WI Staff, Western Investor, March 2010
Regardless of what type of agreement is worked out between the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and the federal Competition Bureau, buyer access to real estate listing information has already changed dramatically.
Realtors and real estate buyers are quickly applying gee-whiz new technology to seek out, study and transact real estate deals in a freeflowing, mobile environment that may have already left traditional real estate data in the dust.
With the rollout of the new iPad from Apple this year, the number of real estate applications – apps – has mushroomed, as has the appeal of existing programs set up to run on iPhones and iPods.
An example of the homegrown real estate application is from Kelowna-based Canterra Property Pages Inc., which allows iPhone and iPad users to access detailed information on new real estate projects and resale homes in the Okanagan.
Only the second real estate app to be launched in Canada, the mobile program allows home buyers to pull up information on a property – such as size of units, completion date and prices – and then contact the listing agent or company via text messaging – all right from the street.
“A lot of potential buyers don’t want to meet with an agent right away or even tour the site,” explained Canterra founder and president Karen Thompson. Also, many home builders use in-house sales teams and therefore cannot list on realtor.ca, CREA’s proprietary national listing service, she notes.
Thompson claims to have signed up virtually all the new real estate projects in the central Okanagan – some 200 developments – and some local agents in the resale market are also using the service.
It is fairly inexpensive, she claims, costing a maximum of $189 per year or $16 per month.
Thompson said she considered offering the real estate listings for free and selling advertising on the Canterra site, but she said clients have supported paying a small amount to be on the service. Canterra is currently expanding the service to B.C.’s Lower Mainland. You can check out the service at http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/id348997123?mt=8.
Landcor Data Inc. of New Westminster will introduce a new service this month for use on BlackBerrys – popular with realtors – that can provide real-time information on any B.C. property, including recent sales in the area, current assessments, current market value and specific information on the listing, all drawn from the Landcor’s massive database.
“We knew we had to get into mobile. Our clients spend a great deal of their working day in the field, and it makes sense that they will be more productive if we can give them access to better data while they are out there,” said Landcor president Rudy Nielsen.
“We chose the BlackBerry as our initial mobile development platform,” says Nielsen. “since almost every realtor we know carries a BlackBerry.”
The BlackBerry application team started by looking at all the data currently being provided via the PDF document system and chose relevant sections of data and merged it all into a single view for a realtor. They then designed an intuitive menu for easy navigation through the data on the limited screen size of a smart phone.
It works surprisingly well, easily finding legal descriptions, assessment data, comparable sales, neighborhood trends and valuation estimates from anywhere you can get carrier coverage.
In addition to the standard address lookup, if a smartphone has GPS capability, the application also has a GPS search built in.
Stand in front of any building and select search by GPS, and it will bring back a list of properties near you, sorted by closest first.
In the early Beta-1 stage, the BlackBerry application will work on BlackBerrys with versions 3, 4 or 5 operating systems, as long as the screen resolution is at least 320x240.
As Landcor moves into Beta-2 development, it plans to branch the development into multiple mobile platforms to widen its customers’ options.
“Intuition tells us that the next one will be an iPhone app” said Nielsen, “but we want to hear from our customers before we decide on the next platform”.
Niho Land and Cattle Company Ltd., which is associated with Landcor, has turned to technology to market its land holdings and those of its clients.
Using helicopters, floatplanes, 4x4s, ATVs, and a whole lot of hiking, Niho took more than 11,000 pictures over 10 weeks to create a set of virtual tours encompassing its entire land inventory of about 100 rural properties throughout B.C.
“We knew if we were going to do one, we had to do them all,” said Nielsen, who is also president of Niho.
The result is PanoTour, which features high resolution 360-degree panoramic images, tied to an aerial map display. By using a web-based lash viewer, it places the client in a virtual setting hat allows the user to look around while simultaneously displaying a map and the direction in which they are looking.
“Choosing the right 10 to15 scene sites to accurately represent a large acreage takes a lot of work to completely cover the ground,” he added. “From there, add in variable weather issues, the challenges of remote access and things like mountain shadows and shooting into the sun, and you can see there is quite a bit to it.”
Niho’s PanoTour system is live on its website, with virtual viewing of more than 90 properties. Niho has also added this tool to its lineup of marketing consulting services and is providing PanoTour services to other landowners and realtors that have premium rural properties for sale. It has already completed one large project for Calgary developer Schickedanz West, where it created PanoTours on nine of its high-end ranches at the Elk Park project near Radium, B.C.
Meanwhile, the biggest residential real estate database in the county – realtor.ca – may change dramatically this year or next.
A two-year inquiry by the Competition Bureau into the operations of the Canadian Real Estate Association is expected to loosen access to CREA’s multiple listing service (MLS). For one thing, it may allow discount brokers to access and share the listing service.
Specifically, the bureau has asked CREA to change its rules that state a licensed realtor must act as an agent for the seller through the entire time of the listing contract posted on the multiple listing service, and that the listing realtor shall receive and present all offers and counteroffers to the seller.
CREA president Dale Ripplinger told members “the bureau is concerned that CREA’s rules have restricted consumer choice and limited the scope of alternative business models.” He added: “Please note that although we describe the bureau’s position, CREA does not agree with the bureau’s views.”
“The outcome of this would be that discount brokerages would have access to MLS, which would have a very, very significant impact on how real estate transactions are conducted in Canada,” Subrata Bhattacharjee, a competition lawyer at Heenan Blaikie, told the Financial Post.
“We have not reached a decision with the Competition Bureau,” said CREA spokesperson Alyson Fair, “and we have no idea how long a decision will take.”
CREA, however, has also introduced a new service for accessing realtor.ca through a mobile phone.
“Mobile.realtor.ca v1 was designed to be used by realtors and consumers who are driving or walking around, see a property and want more information about it,” said Marc Lafrance, CREA’s director of marketing and member services, but he notes that it remains a quick tool.
“It was not designed to facilitate extensive searching of large areas or to search using a broad variety of criteria. It was designed to facilitate a quick reference when people see a property and want more information about that particular property right away.”
The portal offers the ability to find out more details including price, location, directions and the selling agent information, he explained.
The mobile version of realtor.ca has been designed to function with BlackBerry and Windows mobile operating systems. Users will be able to access the site by connecting to www.beta.mobile.realtor.ca