WE’RE HEARING with all the buzz around social networking for business people, it’s no surprise that someone would create an online platform dedicated to real estate agents and brokers.
That’s what Bill Pauling and a couple of partners did in creating 400 Doors, a Minneapolis-based venture that brings Realtor networking to the digital age. Last week, I called Pauling to find out more about his venture and see if there might be a mortgage angle to the start-up company. My timing turned out to be fortuitous—earlier that day, the company’s top brass had held a meeting to discuss opening up 400 Doors to mortgage lenders, and they decided to take the plunge.
That means that if 400 Doors takes off as a social media tip source for real estate agents, it could open doors for mortgage lenders as well.
Pauling said the goal of the company is to leverage technology to make the kind of networking that agents and brokers have been doing offline for decades more efficient. Traditionally, realty brokerage firms have used meetings and bulletin boards to share leads and internal news.
“The means by which they were doing it were kind of old fashioned,” Pauling said.
There is no fee for real estate agents to register with 400 Doors. Instead, the revenue model relies on sponsorships from vendors and service providers that often rely on real estate agents for business referrals. Those sponsors include firms that provide home inspections, painters, plumbers, and other services that people looking to buy or sell a home may need to hire.
Pauling said the founders of 400 Doors were reluctant to add mortgage lenders at first, fearing that might put off brokerage firms that like to refer their business to an affiliated mortgage originator. But as the site got up and running, he said they’ve found that there really isn’t any resistance to mortgage lender participation.
“We actually are going to be opening up to mortgage companies and title companies quite soon,” he said. “What we are learning as we grow is that it really isn’t an issue.”
The company is using its Twin Cities base as the beta testing market. Pauling said 400 Doors definitely plans to expand into other markets as it works out kinks in its operations. Currently, 650 real estate agents are registered users of 400 Doors, which was founded early this year.
All users have access to the networking features of the site, but it also allows real estate agents to pick what users they want to regularly hear from.
“Every member can find other members on the site and key them, kind of like a Twitter follow.”
Every time a keyed member says something, the user will see it in a “daily distiller” email that provides a personalized summary of daily networking information.
“What we try to do is take all of the noise out of networking. It’s kind of like their own daily newspaper with all the news that pertains to them.”
Users can get a heads up on homes that may be coming to market soon but aren’t on the Multiple Listing Service yet, for instance. Or an agent might share information about what special needs or desires a potential buyer has. With agents in many markets complaining about a lack of inventory on the market, the company’s founders hope that getting a heads up on potential property sales should create momentum for the kind of networking provided by 400 Doors.
“It gives the agents a different way to find properties for their buyer,” Pauling said.
Real estate brokerage firms have tools on the site that allow them to create a sort of online office for their company, so that all the brokerages agents are automatically connected and can see something that has been posted by one of their colleagues. Those notices might include things like new hires and changes in a listing price.
400 Doors is hosted by Amazon Web Services. The company’s other co-founders are Nils Hansen, a Web-designer, and Robert Nelson, a programmer. Pauling also is a real estate agent, though 400 Doors is not affiliated with the brokerage firm where he works.
Ted Cornwell has covered the mortgage markets since 1990. He is a former editor of both Mortgage Servicing News and Mortgage Technology.