The age of online commerce has largely been restricted to transactions that require very little negotiation and are usually individual products that can be shipped via a mail service. Large-scale, complex transactions have not been able to take place in a fully digital medium simply because the technology hasn’t been there to support the process from start to finish. All that is on the cusp of changing with a new launch from ShelterZoom, a software platform dedicated to providing a way to manage contracts and documents in a highly-secure, easy-to-use environment. Called DocuWalk, this first-to-market software was built with real estate agents in mind since one of their co-founders, Allen Alishahi, has made his career as a real estate broker over the past thirty years.
“Years ago, I saw there was going to be a need for real estate agents to bring more of their business online beyond just the search for homes,” says Alishahi. “But at the same time, I wanted to make sure real estate professionals can strengthen their role and bring more value to their services.”
At its core, DocuWalk is a digital space where people, processes, documents and data all fuse together to reach new levels of intelligence, sophistication, security and speed. Agents can manage all the required documentation, virtual negotiation and end-to-end transactions all within the same platform. The latest launch also takes the fundamental premise several steps further by allowing brokers (or agents) to create uniform document and contract templates so that they maintain brokerage-wide control.
“We are finally at a stage technologically where document management can go above and beyond track changes,” says Chao Cheng-Shorland, co-founder of ShelterZoom. “We can have side-by-side negotiation and real time messaging, whose history accompanies the signed contracts, all stored in the same place which no one else’s prying eyes can access.”
Reducing Pain Points
When ShelterZoom started building DocuWalk, they knew the future of business would be one of increased remote operations, but they didn’t expect that COVID-19 would be what accelerated the world, including the real estate industry, to adapt. Stakeholders are less willing to negotiate face to face. What is hurting the industry the most during this major disruption is no ability to effectively and remotely manage contracts, negotiation and closing. This led ShelterZoom to build in a real time negotiation feature that sits alongside the contract. A platform like DocuWalk helps real estate stakeholders around the world collaborate with one another and keep business moving forward.
Another key area ShelterZoom knew it could improve upon was making contracts interconnected so they could be transported, analyzed and compared across transactions. Right now, online contracts are just a digital version of a paper contract, but with DocuWalk’s smart contract capabilities both the data and the text in each document can be connected seamlessly to other contracts so that the information and data contained within can be analyzed without extra data entry.
In keeping with their goal of creating a frictionless platform, ShelterZoom plans to integrate features that support all stages of the real estate process. Right now agents are burdened by having piecemeal software platforms that can’t interact with each other easily. The roadmap for ShelterZoom is to build functions that support everything an agent needs to do their job including lead generation, prospecting and marketing so it works seamlessly with transaction management.
Additionally, agents play a crucial role in matching buyers to the right community and some of the best agents are the ones who represent the same home several times during their career. Alishahi knew that in order for DocuWalk to meet the needs of today’s agents, it had to provide a way for them to find information about a home they had sold years ago in a matter of seconds.
“Some of my clients have been working with me for nearly as long as I have been in business,” said Alishahi. “I can’t keep track of which house had an easement for the electric company or had grandfathered clauses for certain rights of way. But if I have that information all saved in the DocuWalk library, it doesn’t take me more than a few seconds to look it up and impress my clients with the fact that I still have the information about their house.”
A further place of vulnerability from the point of view of the broker is the need to have uniformity across any number of contracts. This led ShelterZoom to create a Template Solution feature which lets the manager, in this case the broker, create a contract with only certain parts of the text available for editing. Typically, those parts of the text will be the amount of money due, certain dates and the names of the individuals (though it can be for any type of information they want). This protects the broker from any risk of missing or amended clauses causing problems down the road.
“If you’ve been at this as long as I have,” says Alishahi, “you have probably had a client try to change the text of a contract without anyone noticing. That isn’t possible with our Template Solution.”
Brokers will also be able to access analytics for all the transactions that take place using their brokerage. This information stays in-house, without it being sold or shared to external parties. Whereas many third-party search sites will also analyze the numbers that come across their platform, with ShelterZoom the brokers and people they share the data with are the sole beneficiaries of the information.
Security & Privacy
The real estate industry has already been hit by wire fraud to the tune of millions of dollars, we have all heard about instances of documents falling into the wrong hands and everyone knows all too well what can happen if the wrong version of a contract is what ends up getting signed. ShelterZoom decided to address these problems by building DocuWalk on blockchain, the cutting-edge technology solution for security issues. As just one example of DocuWalk’s security, their system prevents hackers from being able to send a message with fake escrow account numbers to your clients.
“You don’t have to understand blockchain to use blockchain,” says Shorland, echoing her comments from her RISMedia’s 2019 Real Estate CEO Exchange presentation last year. “We have made this a very user-friendly platform, so agents don’t have to worry about what is happening as they point and click their way through the system.”
The concept behind blockchain is easy to understand, even without knowing the nuts and bolts of how it works. Simply put, every iteration of a document is stored on dozens of different servers around the world. Someone would have to locate each one, hack into them and change each version of the document, simultaneously, to make any alterations to the text. This would be next to impossible to have happen.
Similar to the need for having a secure platform, ShelterZoom is also committed to having a private platform. “These two are not the same thing,” says Shorland. “Security is about keeping your information safe from hackers. Privacy is about preventing algorithms and other artificial intelligence from scanning your text or other data and using it to build a database. Everything on our platform can only be viewed by the users who have been given permission. There isn’t a super computer reading anything you write and analyzing it as part of a bigger dataset.”
Alishahi adds, “I have had dozens of clients for whom I have to go the extra mile to protect their privacy, whether they were local public officials or other high-profile clients. If you communicate using most email or document sharing platforms that information can be accessed by others, even if it is against the company’s rules to do so it doesn’t stop everyone. We don’t have any access to your files. Only you do.”
If this year has shown us anything, it is that being able to work effectively while working remotely is more important than ever. Agents are adept at operating from their cars or at a makeshift desk while they host an open house, but when it comes to things as important as contracts or all the other documentation that accompanies a home sale there needs to be a way to do that digitally that meets the same standards we have all come to expect from professional real estate agents. Improved security and privacy, not to mention streamlined contract negotiation, is going to be the way of the future.
For more information, please visit https://docuwalk.com.
Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s senior online editor. Email her your real estate news ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.