RISMEDIA, March 16, 2007-A new international real estate search portal is coming online this spring. It's following in a long line of innovators whose breakthrough offerings were immersed in controversy. Recalling the outrage engendered by the mere mention of Realtor.com a decade ago, the brewing skepticism and doubt surrounding Homegain in the early days, or the more recent shroud of mystery enwrapping Zillow; it's easy to find precedent for industry pioneers who had polemic challenges.
To many, www.FindaHome.com will simply look like a cleverly named consumer search portal with some advanced interactive mapping. The fact that consumers will be able to search properties in more than two dozen countries does set it apart, and attractive to home buyers looking more than 50 miles away from their current residence…but not exactly the "thing" that pumps up the industry's collective blood pressure. If you think it's the more than 500 different categories of neighborhood-based demographics that seamlessly overlay and integrate with the property data, then….you're getting closer but still not there.
Frans Bech, a Danish entrepreneur and co-founder of www.FindaHome.com operates his technology and manufacturing business in numerous countries across several continents. Nearly five years ago he had a visionary plan.
"I wanted to create a single site where the Internet could make searching for homes as easy as it should be," stated Bech, "It seemed that every site was about showing off only a small subset of the information, more for the benefit of the Web site owner than the benefit of the consumer."
In 2005 Bech teamed up with New York native Scott Tatro, an entrepreneur and business development professional with nearly two decades of real estate technology experience. Tatro, envisioned a data rich site with interactive mapping capabilities that would surpass anything currently available. He planned to build this online resource based on a series of technology patents that he had been acquiring for more than a decade. One of those patents was the highly controversial search patent USPTO 5032989. Tatro was the first U.S. licensee of this seminal technology in the mid 90s when his business colleagues included the co-founder and CEO of MapInfo one of the country's leading publicly traded GIS companies. That's where the controversy begins and ends.
The patent holders of this particular patent, Real Estate Alliance Limited, launched a significant enforcement campaign in late 2004 which culminated in a federal infringement suit against an individual agent in Pennsylvania; REAL v Diane Sarkisian et al. The case has now been escalated towards a class action, which would extend the judgment of this one defendant creating liability for perhaps hundreds of thousands of agents across the country. Local, state and national associations have banded together to create a multimillion dollar defense fund, because of the high likelihood that unless they are able to invalidate the patent the case would implicate most of the other MLS organizations and the brokers and agents they serve.
According to the patent holders, www.FindaHome.com is licensed to utilize this technology so its members won't have to worry about creating further exposure or liability. The FindaHome.com team has committed to leverage its sublicensing agreement rights, to indemnify its broker members so that they never have to worry about any form of infringement, past, present, or future. The licensing rights extend from an agreement between the patent holders and EQUIAS Technology Development llc, a company founded by Tatro.
"We're just one of hundreds of licensees who have read the patent, and seen the obvious overlap with what has become a pervasive search methodology throughout the industry" stated Tatro. "Although we are able to sell licenses, our business model revolves around our members making money by converting the online leads that we drive to them through our www.FindaHome.com search portal."
Set up much like an IDX technology on the broker-members' own site, the International site serves as the branding and funnel to direct people down to individual markets, where they are seamlessly transferred to the same look and feel on the brokers' Web site.
There are no referral fees, no technology set-up fees, and every broker has a money-back guarantee that the system makes them money. The $199 per month fee for an entire MLS marketplace resides in the integration of "local search" benefits. Companies like Microsoft, Yahoo!, AOL, and others have been meeting with the company to quantify the kinds of traffic counts that begin to make this company an attractive acquisition based on its Web 2.0 business model.
"We're looking for one top-ranked broker for each market," said Paul Clewell, CIO for the company. "If they can manage online leads effectively, and they have the advanced designations that we are looking for, then we can look to award the exclusive rights to them."
The company has already granted territories to members of the Realty Alliance. It expects to extend similar offers to members of other professional organizations whose rosters consist primarily of industry leaders.
It appears that these innovators will have an opportunity to prove their value to consumers and ultimately their ability to generate transactions for brokers. In the meantime, the company is continuing with its plans to eliminate a potential legal problem looming in the wings for its approximate 900 members which could result in liabilities reaching into the hundreds of thousands for an individual broker.
For more information, visit www.findahome.com.