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Vision7 creates software targeted to agents
By Kyle Schliesman
Inside Tucson Business

Small real estate agencies in Arizona soon will acquire online capabilities to keep up with the larger players.

Vision7, a local software development firm, is launching RealtyHosts.com. The customizable Web site template includes a built-in Multiple Listing Service (MLS) function.

Maintained by independent organizations, MLS databases provide listings of available real estate properties. To provide online access to these, real estate companies must have specialized Web sites, which can access and sort the data, a service smaller companies can’t afford to have built.

RealtyHost.com was born through a project for a larger company, Phoenix’s Dan Schwartz Realty Inc., which employs hundreds of agents throughout the Phoenix metro area. The company wanted a generic Web site template so each agent could have his or her own Web site connected to the main Dan Schwartz site and the Phoenix-area MLS. Vision7 started the project about a year ago and expects to launch it this month.

“They built our Web site for us. It looks very nice,” said Jill Fouts, a spokeswoman for Dan Schwartz Realty. “They finished it in July. They’ve been working out all the little details as we’ve gone along.”

The intention now is to provide this service to small- to medium-size real estate agencies. Larger companies can typically spend thousands of dollars for custom Web sites.
With a generic template, Vision7 can offer the same type of service at a much lower cost to smaller agencies.

Internet real estate listings have reached popular usage in home buying. About 70 percent of home buyers shop online before they buy, Miner said.

At first, the database will incorporate MLS property listings for Tucson, Phoenix, Sierra Vista and Green Valley. After the product is established locally, Vision7 may spread its sales to other areas outside the state. About 150 to 200 cities around the country have MLS systems.

“We’re testing the waters now,” Miner said. “We really want to cover Arizona first.”

Tucson and Phoenix seem to have a large market for this type of product, Miner said. About 450 real estate businesses call Tucson home, while Phoenix hosts more than 1,800.

The product is very close to being market ready, Miner said. The company still needs to complete a demo-site for the product, as well as a couple other minor adjustments.

One of the issues is updating the MLS data. Right now, the system is semi-automatic, meaning Vision7 has to upload the new information on a daily basis. The company plans to fully automate this process, though.

The project took a little longer because it stretched Vision7’s technical capabilities. To make this product, Vision7 needed to work with software that it did not previously use. Miner called this a good excuse to upgrade the company’s capabilities.

While the product is a new venture for Vision7, the company has plenty of competitors. Some companies provide MLS listings on a separate frame. This means that the Web page will include a smaller Web page on it, which shows an MLS listing from somewhere else. The only problem with this is that the imported MLS listings may have different contact information than the main site.

“There is a lot of technology out there already,” Miner said. “But for lower-end people, it’s hard to find a solution like this.”

The RealtyHost.com Web pages will be customizable for the clients. Vision7 will offer a growing variety of looks for the pages, and customers will be able to input their own information and preferences. Some of the personalization functions will be available in both HTML and a more broadly user-friendly format.

“It’s a more interactive Web site than one they just slap together,” Miner said.

While customization allows clients to change the appearance of their RealtyHost.com Web pages, the functions of each page will remain the same. Every page will include links to information such as property listings or contact information. The customers can use their own URLs, but the page will still be hosted by Vision7 with access to the search engines and content. From any RealtyHost.com Web page, clients and their customers can search the MLS system for properties by location, agent, price, etc.

At this point, the technology is strong, while some of the features are still thin. Vision7 plans to launch the program on the strength of the technology, while continually adding new features to strengthen the overall product. For example, the company is working on a database for open houses.

Gain Communications will host the servers for Vision7’s product and provide the backend infrastructure. Gain, which provides high-speed Internet access and other information technology services, worked with Vision7 in the past to provide services for real estate clients.

“We are pretty involved with the realty community,” said David Brenner, president and chief executive officer of Gain. “A lot of them work from home. They like to have a good, high-speed connection.”

Brenner called RealtyHost.com a natural extension of the services the company already offers these clients.

Kyle Schliesman may be contacted at kyles@azbiz.com or 295-4238.

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Nov 3, 2003

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