Interview by Mike Sullivan
Smarter Agent always knows where you are. Sound creepy? It’s not. It is actually quite helpful if you are looking to purchase a home. Brad Blumberg and his brother Eric figured this out and created Smarter Agent, a company which now has 5 patents, and was one of the first companies to introduce the geo-location based technologies into the marketplace.
Smarter Agent began as a mobile real estate application for consumers. The consumers could search for homes for sale via GPS (their location) and then see all the MLS information on the property. Smarter Agent then began selling the application to real estate agents to use as their own marketing tool to sell houses to consumers. Smarter Agent is now leveraged by many national real estate firms including Century21, ERA and Sotheby’s.
You were one of the first players to introduce the geolocation based technology to the marketplace and you chose to do so through real estate. Can you explain why you believed this was the most relevant use for this technology and what the first steps were in creating Smarter Agent?
We focused on real estate because of our background in real estate – our mother was a real estate agent, we had experience in architecture and real estate development. We knew we could use GPS and information about homes to re-define the real estate maxim that it’s all about “Location, Location, Location!”
We also knew what consumers really wanted to know. Many people drive around neighborhoods and pass a home and want to know what it sold for or what is the current sales price. Real estate is a huge transactional vertical with home sales, mortgage and insurance sales, and all the things you buy when you get a new home or apartment. So it was a great big sector to start with.
We realized the power of combining information and location via mobile devices early because of our background.
I really liked reading how you changed the application to being solely for consumers and started marketing it to the sellers, the real estate agents and even other types of firms. What made you reposition in this way and what was that process like?
We always believed that we needed to build an app or a platform that was really device agnostic. We knew just jumping on the bandwagon and building for the iPhone craze was not going to be enough, especially when the iPhone was new. By focusing on one or two phone operating systems only, it leaves too many consumers out of the game, so that was our first real strategic decision in terms of the direction we wanted to go.
As we built our platform and consumers started downloading the apps, we realized how scalable it could be, and we then made the decision to focus on agents and larger brokerages. These businesses continue to need a mobile presence and mobile marketing tools to match the behaviors of the consumers they serve. In the end, 80% of all homebuyers turn to a Realtor to close the deal, and these agents and brokers need tools to provide to their customers. By targeting large real estate firms we can provide them with a fully customized and branded application that meets the needs of the organization. We are now enabling organizations to rapidly deploy mobile experiences to end customers in a cost effective and scalable way.
Walk us through what exactly we would see as a consumer using Smarter Agent to help locate a home for sale near me?
For consumers, Smarter Agent makes it possible for you to find the closest properties for rent or for sale around you from your mobile phone, harnessing the power of mobile and location-based technology.
Consumers use the app to search for properties based on their current location via GPS, or can enter an address, city, or zip code into the search box. The results bring back a list of properties for sale, all with detailed MLS information, including price, beds/baths, taxes, estimated mortgage, maps and photos. It will also give you local news around the community around you as well.
Your company now has 5 patents. You must be quite the inventor! Can you tell us about any of the other patents, or business ideas you have brewing that we should be on the look out for?
You will see the apps get more and more features and new types on content to make your search more immersive.
In a marketplace crowded by over 300,000 apps in the iTunes store, and many more competing to be there, what advice can you give to app developers on ways to gain traction and make your app stick out of the crowd?
It is all in the distribution model.
First, relying solely on one phone operating system can make it very hard to succeed in the app development business. We have a multi-pronged approach to our distribution strategy, leveraging all the existing mobile platforms. Slogging it out with the half million other apps in the iTunes store is not a winning strategy unless you are just looking for proof of concept.
Additionally, we leverage lots of distribution methods like downloaders, QR, text and social media to get people to the apps. We also give these tools to our partners. We give real estate brokers text codes that allow for consumers to text and get a link to their app. Text: SA to 87778 for example.
The agents put them in their marketing and advertising material, which is a great marketing vehicle for them. We also have worked with agents to include QR codes in their advertising, which offers another easy way for consumers to download them – without ever going to a crowded app store.
Do real estate agents have to list the homes for sale on the Smarter Agent app or is it automatically pulled from the MLS? Is there any information you get from Smarter Agent that you don’t get on the MLS?
All the real estate sales data comes via a brokerage firm or agent and is direct MLS data. So an agent can show ALL the listing in their market area in their apps. The Smarter Agent apps rotate in our clients, in some cases it is the MLS itself. We also have public record data like the last sales price of a home, apartment data from 3rd party sources, etc. We are continually adding all types of data relevant to your location and your home or apartment search.
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