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Originally published January 6, 2012 at 8:00 PM | Page modified January 6, 2012 at 8:01 PM

Real-estate pros hopeful about apps, social media in new year

Real-estate agents are using smartphone apps and QR codes.

Special to The Seattle Times

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When Cynthia Nowak was buying her first condo 10 years ago, her Realtor drove her from neighborhood to neighborhood and buffeted her with a huge stack of papers for every property they looked at.

Such was the plight of house hunters in the pre-Internet era. "There was no online database of anything," recalled Nowak, who now works for Zillow, the Seattle-based provider of real-estate data. Had she had the resources buyers have at their disposal today, Nowak would have operated differently. "Now you can do so much more."

Armed with iPads and smartphones, potential buyers can access slews of statistics about properties and neighborhoods before ever meeting with a real-estate agent. For their part, brokers are using social media to market themselves to clients and spread information. Half the real-estate agents surveyed by the National Association of Realtors in 2011 said they were using some form of social media, while 10 percent had blogs.

We asked local real-estate pros what tools they found helpful or felt hopeful about as 2011 drew to a close. Here's what they had to say:

THERE'S AN APP

FOR THAT

"Let's say you're driving through a neighborhood," said John L. Scott broker Mark Mizuno. "You wonder what houses are for sale in it and you open up the app and it shows you which houses are for sale in the neighborhood and all this information on them. If you say, 'I don't want to look at homes over $500,000,' or 'I only want to look at three bedroom houses,' you can do that."

John L. Scott is one of several firms to have launched an app for the iPhone and iPad within the past year. Some brokers are already taking apps a step further: Mizuno, already quite prolific on Twitter, is now working on a personally branded app.

Zillow Marketplace has an app that simplifies the mortgage equation via an iPhone; buyers can figure out how much they'd have to pay for a house while still on the property.

QR CODING

Re/Max broker Bonnie Beddall uses the square black and white bar codes to sync her print advertising with online information. When scanned by a mobile device, the "quick response" code opens to the property's individual website. So long as the codes are well displayed and can be easily scanned, it's easier than inputting the MLS number.

QR codes were "all the rage last year," said David Warren of John L. Scott. "Many still use them, but more brokers seem to be relying on prospective buyers to use home search apps on their mobile devices."

A SOLUTION FROM WINDERMERE

Developed by the Windermere's in-house tech team, TouchCMA allows Realtors to build a competitive market analysis complete with maps and comparables on the iPad to present to clients.

Most appealing is the amount of time it takes — about 10 minutes, according to Brett Eddy, Windermere chief technology officer. "You can do all this sitting in Starbucks," Eddy said. He and Tom Parrish, Windermere's VP of marketing and business development, will unveil TouchCMA at the Inman Real Estate Connect conference in New York City this week.

Windermere hopes to sell the product to other regional brokerages.

RATE-AN-AGENT

Redfin is one of the few companies to publish online reviews of its agents. "A long time ago somebody said I'm a slave to the survey, and those words have stuck," said Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman. "At any time, if we let [clients] down, they're going to let us know, and let the world know. That level of accountability produces a profound shift in our behavior."

SOCIAL SETTINGS

Realtors seek connections with their clients, and nothing connects faster than social media. "When Facebook first came out, I did not know how it was going to help my business," said Windermere broker Mark Corcoran. "I just figured it was one of those things that was a time waster. Then I realized how easy it was to connect with so many people I'd never connect with before this."

What begins as social-media exchanges — direct messages on Twitter, for example — often lead to face-to-face meetings.

"People think it's all virtual interaction, but that's exactly what it isn't," Corcoran said.

Warren estimated that 90 percent of John L. Scott brokers used Facebook. Many also have Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, but a much smaller percentage use them to market listings. "That said, the number is growing as more brokers are getting comfortable with the medium," he added.

THE NEXT BIG THINGS?

"I think video is going to be really, really big," Beddall said. On her YouTube channel, Beddall posts informational videos explaining trickier real-estate concepts such as short sales. But she feels more can be done. Real-estate video-bloggers who drive through neighborhoods and upload dashcam videos have developed huge followings, she said.

In addition, there's Dot, a lens that attaches to the iPhone, allowing users to take 360-degree video in conjunction with the iPhone app Looker.

At Redfin, Kelman and his team are looking at ways technology can recommend new listings to clients based on what they have already seen. "In the same way Amazon can recommend the next book you want to buy, we want to recommend the next listing you want to see," he said.

Blythe Lawrence: blythe.lawrence@gmail.com.

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