Fellow GeekEstate Blog contributor Brian Wilson’s start-up, Zolve.com, is set to be up and running for everyone as of tomorrow morning. I was going to hold this until tomorrow morning, but given that TechCrunch already covered the site, I figured I would too. What opportunity is Brian chasing? Automating the real estate referral marketplace — and not just within the United States, but across the globe. Zolve aims to enable real estate professionals to do their jobs better and not have to exert so much energy maintaining a vast referral network likely necessary to build their book of business. The site, previously in private BETA, is launching with over 2,200 pre-registered members. According to Brian (via the press release) –
Zolve is the first network built by real estate professionals, for real estate professionals, to connect, make money and build their spheres of influence. By focusing on the real estate professional’s community, automating core business transactions, helping professionals to build an online brand and be found online, and increasing the agent’s ability to share local insights, Zolve represents an entirely new model for online real estate. Its impact could be utterly transformative to how real estate professionals do business online.
- Receive referrals worldwide and share digital referral agreements and feedback reports online
- Earn eBay®-style feedback ratings
- Grow a sphere of influence by connecting to other professionals around the globe
- Customize an online brand with pictures and blog content
How it Works:
As with many social networks, there are two primary things to do right away once you sign up — fill out your profile and add your existing connections. First, fill out your profile with all your contact information. You can upload your license information so that potential clients can make sure you are licensed prior to contacting you. Here’s a sample profile. Adding to your “sphere of influence” seems easy enough. You get a form that allows you to enter multiple e-mail addresses to invite to the program. Additionally, the system can upload contacts from Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, or AOL.
Once you have built a network by importing contacts, you can map your network to get a feel for what areas of the world you are a) strong in and b) should focus on. Below is a screen shot of a sphere of influence, zoomed in on Europe.
The major technology piece of Zolve is the digital referral process. There is a lot to this, so I decided to let Brian Wilson explain how it works —
Zolve’s digital referral agreements systemize the referral process. Today, a real estate agents uses a fax or letter to send a referral to another market and a phone call to send a referral his/her local lender, home inspector, appraiser, or title rep. Zolve uses the internet to improve this process by providing a referral contract that is “fill-in-the-blank easy.” With a few mouse clicks, the referring member select the terms and it is immediately delivered to the receiving member’s inbox. The receiving member can quickly review the terms and with the click of a mouse accept, decline, or discuss the referral. Accepting the referral creates a legally binding contract that is added to that transaction’s digital transaction log that is updated with every activity that effects that referral.
Here’s a screen shot of a sample digital referral agreement (click image for larger version).
Another piece of Zolve is the transaction-based feedback system. Every time a real estate professional sends a referral, the referee is the one that submits the contact information. In turn, at the completion of the referral exchange, the end client is asked to submit a rating based on 4 criteria; proactive communication, knowledge & experience, integrity, and thoroughness & attention to detail. The thesis is that agents will serve the client better knowing that the client will publicly review them at the completion of the transaction. To the left is a sample feedback page for a professional in the Zolve network.
Pricing: Everyone can try Zolve with a 30 day free trial. As a way to entice real estate professionals to join, Zolve’s yearly subscription price during its 1st year will be $395. After a year, that yearly fee will be $995. Additionally, there is a referral fee every time a referral is successfully received and closed; $95 for referrals for real estate agents & mortgage brokers and $19 for all other professions (such as appraisers, virtual assistant, and inspectors). As long as you receive more business through referrals than it costs to subscribe on a yearly basis, the return on investment makes sense from my perspective.
The international aspect of this referral marketplace is interesting — will it help the service reach critical mass? It certainly increases the potential pool of paying customers. A “sphere of influence” is a neat concept, particularly on a worldwide scale. For real estate professionals serving areas such as Manhattan, Los Angeles, and Miami rich in vacation homes and business travelers from overseas, building connections with real estate professionals around the world can add money to the bottom line. Even real estate professionals in small ocean resort towns such as Ocean Park, WA (where my dad lives) have buyers from California, yet professionals in California might not know of an agent serving the small market their buyer is interesting in buying in — Zolve helps them build, track, and exchange referrals with those connections.
Exchanging referrals with other professionals is something that is already happening everyday in the offline world, Zolve has just created a technology solution that enables it to happen more efficiently online. That said, Zolve is not the only company working on improving the referral exchange marketplace — Active Rain is working on solving this same problem with their own referral exchange program. The difference is that “ActiveRain does not take part in any referral agreements between referring members” — which is part of the value-add of the Zolve marketplace.
The site should be available for everyone early tomorrow morning.
Update: Zolve is now live!
Note: I’ve tried to be as un-biased as possible even though I work for Zillow.com, which is another platform that helps real estate professionals market themselves online. Zolve and Zillow are quite different, both the business models and the focus — Zillow is a media company making money via advertising and consumer-focused while Zolve is a subscription based business transaction platform.