In an antiquated industry, real estate is catching up with apps like these

April 10, 2015

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After successfully exiting from the SEO agency he started at the ripe age of 20, nearly a decade later Colin O’Brien found himself a free agent.

Knowing O’Brien’s passion for music, his neighbor encouraged him to meet his friend Charles Zivko, a guitar player who was building a music app. The two instantly clicked, but it was their business experience prompted them to explore what industries were lacking in the app space. They discovered the real estate vertical was wide open to explore.

Late to the app game: Real estate

“Buying a home is one of the biggest decisions of your life, and yet the systems in place are still so antiquated,” explained O’Brien.

Generally speaking, real estate agents and brokers operate within a franchise system where it’s every agent for her/himself. When communicating with potential buyers, communications take place on email, text, phone calls, and property listings and updates are seen via a website.

O’Brien and Zivko, now the co-founders of SnApp Real Estate, got to work at figuring out what agents and brokers need to connect more effectively with consumers to streamline the communications process around buying a home.  

A C E = App Creation Engine

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The DTLA Arts District-based startup has created this as a platform that non-developers — in this case, real estate agents — can use to build out and customize their own app. They can then publish a standalone app in the iTunes app store (Android version is in development now). This is done for an affordable initial set-up fee and a monthly subscription fee.

With their platform, agents retain total ownership over their app. Currently several real estate companies create similar apps for their brokers, but when they leave the company, their app disappears from the app store. SnApp’s platform allows them to be in control of their brand.

For consumers, they can have a constant connection to their agent — all communication happens in one place and they have control over search parameters for property types and prices. Property listings are updated automatically, which gives consumers transparency as to what the agent has available.

What about the competition

Real estate listings powerhouse portal Zillow just underwent a $2.5 billion merger with Trulia, but even so, O’Brien explained, there is plenty of room for them in the market. For third-party sites like Zillow, Trulia or realtor.com, he said, “[the] product is the information. For SnApp Real Estate, the product is the software itself.”

They give consumers an overview of the wider market, but don’t offer the personalized level of connection or a streamlined buying experience that SnApp and their competitors do.

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There are a couple of competitors right in the niche space (Property Minder and Smarter Agent are major players), but that hasn’t stopped SnApp Real Estate’s rocketing growth since their 2014 launch. They’ve signed contracts with agents and brokers from all the big household names like Remax, Coldwell Banker, Century 21, Keller Williams etc, had 16 apps published in 2014 with 25 more in development this year.  So far, SnApp Dev has been an entirely self-funded venture and remains right on par with competitor Smarter Agent, who received $18 million in funding.

Now that they have proven their model, O’Brien and his co-founder are likely to open for a round of funding so they can expand on their small team and, in O’Brien’s enthusiastic words, “scale the thing!”

That’s music to any entrepreneur’s ears, indeed.

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