturated.” The site offers a simple interface and a bookmarklet for consumers to use that is rich with drag and drop features. Alternatively, users can copy and paste Craigslist URLs (and as of August, Realtor.com rentals) on to RentChimp.com where it charts each listing, comparing their basic details. We like the ability to drag users’ favorite rental listings from their list to order their preference, and even give them star ratings. The service has only been available in a few cities, so we are watching RentChimp to expand nationally and add more listings feeds in 2012. Read more about RentChimp.
Obviously, everything pertaining to rent is hot, but Rentenna is hotter – they have a really cool twist on the search process and has introduced the “Rentenna Score” which helps hunters to “filter out crappy (overpriced, run-down, far from subway, bed-buggy)” units on the market. Additionally, users can see where friends they are connected to on Facebook have lived to get their direct opinion and find out what they recommend, making a play for the popularity of social recommendations. The company was built by with the expertise of a New York City rental agent combined with the coding and tech experience of the other three partners who have combined “the human knowledge of someone who knows the ups and downs of renting in NYC and quantified it using algorithms, maths, robots, lasers, monkeys,” as they describe it. We anticipate Rentenna could get some big funding this year and march across the nation to score rentals – keep a close eye on this startup. Read more about Rentenna and rental scores.
Rental Relationship Management (RRM) companies have become hot in 2011 and are garnering big funding and major traction as they solve the tricky rental markets in cities like the big apple. RentJuice.com is a newer contender that made waves last year with their “RentJuice Directory” which allows real estate professionals to browse and search landlords, property managers, brokers and leasing offices in their local market in an effort to establish new partnerships and better send and receive a live stream of rental listings in a single dashboard. We are watching for wide adoption from multi-family and landlords to fuel an explosive 2012 for RentJuice. See a quick video about RentJuice.
Rentmix aggregates airbnb, HomeAway and FlipKey short term housing and vacation rental search sites in a streamlined, simple to view interface that pulls listings together on one full-screen map. “Our goal is to be the Google of vacation rentals: fast, simple, elegant,” says the Rentmix.com team. The quick rent scenario and vacation rentals are taking the travel world by storm, with many people opting for a more home-like stay in an actual house or cottage, as some people sincerely don’t like hotels, often citing sterility and cold decor. On Rentmix, you simply tell it where you’re going, when and how much you want to spend, and you can simply click a pin and see details on the side of your screen without being taken away from the map and having to start over and over or hop from site to site to site. Brilliant! We also love that it isn’t cluttered with junky ads, it is very easy on the eyes and consistent from page to page from city to city. At launch, it had some work to do, so if Rentmix sees a round of funding or some new talent hires, 2012 could be the year they dominate vacation rental aggregation in a big way. Read more about RentMix.
RentMonitor aims to make property management easier and require less tech knowledge. The simple interface is designed to help consolidate various functions of the property management process and streamline them with notifications and financial management built in. The software as a service (Saas) company offers tech support and although they seek to help the real estate investor that doesn’t want to spend money on a property manager, at launch, we speculated it would be smaller, independent property managers themselves that will buy the product for the simplicity and background checks built in. For their ability to do away with a variety of services and put them all in one as a money saver for landlords, watch for RentMonitor to have a major growth year in 2012. Watch a video about RentMonitor features.
RentSavvy.com launched as “the very first personalization engine that takes the hassle out of renting by matching your interests and budget to help you find the perfect place to live. It’s apartment hunting that doesn’t suck,” and by searching Craigslist and presenting results on the site based on lifestyle preferences, the company’s focus is on neighborhood first, listing second. As mentioned previously, not only is lifestyle search hot, but the rental industry is booming and this Texas startup’s goal of matching people with areas is brilliant . Consumers land on a wide spectrum, seeking kid-friendly areas or party-friendly areas, so rather than just offering size/price details, RentSavvy added census data and social tools to discover listings that match a user’s preferences. Once the neighborhood is discovered, then users can drill down into listings. RentSavvy’s “deal of the day” feature sends out top deals in the user’s city and gives apartment managers a tracking mechanism. The site had some glitches at launch, so as they clean up their offering and expand to other cities, RentSavvy has a chance at having huge success in 2012. Read more about RentSavvy now.
Developed while studying the measurement of cells in the heart, RentScoper.com founder created an algorithm he began using for his real estate investments to determine property location values (in other words why one property is more expensive than another up the street, yet remains a better investment). After fine tuning it for his personal use, the founder released it to the public with patents pending on their innovative heat mapper, Simulator and other features. At launch, RentScoper.com was in beta in Philadelphia using Craigslist, Postlets and other public data to fuel search and having gone national recently, we are watching the company to have a huge growth year in 2012 as investors both amateur and professional flock to the tool set that takes the mystery out of property values and helps investors make better decisions. Read more about RentScoper.
Founded as a side project, Robot Workshop made huge strides in 2011, launching an IDX product aimed to appear as high quality as a major search portal and compete with big brokers while fitting into an independent agent’s budget. After a partnership with Onboard Informatics led to access of a rich Lifestyle Search API, IDX Robot was formed to offer a viable neighborhood search tool. The founder said, “In the offline and “real world” search process, neighborhood selection and research is paramount. But online home-search is completely focused on the house. Remember “location, location, location”? When someone walks into your real estate office, they tell you about what they want in a house, but always add that the neighborhood HAS to have ____ (good schools, nearby shopping, dog parks, etc.) In fact, how often do you have clients who settle for a smaller or rougher house just to make it into THE neighborhood that fits their lifestyle oh-so-perfectly?”” Watch for the Robot Workshop to launch other projects in 2012 and for IDX Robot to either get funded or acquired. More about Robot Workshop.
After SpareRoom.com dominated the UK as the top roommate website, with the help of taking their online search offline in mixers called “Speed Flatmating,” they are launching SpeedRoommating.com in New York City. The event itself puts roommate seekers in a social environment to save everyone time from traveling all over the city to look at apartments only to discover that the apartment is beautiful but the roommate isn’t exactly a fit for you. It helps avoid what SpareRoom calls the dreaded roommate interview. “If you buy or rent a property then the place itself and the location are the most important factors. When you share it’s the people who make or break it,” the company says. With their first U.S. event launching on January 11, we foresee Speed Roommating being huge in major rental markets as we hear rumors of expansion to other cities like San Francisco. The concept is brilliant and is going to steal headlines in 2012. See a brief video about Speed Roommating.
Move’s Top Producer (customer relationship management software) has long been dismissed by the early adopter tech snob crowd, but in 2011, Top Producer launched a new beta version built on HTML 5, built to function and appear miles ahead of their competitors as the first HTML 5 CRM in real estate. Top Producer now offers innovative features like “contextual coaching” which sends automatic follow up reminders along with tips, swipe navigation to expedite the work flow, analysis of the contact “pipeline,” with prompts to reach out or follow up and more. This update went overlooked by much of the industry, but as more people get their hands on the product, the company will receive more buzz and we’re watching for adoption rates to spike in 2012 for this legacy product.
In addition to expanding through partnerships and app launches, Trulia added two high caliber senior management hires this year, Sean Aggarwal as the new Chief Financial Officer and Scott Darling as General Counsel, both of whom have experience in scaling companies, signaling preparations for going public. We have long predicted that Trulia will go public and with these two appointments, it appears the company is on the verge of filing with the SEC, most likely in the first quarter, possibly in the coming weeks. 2011 was the year of Zillow; watch for 2012 to be the year of Trulia.
Set to launch in 2012, uOpen is the only productivity tool on our watch list. uOpen is packed with features, and unlike competitors is compatible with Android and Apple devices and while the goal is to make real estate open houses more productive, it appears to do so much more – it takes pictures, creates an open house that can be sent to the MLS, captures open house attendee information and even has a customer relationship management (CRM) component which streamlines the followup and notification process for real estate professionals. It also has a social component wherein a real estate agent can submit their showing as a status update across their social networks. As uOpen launches around March of 2012, depending on the pricing model and the ultimate features they launch with, the self-seeded company could get funding before they even hit the “on” switch, and we see this easily as a top hit for 2012. Read more on uOpen.
VerifiedAgent.com launched recently to be the objective, third party verification system of a real estate agent’s integrity, competency, professionalism and record of client service which the company has “reverse-engineered specifically to focus on the critical client service characteristics that studies have shown people look for the most when choosing an agent.” Seeking to solve the trust and reputation problem in real estate, the company chose to be more than a Realtor rating site, rather ranks the quality of an agent over quantity. Learn more about Verified Agent.
Self-service direct marketing company, Vertical Response which targets small to medium businesses, acquired social media marketing technology company, Roost.com in 2011. “This is the first acquisition for VerticalResponse in the nearly 11 years we’ve been in business, so it’s a truly exciting time for us,” said Janine Popick, VerticalResponse CEO. Roost makes Vertical Response social in a way that makes them easily tower over their competitors and poises them for an extremely strong and distruptive 2012.
Windermere Real Estate spun off a tech company in late 2011, Windermere Solutions, built to create products that strengthen “the relationship between agents and brokers,” launching their first product, Agent Websites which was first made available to Windermere Real Estate’s 7,000 agents, then launched publicly to all Realtors in an effort to help agents be as tech-savvy as empowered consumers are coming to expect them to be. The spinoff breaks the mold of the preferred vendor pay-to-play model big box brokers subject their agents to. As the company adds new products and features, they have a good chance at dominating 2012.
In 2011, WPEngine not only saw a $1.2 million round of funding, but many WordPress sites dumped their legacy hosting environment for WPEngine, including AGBeat. WPEngine offers a WordPress VIP-type experience for smaller-scale websites, offering quality support, one-click backups, optimization for speed and scalability, and security features that include automatic software upgrades. No other host knows more about WordPress specifically – you will never hear “we don’t know” or “it’s your fault” like you will at almost all other web hosts. In 2012, watch for more sites of all sizes to break up with their web host and move to WPEngine and watch for this to be the year they take over the WordPress world. Read more about why we switched to WPEngine.
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*All companies featuring an asterisk are also featured on the Genius50 Power Moves of 2011.
Austin tops the list of best places to buy a home
When looking to buy a home, taking the long view is important before making such a huge investment – where are the best places to make that commitment?
Looking at the bigger picture
(REALUOSO.COM) – Let us first express that although we are completely biased about Texas (we’re headquartered here, I personally grew up here), the data is not – Texas is the best. That’s a scientific fact. There’s a running joke in Austin that if there is a list of “best places to [anything],” we’re on it, and the joke causes eye rolls instead of humility (we’re sore winners and sore losers in this town).
That said, SelfStorage.com dug into the data and determined that the top 12 places to buy a home are currently Texas and North Carolina (and Portland, I guess you’re okay too or whatever).
They examined the nerdiest of numbers from the compound annual growth rate in inflation-adjusted GDP to cost premium, affordability, taxes, job growth, and housing availability.
“Buying a house is a big decision and a big commitment,” the company notes. “Although U.S. home prices have risen in the long term, the last decade has shown that path is sometimes full of twists, turns, dizzying heights and steep, abrupt falls. Today, home prices are stabilizing and increasing in most areas of the U.S.”
Average age of houses on the rise, so is it now better or worse to buy new?
With aging housing in America, are first-time buyers better off buying new or existing homes? The average age of a home is rising, as is the price of new housing, so a shift could be upon us.
The average home age is higher than ever
(REALUOSO.COM) – In a survey from the Department of Housing and Urban Development American Housing Survey (AHS), the median age of homes in the United States was 35 years old. In Texas, homes are a bit younger with the median age between 19 – 29 years. The northeast has the oldest homes, with the median age between 50 – 61 years. In 1985, the median age of a home was only 23 years.
With more houses around 40 years old, the National Association of Realtors asserts that homeowners will have to undertake remodeling and renovation projects before selling unless the home is sold as-is, in which case the buyer will be responsible to update their new residence. Even homeowners who aren’t selling will need to consider remodeling for structural and aesthetic reasons.
Prices of new homes on the rise
Newer homes cost more than they used to. The price differential between new homes and older homes has increased from 10 percent traditionally to around 37 percent in 2014. This is due to rising construction costs, scarcity of lots, and a low inventory of new homes that doesn’t meet the demand.
Are Realtors the real loser in the fight between Zillow Group and Move, Inc.?
The last year has been one of dramatic and rapid change in the real estate tech sector, but Realtors are vulnerable, and we’re worried.
Why Realtors are vulnerable to these rapid changes
(REALUOSO.COM) – Corporate warfare demands headlines in every industry, but in the real estate tech sector, a storm has been brewing for years, which in the last year has come to a head. Zillow Group and Move, Inc. (which is owned by News Corp. and operates ListHub, Realtor.com, TopProducer, and other brands) have been competing for a decade now, and the race has appeared to be an aggressive yet polite boxing match. Last year, the gloves came off, and now, they’ve drawn swords and appear to want blood.
Note: We’ll let you decide which company plays which role in the image above.
So how then, does any of this make Realtors the victims of this sword fight? Let’s get everyone up to speed, and then we’ll discuss.
1. Zillow poaches top talent, Move/NAR sues
It all started last year when the gloves came off – Move’s Chief Strategy Officer (who was also Realtor.com’s President), Errol Samuelson jumped ship and joined Zillow on the same day he phoned in his resignation without notice. He left under questionable circumstances, which has led to a lengthy legal battle (wherein Move and NAR have sued Zillow and Samuelson over allegations of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and misappropriation of trade secrets), with the most recent motion being for contempt, which a judge granted to Move/NAR after the mysterious “Samuelson Memo” surfaced.
Salt was added to the wound when Move awarded Samuelson’s job to Move veteran, Curt Beardsley, who days after Samuelson left, also defected to Zillow. This too led to a lawsuit, with allegations including breach of contract, violation of corporations code, illegal dumping of stocks, and Move has sought restitution. These charges are extremely serious, but demanded slightly less attention than the ongoing lawsuit against Samuelson.
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