Real estate app designed to help agents, improve house hunting
The Harrisburg area will be the test market for a new, locally developed real estate app designed to give Realtors more control of their home listings, while improving the house-hunting experience for consumers.
Web developer Seth Tum of Think3 Innovations, who previously developed a retail couponing app called Bluup, is the chief technology officer behind HouseekR, an app slated to launch March 2 on the Apple and Android platforms.
Like Bluup, HouseekR will rely on a bluetooth-based beacon. But while Bluup beacons were used by local businesses to advertise deals, HouseekR’s beacons are going to be attached to for-sale signs and used to alert prospective buyers who have downloaded the app about homes in their immediate travel area — usually within about 100 feet — that fit their search criteria.
Realtor Jason Manges approached Tum after reading about Bluup in the Business Journal in 2015. He believes the smart-sign beacon represents the future for listing agents. Not only will beacons replace the traditional 800 phone numbers on signs, they will, when paired with the HouseekR app, send real-time data to house seekers about when they can visit a home and provide opportunities to chat instantly with a Realtor.
For buyers, the beacon means easier access to people who should know the property better than anyone. For agents, it’s a new way to generate sales leads.
It all leads to a more streamlined sales process, which should ultimately help cut down the time a home spends on the market, which means more sales.
“The idea is to give the agent more access to the viable buyers in their marketplace,” said Manges, who works for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Homesale Realty and is one of the app’s co-founders. “The benefit for the agent is seamless and timely communication with more buyers. Additionally, they have access to their own dashboard (on HouseekR) that is instantly populated with the buyer’s info and additional analytics.”
Like other apps today, HouseekR is being designed to keep track of its users’ habits, including how people browse and collect information, to help predict future spending, Tum said. For example, the app will build a basic profile around preferences of zip code and price range.
Over time, it will keep track of how many homes people look at and where, even what color homes they are most often attracted to. Tum believes that aggregated data from social media behavior will help expand the company’s service offerings to agents. It also could help attract other real estate-related service providers, including mortgage lenders.
“We’re reinventing behavior,” Tum said. “It’s not invasive. Facebook didn’t start by showing targeted ads right away.”
Tum and Manges believe they are developing something that will appeal to agents across the midstate and hopefully the entire country. And they hope that HouseekR can replace leading real estate listing sites such as Zillow and Trulia.
Those sites have helped agents get information out to more people over the last decade, Manges acknowledged. But a growing number of professionals are paying hundreds of dollars to Zillow and Trulia for premium memberships each month to boost their respective listings by zip code, hoping to generate more traffic than their peers and sell homes faster. The HouseekR team is hoping to redirect some of that spending toward their app.
“It’s a huge industry that if agents want to be recognized and approached by buyers they have to pay,” he said.
HouseekR aims to significantly reduce those monthly marketing costs for agents. The service would cost $129 per month, plus the cost of HouseekR beacons, which are about $70 per device. Manges was paying more than $200 per month per zip code to be displayed in the margin of the Trulia search page. At times, his team was paying for multiple zip codes and he wasn’t always seeing a big return on that investment.
The beacons are self-contained with a minimum battery life of two years, and they are designed to withstand year-round weather conditions. They also are interchangeable, so an agent could easily move them and input addresses on the HouseekR dashboard for new listings as homes are sold.
Manges has dropped his Trulia service and said he intends to have the beacon on all of his listings when the app goes live.
“It helps an agent be more responsive and remain on the go,” he said.
But the trick will not only be steering prospective buyers to the app, but also listing agents. In connection with the March 2 launch date, the HouseekR team plans to hold a launch party with many of the Harrisburg area’s top listing agents, hoping to get support and early members on the platform.
From there, the goal is to expand to agents in neighboring Realtor associations. With luck, the team is hoping to expand its reach when the newly created Bright MLS, a new regional home listing service covering much of the Mid-Atlantic region, is up and running by the latter half of 2017.
The goal is to sign up 1,500 agents in the first year and grow by 30 percent annually.
“I can’t really fathom growth. It could be a firestorm,” Manges said. Or it could end up being a flop, he added.