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CIO - The real-estate industry is naturally mobile. What better way to shop for a home than from the palm of your hand as you walk through your favorite neighborhood?
VIDEO: The world got mobile in 2012
The app stores are crowded with real-estate mobile applications, but analysts say that true innovation has been lacking. That's changing now that Metropolitan Regional Information Systems (MRIS), a mid-Atlantic multiple-listing service (MLS), has developed a mobile app with data that is more accurate and timely than the average real-estate app.
This spring, MRIS invested nearly $200,000 and partnered with app developer Smarter Agent to create MRIS Homes, a real-estate app that connects both homebuyers and real-estate professionals directly to its MLS data. The app debuted in September.
"Agents wanted real-time updates and to be able to work in the field whenever and wherever they wanted to," says Michael Belak, CIO of MRIS, which sees about $100 million a day in real-estate transactions.
Already the largest MLS in the country, MRIS plans to take its operation nationwide, Belak says. Having an industry-leading mobile app generates revenue and puts MRIS in a good position for that nationwide expansion, Belak says.
A real-estate app should answer three questions, says Michael Simonsen, co-founder and CEO of Altos Research, a real-estate market analysis firm: "What's for sale? What is it worth? And how is the market overall?" But it's not enough for app makers to provide just these three features, Simonsen says. "As a result, it can be difficult for apps to differentiate themselves."
What differentiates the MRIS Homes app is that the consumer side and the broker side are both integrated with the MLS and are updated with fresh data every 10 minutes, says Eric Stegemann, director of strategy at Tribus, a real-estate technology company. "So customers and agents are seeing the same updated listings at the same time."
Third-party MLS syndicators like Trulia and Zillow can take up to 72 hours to update, says Stegemann. So by the time a potential buyer looks at listings, the data on those sites can be "vastly inaccurate."
MRIS's Belak says that third-party real-estate apps only display properties that agents pay to list and often have unreliable data quality.
"When you can get data directly from the MLS [like MRIS], you get much cleaner data," says Stegemann.
"That's what's most important to me," says Sarah Stelmok, an associate broker who has been using the MRIS Homes app since early October. "Accuracy of information is the hardest thing to get in a mobile app," she says.
"Good MLS services make innovative investments to make the lives of agents easier," says Stegemann. "The way to stay relevant is to continually make agents happy."
Aaron Lester is a freelance writer based in Massachusetts.
Read more about mobile/wireless in CIO's Mobile/Wireless Drilldown.