By Jack Stubbs
In the current age of commercial real estate tech, many platforms are striving to streamline and simplify the day-to-day operations of professionals in the real estate industry.
RealtyZapp, a platform launched in July 2016, is one platform that allows agents and owners to market both residential and commercial listings while retaining ownership of the data and control over the accuracy of their listings.
We recently spoke to Thomas Bible, CEO of RealtyZapp, about some of the features of the platform, how it seeks to contribute to the evolving real estate markets in an era of CRE tech, and how the objectives of the platform align with broader trends in the industry.
What can you tell me about RealtyZapp (where and when the platform was founded, current objectives of the platform, etc.)? In a nutshell, what does RealtyZapp allow industry professionals to do?
RealtyZapp was launched in July 2016 to a rather small test group of residential and commercial agents in mid-Florida to identify any issues before releasing to the general market In January of 2017. We then began actively marketing to agents, with a focus on commercial. One of the major differences in our platform, and a distinct advantage for firms that practice both residential and commercial is that we can serve agents in both disciplines.
Our platform allows an agent to market themselves as well as their listings to the general public through organic, self-directed SEO, to promote their listings with an integrated e-mail campaign manager that creates more sales opportunities than any other platform, and to manage prospect follow up, client reporting and pipeline from a single dashboard.
Whom within the industry does the platform serve, and what is the platform’s geographic and demographic reach?
We may be a tech company, but we realized early on that real estate isn’t a tech business, a data business or even a building business. It is a relationship business, [and] we built RealtyZapp on that premise. Geographically, our platform can serve every U.S. market and it’s designed to work in South America and Canada as well.
How is RealtyZapp contributing to the ways in which the commercial and residential real estate markets are changing? To what degree is RealtyZapp addressing a gap in the industry? Are certain geographical markets, in particular, feeling this change?
Technology, in general, has helped to expand an agent’s influence by facilitating relationships across markets more easily. In the past, belonging to a larger multi-market firm was essential for this, but with social media and pro-active, targeted e-mail campaigns that help agents network across markets, the playing field is broadening.
With the recent unfortunate departure of [real estate data firm] Xceligent from the marketplace [in December 2017], many commercial agents are looking for alternatives on the research and marketing fronts. Unfortunately, there are no easy options when it comes to market research, as CoStar now has the monopoly they have sought since LoopNet’s mandated, pre-merger spinoff of Xceligent.
Residential and commercial agents alike have expressed concern over some of the larger public companies contacting their clients, or in some cases, becoming “brokers” within their markets to compete with the same constituency who provided the data that initially built those businesses in the first place. Any geographic market that doesn’t seek alternatives to any monopoly is subject to such pressure.
In an era of commercial real estate tech (CRE tech), there are many platforms striving to do similar things as RealtyZapp (streamlining and managing listings, synthesizing a centralizing data onto one device, etc.). Why should industry professionals choose RealtyZapp over another platform?
Since our platform was built from the broker’s perspective, rather than from the tech perspective, the intuitive, simple nature of data entry and retrieval, along with the broad scope of property descriptions accommodated, can satisfy the needs of the largest segment of the brokerage bell-curve.
There will be some who seek more advanced features, and others who will never leave pen and paper, but for the majority who are seeking greater productivity through a sustainable, cost-effective solution that will always serve their needs over that of investors, they have found a true partner.
In the current era of CRE, successful products are those that are intuitive and easy to use. Is there a learning curve associated with the product? How effectively does the platform scale across different contexts and devices? What are some of the challenges involved in ensuring that the software translates effectively?
We understood this very early on and worked hard to develop a platform that was simple to navigate and naturally intuitive. It has been said that simplicity drives adoption rates, and it’s also a fact that over half of all CRM initiatives fail because they are too complex or tedious. We took the most important elements of other stand-alone tools used by real estate professionals, simplified the user interface, and integrated them with their listing inventory to create a seamless process-management system.
On each page of the site, there is a circled question mark, with a description of every function and hints on “best practices,” and to accompany this, we have produced tutorial videos on each section that are no more than 4 minutes long. We felt that if our site required any more than this, people wouldn’t use it.
We will continue to tweak this according to client feedback, but so far, the response has been very positive. The platform scales nicely across all web-enabled devices from the smartphone to the desktop. It was designed this way initially so that there was no need for a separate mobile app. We run a series of tests for each browser and operating system to ensure that every update translates as consistently as possible across all devices.
Can you elaborate on the platform’s mission of putting the control back into the hands of the clients? How does this objective fit into larger trends defining the industry?
For too long, Wall Street has dictated to brokers and owners the terms under which they can market their properties with contracts containing auto-renew provisions or recurring charges. We don’t hold anyone’s credit card information. We simply provide value and a means to increase our clients’ income. We give agents control of their marketing by allowing them to upload their own listing data, ensuring it is more accurate, as often a third party may lose something in the translation.
Because these listings can also be displayed on the agent’s website using our free embed tool, they are often more cognizant of their own accuracy. It’s the broker’s data. They take responsibility for its accuracy and therefore they own it. And searching on our site will always be free. We don’t believe that if you pay to market your listings on any site that the audience should be limited or restricted.
Is there more of a need now than, say, two or three years ago, to increase this transparency between clients and shareholders? What does this reflect about the current state of the market? What do you see for the industry in the next 12 to 18 months?
I can’t speak to the directives of Wall Street firms whose primary fiduciary responsibility is to shareholders, but the evidence points to less of a concern for the client in this industry at least. The client or their data almost becomes the product that is sold to other verticals to increase profits.
I see the industry forcing professionals in the market to step up their game and provide more personal attention and added-value service to their clients to illustrate the value they bring to the process and eventual transaction.
Those who adapt, improvise and overcome will succeed, and those who don’t may not. I see myself as the Jerry McGuire of this industry right now, because I believe we have created a means for agents to deliver more personal attention to their clients.
Looking ahead, what do you foresee for the industry? Given the rapid rate that things are changing in the industry—tech trends foremost among these changes—is there anything that concerns you?
I see the buyer or tenant representation roles of professionals in both sectors in jeopardy as information becomes more readily available, which is why I believe they need to re-define their roles and seek new ways of providing added-value to their clients. Those who do will thrive as the herd thins. Landlord reps who know the market and are pro-active will continue to play an important role, as the majority of commercial investment ownership is absentee, and they rely on local trusted advisors to market, sell and lease their assets.
Complacency concerns me…if all you do is complain about circumstances beyond your control without making changes in your own business to adapt to adversity and promote change within your community to improvise a solution and overcome obstacles to your success, then when your head emerges from the sand, you really can’t blame the Uber-driver that just took your job.