Technology has revolutionized the real-estate industry – from listing a home to finding a loan to reviewing a real-estate agent.
Consumers have come to expect it. For example, homebuyers are increasingly looking to the Internet to purchase homes. Forty-three percent of buyers searched online for a property as their first step last year, an increase from 35 percent in 2011, according to a 2014 report by the National Association of Realtors.
Phoenix-based HomeSmart International has been an innovator in real-estate technology since Matt Widdows founded the company in 2000. It has grown into the largest residential real-estate brokerage in the Southwest, Widdows said.
Widdows had a technology background before he became a Realtor, and his experience helped him find efficiencies at a time when Internet access was scarce.
“I think (real-estate technology) was lacking in a big, big way when I came in and launched HomeSmart,” he said. “It really helped us survive during the (Great) Recession since we were so efficient.”
Widdows hired in-house developers to create a mobile app that gave his brokers the ability to do searches from their vehicles. The technology was considered revolutionary in the early 2000s.
The team also developed several systems that allow for paperless transactions, appointment setting, accounting functions and listing tools.
Widdows said the big trend now is the gravitation toward mobile apps ¬– similar to Uber – that locate real-estate agents in any given neighborhood.
“I think technology has evolved,” Widdows said. “We’re doing a heck of a lot better than 10-15 years ago.”
Here’s a look at three ways real-estate professionals are using new tools in Arizona:
HomeSmart’s branch offices utilize a centralized virtual receptionist, who actually works out of the corporate office in central Phoenix.
Even though the receptionist is miles away, she greets customers from a 42-inch LCD flat-screen television. She also can lock and unlock doors and page agents from her location.
The technology allowed Widdows to grow his business and reduce employee-related expenses. The company has more than a dozen locations in Arizona.
HomeSmart was the first brokerage in the country to launch a technology feature such as this, Widdows said.
“The nice thing about it is it’s all integrated,” he said. “Once there is a new trend, we can add it on to our system.”
Real-estate professional Meghan Martinez wished there was a better way to control who had access to her rental properties.
“The issue of floating keys concerned me,” the Chandler resident said. “It’s a universal problem. Any time a key or code is given out, it can be copied, lost or stolen.”
Martinez founded Keasy, a digital keyless lock that allows agents to issue an electronic key to a potential buyer or guest for a specific time frame.
“That’s definitely a goal for Keasy is to change the whole way vacant properties are managed from an efficiency and safety standpoint,” she said.
Guests can use a smartphone to access the Keasy door-lock system. The technology behind Keasy is based on light transmission, rather than Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
Martinez said people can use Keasy anywhere with controlled access, such as apartments, hotels or houses.
The Keasy app comes with its own security code, similar to an iPhone lock screen, to provide an extra layer of security.
“There’s 10,000 vacation rentals in Arizona, so it’s a pretty big market here in our backyard,” she said.
It took eight months to develop the prototype for Keasy, Martinez said.
“Its funny to see how keyless lock technology is being adopted readily and already used to different areas, but (it) hasn’t been brought to the industry that can use it the most,” she said.
“The real-estate industry as a whole isn’t known for cutting edge innovation,” she added.
Martinez said the response from Realtors has been positive, and the company is taking pre-orders now.
Matterport 3-D Camera
Matterport, a computer vision technology company based in Mountain View, California, last year released a 3-D camera that allows for virtual property walkthroughs and accurate measurements.
Matterport camera operators control the $4,500 camera through an Apple iPad to capture 2-D and 3-D images of a property.
Users can view the property in dollhouse view or see a floor plan they can share through any computer or iPad.
“Watching people navigate through a space and experience that for the first time is so much fun,” said Jeffrey Harris, Matterport’s vice president of sales and business development. “With traditional technology, people don’t really see the full context of how everything fits together, like you would walking through a home.”
Harris said brokerages across the U.S. use the 3-D camera.
Chandler-based photographer Bill Bailey owns Nodal Ninja, a company that sells panoramic photography equipment.
He said there has been a great deal of buzz surrounding the Matterport camera, which he recently purchased and plans to use for real-estate photography.
Bailey said listings that don’t have high-quality photos often go unnoticed.
“I believe this technology will certainly revolutionize the marketing of properties,” he said. “Information is knowledge, and the more knowledge a person has access to, the more informed they’ll be in making a decision.”