Sell Homes With Your Cell Phone

By Dan Muse | Posted September 03, 2004
When it comes to selling real estate, timing is everything. If you sell homes for a living, you know that having the right listing at the right time to show your client is critical.

Of course, the other golden rule of real estate is location, location, location. No, we're not talking about just the location of the house, but also the location of the realtor herself. The best realtors aren't tethered to a PC to track the latest on the Multiple Listing Service on the Web. They're in the field with buyers.

The quandary: How do realtors keep up to date on the latest listings in a hot housing market? NewportWorks, an Irvine, Calif.-based software provider, offers a service that lets agents have access to a Web-based MSL database through a voice system activated through an agent's cell phone, something you can be confident every agent won't leave home without.

NewportWorks is an IBM Business Partner, and its application is based on Big Blue's WebSphere Voice Server technology, which provides a voice-driven user interface to access information. WebSphere Voice Server is based on VoiceXML technology and allows developers like NewportWorks to incorporate speech recognition and text-to-speech features in their application.

VoiceXML applications are typically straightforward to use. A tree structure guides a caller through a series of questions, most of which require a simple response. The application converts the responses into text, leading to the next level of the tree. A server receives the feedback through forms (similar to the way you'd enter information in a Web-based HTML form), only in this case it's via voice, or in some cases touch-tone key presses, that enters the data.

It Pushes, It Pulls
According to Ken Stockman, CEO of NewportWorks, AnytimeMLS works as both a "push" and "pull" product — that is, it will both send or push information that meets a certain criteria to the agent (more on this later). It allows agents to call in and pull information using the voice-recognition technology. This access to real-time information can make the difference between an agent making a sale or losing out, Stockman says.

In competitive housing markets, if you can't get the buyer to see a property and make an offer quickly, you could lose a sale. "In some markets, by the time you could get the info, the property is gone." Along with the buyer perhaps. Thanks to mobile technology, access to the most up-to-date MLS is only a cell phone call away, Stockman says.

Phil Mercurio, managing broker at Century 21 Metro Alliance, uses the AnytimeMLS application in the company's 15 offices (11 in Phoenix and four in North Arizona with more than 600 agents).

"This is a competitive market. It's possible that after you leave the office, a new listing might pop up," says Mercurio. How hot is the Southern California market? Mercurio offers this recent example: "An agent entered a listing at 9 p.m. and in 15 minutes, he got two calls [from other agents]."

"Houses, if they are priced right, are on the market about 14 days, some much less. If you're with buyers and they say 'what about that house?' and the agent doesn't know the answer, they'll start to wonder if he really knows what he's doing."

Mercurio described using the AnytimeMLS as follows: You are an agent in the field with a buyer. After you show the houses you arranged to show, your client notices a house listed with another realtor and asks about it. You call the AnytimeMLS 800 number, enter a PIN and follow the voice-activated prompts. After you tell it to search It asks for an address and city. You say 145, it says 145 Main, 145 Maple, 145 Elm .... You specify which address, and it asks what would you like to do? You can ask if the house is still on the market, how much it's listed for and so on. Finally, you can instruct it to call the listing agent.

State of Alert
Of course, no one wants to call into the MLS system every few minutes looking for new properties. AnytimeAlert helps realtors match buyers with the perfect home — as soon as it hits the market. The realtor enters a prospect's preferences (location, size, price range, etc.) and the application monitors the MLS around the clock. When it finds a property that matches, AnytimeAlert can call the agent, and send an e-mail or a text message to his or her phone with the property details.

Century 21 Metro Alliance first learned about AnyTimeMLS from one its business partners, Mercurio said. "They came in and gave a live demo. I'd say 10 of the 20 agents there signed up right away. They pay $17.95 a month — we were able to get a volume discount." (Standard pricing for AnyTimeMLS and AnytimeAlerts is $29.95 a month.) Even though the agents pay for the service out of their own pocket, Mercurio said they find it worth the money to have access to MLS all the time. "Every real estate agent has a cell phone. It's very simple."

Dan Muse is executive editor of internet.com's Small Business Channel and EarthWeb's Networking & Communications Channel.

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