Re­defin­ing Real Es­tate … and the Re­gion

From an un­con­ven­tional of­fice set­ting in South­west Florida, a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween com­puter geeks and real es­tate agents has been a cat­a­lyst for the cre­ation of tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tions now tran­si­tion­ing through­out Amer­ica’s real es­tate in­dus­try. This same t

Focus of SWFL - - Home & More - By Bill Schiller

On any given day of the week, Co­conut Point Mall in Es­tero is host to thou­sands of cus­tomers who come to pe­ruse and pur­chase of­fer­ings from the more than 140 lead­ing brand name stores, fash­ion­able bou­tiques and fine restau­rants amassed among 1.2 mil­lion square-feet of re­tail op­er­a­tions. Most are obliv­i­ous to a cor­ri­dor of ex­ec­u­tive of­fices lo­cated along a perime­ter of the mall’s posh Fash­ion Drive. It is here, within one such ob­scured suite found just across from some of that del­i­cately trans­par­ent at­tire Vic­to­ria touts as “se­cret” and above the wardrobe deemed proper by Bos­ton Proper, the prin­ci­pals of three au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy firms are fo­cused on their work. That may not be im­me­di­ately ev­i­dent given this cadre’s ca­sual dress in san­dals, shorts and t-shirts, not to men­tion the con­stant stream­ing of clas­sic and al­ter­na­tive rock mu­sic which per­vades their workspace, but make no mis­take, th­ese en­trepreneurs are very se­ri­ous when it comes to their re­spec­tive en­ter­prises. Their youth and ex­u­ber­ance may like­wise ob­fus­cate the fact that th­ese fel­lows are sea­soned ex­perts in their fields and the very source of a spec­tac­u­lar ar­ray of tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tions in­creas­ingly sought out by real es­tate bro­kers, agents and pro­fes­sion­als of other in­dus­tries. To fully ac­count of that com­pels con­sid­er­a­tion of the ser­vices and lead­er­ship emerg­ing from each company. Meet Ja­son Dolle, Pres­i­dent of Tes­ti­mony Tree; Lu Doan, “Chief Prob­lem Solver” of Agent Shield Tech­nolo­gies; and Ryan Trem­blay, the Chief Tech­nol­ogy Of­fi­cer and vi­sion­ary be­hind Refindly.

Tes­ti­fi­ably Tal­ented

Tes­ti­mo­nial Tree spe­cial­izes in soft­ware that al­lows client tes­ti­monies to be cap­tured and con­veyed through a so­lu­tion that con­ve­niently in­te­grates with web­sites and so­cial me­dia plat­forms. Dolle (who is also a Re­al­tor®) says, “Imag­ine your happy, loyal cus­tomers telling their friends about you through a pos­i­tive re­view while link­ing to your web­site … it helps drive new traf­fic to your web­site and helps gen­er­ate more sales.” Tes­ti­mo­nial Tree is the ex­clu­sive tes­ti­mo­nial/ re­view sys­tem en­gaged by in­sti­tu­tions such as

98 FO­CUS of SWFL 2014 Lead­ing Real Es­tate Com­pa­nies of the World, a net­work of more than 500 premier real es­tate firms rep­re­sent­ing 120,000 sales as­so­ciates in some 50 coun­tries; re­gion­ally, that net­work in­cludes real es­tate dy­namos like John R. Wood of Naples, Sara­sota Sen­sa­tion Michael Saun­ders & Company and nu­mer­ous oth­ers. Tes­ti­mo­nial Tree has, how­ever, branched out to serve trade as­so­ci­a­tions, cham­bers of com­merce and com­pa­nies in a va­ri­ety of other in­dus­tries beyond real es­tate. In the way of tes­ti­monies on Tes­ti­mo­nial Tree, con­sider re­marks pro­vided by Gulf­shore In­surance Di­rec­tor of Brand Man­age­ment Crys­tal Hoover, who says, “We know there is no greater lead gen­er­a­tion tool then a re­fer­ral from a trusted source,” she says. “The in­surance in­dus­try is very com­pet­i­tive, and for that rea­son, it’s very im­por­tant to showcase our agency strengths. We an­tic­i­pate this tool do­ing just that, and are very ex­cited about our part­ner­ship with Tes­ti­mo­nial Tree.”

Agents of Shield

Agent Shield has also patented tech­nol­ogy that al­lows for an easy add-on to an ex­ist­ing web­site, in this case, tools that not only as­sist with mar­ket­ing of agents and new prop­erty de­vel­op­ments, but also so­lu­tions that help pro­tect the agent from ad­verse sales in­ter­ac­tions. In ex­plain­ing company prod­ucts such as Web­site Shield and Agent Tracker, Duon says, “Agents and bro­kers are some­times hes­i­tant about link­ing to a de­vel­oper’s web­site out of con­cern of los­ing cus­tomers who may con­tact the de­vel­oper in­stead of the agent. This also im­pacts de­vel­op­ers who lose out on traf­fic to their web­site as well as sales op­por­tu­ni­ties.” Web­site Shield there­fore en­ables agents to uti­lize a de­vel­oper’s web­site as their own mar­ket­ing tool. Agent Tracker works sim­i­larly, but when a cus­tomer is re­view­ing a de­vel­oper’s web­site, the con­tact in­for­ma­tion is con­verted to that of the agent as op­posed to that of the de­vel­oper. Another company prod­uct is Agent Tool­box, a re­source that al­lows real es­tate pro­fes­sion­als to rapidly ac­quire rel­e­vant floor plans, home de­signs, pric­ing data, ren­der­ings or other ma­te­rial. As Duon says, “This al­lows de­vel­op­ers to save time from repet­i­tive tasks but also em­pow­ers them to work with agents more ef­fi­ciently.” For Duon, it wasn’t too dif­fi­cult re­lat­ing to the ad­van­tages of such tech­nol­ogy … he spent years in the real es­tate trade be­fore fo­cus­ing on the soft­ware.

Re­li­able & Re­ward­ing

The fi­nal mem­ber of this col­lec­tive is a real es­tate tech­nol­ogy provider called Refindly. The company was founded by Ryan Trem­blay, a na­tive of Naples who for­merly served a stint with the global soft­ware company of ASG be­fore launch­ing his own web­site de­sign firm known as RT De­sign Group. Trem­blay ul­ti­mately sold RT De­sign and could have con­ve­niently re­tired at the ripe age of 30 were it not for two fac­tors: one, he ac­tu­ally prefers to stay busy; and two, he just so hap­pened to have some friends who are real es­tate agents. Over the course of con­ver­sa­tions, Trem­blay was made aware of the ex­tent to which the real es­tate in­dus­try could ben­e­fit from the cre­ation of af­ford­able tech­nol­ogy ex­clu­sively cus­tom­ized to suit their needs. In turn, Trem­blay spent more than a year de­vel­op­ing an en­tire suite of en­ter­prise soft­ware cul­mi­nat­ing in the de­liv­ery of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary Cus­tomer Re­la­tion­ship Man­age­ment sys­tem, a lead gen­er­a­tion plat­form, an IDX in­te­gra­tion so­lu­tion that’s speed­ier than most any other in the in­dus­try, and other tools that not only help real es­tate pro­fes­sion­als save time and money, but achieve more sales. Ac­cord­ing to Trem­blay, “Real es­tate com­pa­nies would typ­i­cally have to con­tract with a range of dif­fer­ent ven­dors to se­cure the ca­pa­bil­i­ties that Refindly pro­vides un­der one roof.” Even then, Trem­blay notes an un­for­tu­nate, if not ex­pen­sive, byprod­uct of that process is dis­cov­er­ing that vary­ing ap­pli­ca­tions don’t com­mu­ni­cate so well with each other … sort of like what hap­pens with some forced mar­riages. In Refindly’s case, the prod­ucts were de­signed to al­low for in­te­gra­tion with a sin­gu­lar plat­form. In terms of other ad­van­tages, imag­ine that you’re a real es­tate agent and you have a web­site fea­tur­ing var­i­ous prop­er­ties avail­able for sale. Ob­vi­ously, you want po­ten­tial cus­tomers to visit your web­site. You might also want to know that the web­site vis­i­tor was some­one named “John Q. Pub­lic” and he’s look­ing for a three-bed­room home with an at­tached garage in a cer­tain price range, in a cer­tain neigh­bor­hood. With such data in hand, the real es­tate agent can quickly con­tact that lead and, hope­fully, con­vert him into a cus­tomer. To do so, might re­quire sev­eral com­mu­ni­ca­tions back and forth, a process that can be com­pli­cated by the need to con­duct prop­erty show­ings that take you out of the of­fice, not to men­tion the work in just jug­gling all the de­tails about the cus­tomer, the prop­erty de­sired, what you last said and when you said it. Refindly’s plat­form fa­cil­i­tates com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the cus­tomer who, in turn, sees those mes­sages as com­ing from the agent, not the soft­ware. For a home buyer or home seller, Refindly’s IDX so­lu­tion help en­sure prop­erty in­for­ma­tion is timely. Imag­ine iden­ti­fy­ing a home you want to buy, but then con­tact­ing the agent to dis­cover it is no longer on the mar­ket. Or, if you’re a home seller, you want to make sure that the pro­pri­ety is listed as fast as pos­si­ble. Refindly’s IDX so­lu­tion re­freshes ev­ery thirty min­utes, es­sen­tially if a prop­erty is listed or no longer avail­able, that in­for­ma­tion is com­mu­ni­cated across the plat­form is as fast as thirty min­utes. For a bro­ker, the tech­nol­ogy pro­vides un­prece­dented means to mea­sure and mon­i­tor per­for­mance. If you have agents work­ing with your team, you’d like to know if they are re­spond­ing to leads in ten min­utes, ten hours or ten days. You’d like to know if they’re fol­low­ing-up with cus­tomers weekly or bi­weekly.

Pow­er­ful En­dorse­ments

Those fac­tors es­pe­cially res­onate with Bro­ker Michael Burke who leads a team of Real­tors® af­fil­i­ated with Keller Wil­liams. Burke says he re­al­ized early in his ca­reer that tech­ni­cal tools and sys­tems were needed to max­i­mize business. He says on­line so­lu­tions are par­tic­u­larly fun­da­men­tal since 92% of buy­ers and sell­ers now start their real es­tate searches on the In­ter­net. “You can’t af­ford to not be there and lever­age your­self,” says Burke. Though his team has al­ways re­lied on a range of tech­ni­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties, Burke says grow­ing pains and in­tent to stay ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion led his firm to re­vamp tech­nol­ogy tools. “One of the best tools we added is the CRM from Refindly. My agents love it! I am able to track how many leads come in and where they come from,” says Burke. “One of the best things is how easy it is to follow up with buy­ers and sell­ers. Ev­ery day they log on and can see who they need to talk to and about what. I can see their pipe­line and what they are say­ing and send­ing to their cus­tomers. We are able to track clos­ing ra­tios and track their per­for­mance. If an agent is strug­gling with some­thing it shows up early in the track­ing process. When we see an in­ef­fi­ciency we are able to help coach them where they are strug­gling, whether it be time block­ing, scripts or follow up.” Burke fur­ther de­scribes Refindly’s tech­ni­cal support as “out­stand­ing.” He notes, “They have even taken some of our sug­ges­tions to help im­prove the prod­uct ac­cord­ingly. They are lis­ten­ing to their users to con­tin­u­ally im­prove the prod­uct. While the sys­tem is rel­a­tively new, it is light years beyond much of the com­ple­tion and I ex­pect the sys­tem to pay for it­self be­cause we have lost less business with bet­ter track­ing and follow up!” Burke’s val­i­da­tion is es­pe­cially ap­pre­ci­ated by the team at refindly, after all, beyond his lead­er­ship at Keller Wil­liams Burke is also Pres­i­dent Elect of the Bonita Springs-Es­tero As­so­ci­a­tion of REAL­TORS®. What’s more, Refindly has earned sim­i­lar ac­co­lades from a prin­ci­pal of one of the re­gion’s largest real es­tate firms, Michael Hughes, the Vice Pres­i­dent of Down­ing Frye, a company com­prised by some 600 agents which achieved $1 bil­lion in closed sales vol­umes last year. Hughes says Down­ing Frye is very com­mit­ted to help­ing its agents ac­quire tools to build a suc­cess­ful ca­reer, “But we want to ef­fec­tively serve our cus­tomers too … we view Refindly’s tech­nol­ogy as some­thing that helps us save money by work­ing more ef­fi­ciently and pro­vide greater con­ve­nience as well as en­hanced ser­vices to our cus­tomers.” The en­dorse­ment re­sound­ingly res­onates at refindly, par­tic­u­larly be­cause Michael Huges is Pres­i­dent Elect of Naples Area Board of Real­tors. Then again, agents of Down­ing Frye were among the ear­li­est to pro­vide feed­back and serve as beta testers for Refindly’s tech­nol­ogy. Trem­blay says the guid­ance and en­cour­age­ment from firms like Keller Wil­liams and Down­ing Frye helped his team of techies hone the ap­pli­ca­tions and tech­ni­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties most wanted by real es­tate pro­fes­sion­als. After a com­pos­ite of Down­ing Frye agents demon­strated how they were able to dou­ble their sales vol­ume and lead con­ver­sions through use of Refindly’s tools, the company struck an agree­ment last month that en­ables all to now ac­cess this tech­nol­ogy. It gets even bet­ter, since de­but­ing the tech­nol­ogy at the re­cent Florida As­so­ci­a­tion of Real­tors® in Or­lando, Refindly has ex­panded into mar­kets of Cal­i­for­nia, Louisiana, Maryland, North & South Carolina as well as through­out Florida.

Team­ing with Tal­ent

Beyond de­sign­ing and re­fin­ing Refindly’s tech­nol­ogy, Trem­bly says his fo­cus has been find­ing the right team of peo­ple to help drive the business. REFINDLY staff in­cludes Data Sci­en­tist Matthew Crow­son, a North­west Univer­sity grad­u­ates who for­merly served as a pro­gram­mer an­a­lyst at Amer­ica’s Oak Ridge Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory and as a Business Process An­a­lyst at In­fin­ity Soft­ware. At REFINDLY, Crow­son parses code and an­a­lyzes cus­tomer and agent in­ter­ac­tions with REFINDLY’s plat­form as part of a plan to de­velop more prod­ucts and ser­vices. “Data is REFINDLY’s se­cret sauce,” says Crow­son. Then again, staff sug­gest “sauce” isn’t just a tech­ni­cal pro­cliv­ity in Crow­son’s pon­der­ings; he’s been ru­mored to be rather quick-handed in pinch­ing the last slice of pizza. De­signer Ed Siebert is a na­tive of Naples and web de­signer who has pro­duced lit­er­ally hun­dreds of web­sites for dis­crim­i­nat­ing clients through­out the re­gion. Siebert is also very adept in ex­plain­ing what makes Bat­man su­pe­rior to Su­per­man, or the virtues of one gaming sys­tem over another. Dur­ing breaks from du­ties at REFINDLY du­ties, one may find Siebert en­gaged in a kind of com­puter game known as Goat Sim­u­la­tor. When asked what is the ob­jec­tive of the game, Sib­ert non­cha­lantly replies, “To be a goat.” The of­fice is de­scribed as “very dif­fer­ent” from that which Hu­man Re­sources Di­rec­tor Doris Lem­cke has been ac­cus­tomed through­out her ca­reer. Lem­cke has for­merly ful­filled hu­man re­sources roles for ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers and com­pa­nies which in­clude Source In­ter-Link, the for­mer heavy weight in the world of me­dia dis­tri­bu­tion. “The of­fice dy­nam­ics at refindly are noth­ing like what I’m used to,” says Lem­cke. When asked to ex­plain what it like to work among a mu­sic-loving, pizza-munch­ing team of techies, Lem­cke almost seems to wink when she says, “It’s re­fresh­ing.” While the team from Refindly oc­cu­pies almost half of the of­fice space, Tes­ti­mo­nial Tree and Agent Shield claim the rest. Dolle, Doan and Trem­blay each af­firm that by shar­ing the of­fice, each company has ben­e­fit­ted from the mu­tual support, en­cour­age­ment and in­sight each re­spec­tively of­fer. Though each company is au­ton­o­mous, they each re­spond to dif­fer­ent needs within the real es­tate in­dus­try, but in so do­ing, they’ve been able to share some­thing else with one another - re­fer­rals.

Tek In­dus­try Ad­vo­cacy & Aware­ness

While South­west Florida’s econ­omy has been fun­da­men­tally driven by tourism and the build­ing in­dus­try, Ja­son Dolle says that there are small tech­nol­ogy firms which make-up the mar­ket too, but th­ese aren’t al­ways at the fore­front of peo­ple’s aware­ness. “We do have sev­eral large com­pa­nies, but there’s a num­ber of smaller en­ter­prises which are not so rec­og­nized,” says Dolle. The team is now in the process of es­tab­lish­ing a new or­ga­ni­za­tion, or al­liance, de­signed to bring greater recog­ni­tion and greater business op­por­tu­ni­ties to such firms through­out the re­gion. Branded as the Sun­set Coast Tech­nol­ogy Con­sor­tium (SCTC), Trem­blay says the group will pro­vide a means for tech­nol­ogy firms to net­work to­gether, en­gage in spe­cial­ized pro­grams and fo­rums, and ul­ti­mately be­come bet­ter ac­quainted with the ser­vices and prod­ucts each company re­spec­tively of­fers. Trem­blay sees this as help­ing firms se­cure more re­fer­rals and gen­er­ate more business. As such has been the case with a cou­ple of tech­nol­ogy firms shar­ing one of­fice, the group feels some­thing even more pos­i­tive could re­sult from unit­ing pro­fes­sion­als through­out the re­gion. There is, at present, another tech­nol­ogy-fo­cused or­ga­ni­za­tion in the re­gion, but Dolle says the SCTC’s pro­grams and fo­cus will be dif­fer­ent. “This will be a more grass­roots driven group com­prised of ac­tual tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies, not the com­pa­nies who use tech­nol­ogy, but gen­uine tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies,” says Dolle. “Our fo­cus won’t delve into gov­ern­ment lob­by­ing ini­tia­tives or re­gional eco­nomic strate­gies, rather what we can do to help re­fer business to one another, pro­vide ideas, so­lu­tions or feed­back to one another and in­crease ex­po­sure of the ex­cel­lent tech­nol­ogy firms that do business here.” While more for­mal an­nounce­ments in­volv­ing the for­ma­tion of the Sun­set Coast Tech­nol­ogy Con­sor­tium are forth­com­ing, for now, the prin­ci­pals of Agent Shileld, Tes­ti­mony Tree and Refindly are suf­fi­ciently busy grow­ing their busi­nesses. For Agent Shield, that in­cludes ex­tend­ing into in­ter­na­tional mar­kets. The team from Refindly is cur­rently pre­par­ing to step into a na­tional spot­light dur­ing this month’s Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Real­tors Con­fer­ence that will be held in New Or­leans. “We’ve been very en­cour­aged to see the way real es­tate pro­fes­sion­als have re­acted to our prod­ucts, in many ways, our cus­tomers have be­come our best mar­ket­ing tool,” says Trem­blay. “We are grow­ing na­tion­ally, but we’re go­ing to stay mind­ful that none of this would have got off the ground were it not for the help and support we’ve re­ceived here at home,” adds Trem­blay. “We’re com­pelled to re­turn the fa­vor by do­ing what we can to help other firms here in South­west Florida.”

Ryan Trem­blay

Michael Burke of Keller Wil­liams

Ja­son Dolle

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