When you're looking to buy or rent a home, the process can be frustrating. Trawling through dozens of properties online, you schedule inspection times into your diary – only to find out an offer has been made, it's already let – or the inspection time has changed. Or your preferences change, but you don't have an easy way to let every agent in the area know.
Likewise, for agents, there are a lot of inefficiencies in the process. Until the first open for inspection, you don't really know who might be interested in the property or how current customer contacts and preferences are. It's also hard to communicate proactively with everyone at once in real time. Meanwhile, online listing costs keep rising.
The ability to generate more leads from a passive market, while also saving time and potentially marketing costs
This was the inspiration for followit: a new communication platform for the real estate sector that's set to disrupt the traditional listings model.
Tony Moussa, followit's Managing Director, explains how they've taken the best of social media practice to build a 'fit for purpose' communication platform for agents, buyers and renters.
"followit is different to traditional classified search sites, which generally display property results based on paid priority. Instead of searching by suburb or postcode, you can now simply draw your finger on the followit map – for example, around a school catchment area or close to the beach – and receive live feeds of information from relevant agents."
You can also customise preferences for different levels of notification, including new listings, price update, inspection times, under contract or sale results. This puts the buyer or renter in control with anonymous push notifications, until they are ready to communicate directly with the agent through the followit app.
"It's also quite powerful for an agent," says Moussa. "You can now communicate directly to pools of interested buyers and renters who are following you, your suburb or specific properties and price ranges – even though you may have never met them before. It's a far more efficient way to tell a bigger audience about what you have for sale or rent." And when you update the listing in followit via your CRM, it also automatically pushes that information in a template seamlessly to your followers.
Property updates, on the go
The idea started with a simple understanding of what consumers really want: a free live feed of real time information to their smartphone, with a simple Instagram-stye interface.
It also meets some significant agent needs: the ability to generate more leads from a passive market, while also saving time and potentially marketing costs.
"As an agent, you can only talk with one person at a time on the phone, email is cumbersome, and there are only 24 hours in a day. But now you can enter new or updated information, select the audience and press send – it pushes your information in real time to everyone who would be interested," says Moussa.
A disruptive business model
Dan Evans, Macquarie's National Head of Real Estate, says his real estate clients had described the challenges of the online listing 'duopoly'.
"Agents are effectively selling advertising on the listing portal's behalf – and in some cases paying hundreds of dollars extra per listing just to get a premium upgrade. They are increasingly concerned they'll need to pare back commissions to make costs viable for the vendor."
Online listings, and particularly premium search, are an increasingly significant part of the property marketing budget. But followit has the potential to drastically reduce it, letting agencies list as many properties as they want for a low flat monthly rate per office, with unlimited push functionality.
That's the other key differentiator for followit: a 'software as a service' style revenue model, starting with a free trial period for agents. And search results are always based on relevancy, rather than extra payment for top placement.
Getting a startup off the ground
followit was co-founded by a diverse group drawn from the real estate, sales, technology and investment sectors. This is the first tech platform they've launched as a group. Moussa admits the first hurdle was finding a common language between the more entrepreneurial-minded members, and those with a corporate background.
"Over time we worked through it – goodwill and passion underpin our entire business, and I believe now we're a powerful team that complements each other from all different angles," he says. "Collectively, we can now put our heads together to solve any issue."
His advice to others with a brilliant new idea is to research the market carefully first.
"What problem are you trying to solve? Then focus on de-risking your execution. You need to work out every single thing you need to do to make it successful, and then methodically work through each one."
Moussa says timing is also critical. "In the tech world, you can have a really good product but if you're too early it might not work."
He gives the penetration of smartphone use as an example. "Six to twelve months is a lot of time in this space – it's the difference between average use of smartphone technology, and full saturation. That feeds directly into the viability and scalability of a platform like followit. More than ever, consumers want to be first to know what's happening in their market."