What do savvy sellers ask their agents in the pre-listing interview? About getting their home in the newspaper? Ha! Only if it’s a nursing home! Smart sellers care about two things: internet exposure and —
“Do you belong to one of the top hip pocket Facebook groups in town?
Pre-sizzle seals the sale. In this white-hot market of low inventory, buyers need an agent with ESP, one who knows which homes will be listed even before their owners know it! Or at least before every other Realtor.
In Dallas, south of LBJ, that would be an agent who belongs to Real Estate Friends, a private, closed Facebook group of about 800 agents.
But now, there’s a new kid in town who wants to let ALL real estate agents join the pre-listing party.
Daylon Pereira is a top agent with Allie Beth Allman’s Urban team who has partnered with two Stanford MBA graduates to create a website for agents to share hip pockets called The Unlisted. Already up and running in Dallas, Pereira’s team plans to open in multiple major cities from Miami to Chicago, LA, Austin, Houston, New York City, San Francisco, anywhere where real estate inventory is tighter than an East Texas tick.
“Our team has a deep knowledge of the residential real estate market. We see tremendous demand and not enough supply in the largest US cities,” says Pereira. “We see a market where privacy and exclusivity results in additional value for buyers and sellers. We see agents leveraging their networks and struggling with sub-optimal tools to find the right properties for their clients, and the right buyers for their properties. We want to give agents the modern and easy to use tools they need to be successful in this ever-changing, fast-paced environment.
Pre-MLS Facebook groups like Real Estate Friends have been proliferating all across the US for several years, ever since Facebook introduced groups.
Some build networks to be like a virtual broker’s meeting, where agents from various brokerages share information on Facebook about upcoming properties. It’s also a way for agents to generate buzz for a property, including showings and offers, often before it’s listed in the MLS. Some agents think the buzz can be used to generate leverage, too, as we have seen even from numerous stories posted on this blog. No one may actually SAY this, but if a client falls in love with a property that is not yet listed, they know darn well they may lose the opportunity to buy this property once it goes into MLS. So, the house sells, and sells quickly.
In Dallas, the hottest Facebook group for savvy agents has been Real Estate Friends, run by Devin Rambie of Legacy Texas Title. In 2010, when Facebook first introduced groups, Devin came up with the idea of a Facebook group for agents in her area. As Legacy’s marketing director, Devin was always looking for ways to attract agents; that’s her job. The group grew rapidly.
“I’ve always invested time and effort to help agents,” she says. “Of course, the market wasn’t as crazy back then.”
Her initial idea was to create a little supplement to the MLS. This was 2010, smack dab middle of the Recession. But as the market grew hotter and inventory shrank, agents actually began finding clients’ homes on Real Estate Friends, often because there was so little on MLS.
At first, too, many of the agents she worked with didn’t understand the concept of Facebook groups. Or even Facebook. Devin became IT support central for some of the top multi-million dollar producers in town.
“Some of the top producers in town had zero exposure to Facebook,” says Devin. ” We sat in my office and I literally gave Facebook lessons. Many of them thought they were in an email group. It took awhile to bring them up to a comfort level with Facebook.”
Managing the site occupies a huge chunk of her time. Neither she nor her company make any money off it.
“Over the years, people have suggested that I sell memberships, charge dues or sell ads,” she says, “but I won’t. I’m just giving agents another tool for their toolboxes. And I don’t personally benefit from it.”
Part of the reason she reduces the group’s size is to keep things manageable in case someone “colors outside the lines.” There were 860 members late last year, but today there are 810. Agents have migrated out through attrition or become inactive, and new members have migrated in. Still, this is mind-boggling: Devin has 540 agent requests to get in since the last time she culled through them.
Devin says she thinks agents trust Real Estate Friends because she is NOT another agent competing with them. And it’s a huge benefit to agents in the smaller brokerages.
“It’s not that different from one of the yard sale sites,” she says. “I tell people, hey, I love playing matchmaker, now can you invite me to the wedding?”
Not all members choose to close with her at Legacy, of course, and Devin holds the line at letting only licensed agents in the group: no investors, no builders, no FSBO’s (that’s for sale, by owner).
How many properties does she share at any given time?
“I can go to lunch, come back, there are 15 activities by the time I’m back,” says Devin. “If someone puts something in priced really well, it can have a contract by evening.”
Devin actually runs two Facebook groups, Real Estate Friends and a group for agents north of LBJ she did not start, but was asked to manage. It has 522 members. Why are there so many more hip pockets south of LBJ?
“I think people south of LBJ are more reluctant to list their homes,” she says, ” They encounter an agent sitting at a baseball game who might say hey, if I could get you $1.3 million for your home, would you sell? They want to stick their toe in the water.”
Also, she adds, there is now a certain cachet to buying a hip pocket. It indicates the home is uber desirable because the dance card is full.
Last spring, Daylon Pereira was helping a client look for a house in University Park. Homes entered in MLS were selling so quickly, he had to rely totally on the sharing of hip-pockets to have a fighting chance for his buyer.
“I looked at the hip-pocket list my office created daily and checked Real Estate Friends hourly, really every thirty minutes,” says Daylon. “Though I certainly found the Facebook group to be a helpful tool, the more agents that joined, the longer the news feed became and honing in on my search criteria was difficult. There also wasn’t an effective way of sharing the posts with my clients. So, though the group was a good resource, it’s limitations were bound by the layout of Facebook.”
Really, says Daylon, Facebook wasn’t designed to be a comprehensive platform for sharing Real Estate. Not yet, anyhow. It’s an effective but small scale marketing and networking tool for sharing vendors, contacts and news. Devin disagrees: Facebook actually has a search mechanism, and those who post listings can use as many reference words as they like to assist other members with specific buyer needs — words like Devonshire, M streets, street names, agent names, price breakdowns (under 1 mil, up to 2 MM.) The platform for sharing within a closed group is pretty ideal, she says, it’s just a matter of educating the members on how to use it.
But it’s a closed group. No one knows better than Daylon how rapidly the real estate industry is changing. Hip-pocket listings are growing in numbers, because of lack of inventory in some markets. In fact, has anyone whined about Hip Pockets or Pre Market listings at all lately?
“We needed a place to share non-MLS or pre-MLS properties that combined the best of Facebook with the best of MLS,” says Daylon.
He shared the idea with a couple of friends, who are also brilliant business strategies, and by the following week a plan was in the works. Steven Riskey is a marketing expert, real estate developer, and serial entrepreneur. Pepe Rodriguez is a former business strategy consultant now also turned entrepreneur. Both met at a little school called Stanford while pursuing their MBAs.
Now, after almost a year of building a simple website that would house all the tools agents need, and offer no limitation on membership, The Unlisted was launched. The site is handsome, sleek and clean. It is extremely user-friendly. If you can use an elevator or a cell phone, you can use The Unlisted. All you do is sign up — which requires your real estate license, name, address, zip code and a password, and you are in. The site already has about 8 to 10 unlisted properties in stock, ranging from a darling $375,000 Travis Street condo to a $7,000,000 million dollar listing on Gillon. No cost, either: thus far, it’s free, until the Stanford biz brains figure out a way to monetize it through ad sales or membership.
“In our first week, we’ve had nearly 40 top-producing agents join and several properties uploaded,” says Daylon.
Daylon’s legal consultants have dotted the i’s and crossed the T’s to make sure every pixel of Unlisted is legal and compliant. It’s a website, not a listing service for hip pockets. It’s Real Estate Friends on steroids.
Still, the day after he presented his site and concept to fellow agents at Allie Beth Allman, he was kicked out of Real Estate Friends.
“I took Daylon out of the group to protect the integrity,” says Devin. “He’s a great friend, but I think agents would be skeptical if I were sharing information with other entities.”