Thursday, July 14, 2016
How Nestigator Is Making Real Estate Shopping a Shared Experience
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Despite years and years of online real estate being a part of the real estate equation, shopping for a house is still not what it could be—or so says startup veteran and Nestigator (www.nestigator.com) founder Jerry Slavonia. Slavonia told us why he thinks collaboration is the key to improving the real estate shopping experience, and how his new startup is taking on the challenge. Slavonia was founder of Campus Explorer and an executive at Rent.com, before it was acquired by eBay.
For those who haven't heard of Nestigator, what do you do?
Jerry Slavonia: We're building a new community for real estate agents, home seekers, and those who are in the network of those home seekers and agents. We allow you to connect and collaborate, when you are searching for a new home. There are plenty of sites which you can point to which are real estate or rental vertical search engines, but Nestigator is trying to instead turn that into a more collaborative process than you've seen in the past. We're a national service, with around three million listings, and we refresh one or two times a day. We're taking on some pretty big services out there.
Describe more what you mean by making home buying a collaborative process?
Jerry Slavonia: It dawned on me that most people are not searching for their new home alone. What we did not see, when we surveyed the landscape, was a platform which enabled the process of sharing listings, having a conversation about those listings with family members, roommates, friends, or your real estate agent. It did not exist. You could cut and paste links all day long, but there was no way to organize that. We thought that was something we could innovate and improve upon, which is what we've done with our current offering.
How do real estate agents fit into this?
Jerry Slavonia: When I was searching for my first condo or home in LA, I was on the web every night, searching multiple sites, and I really thought I was going to get a lot more help from my real estate agent. It turns out, I was forwarding more listings to her than she was forwarding to me. I don't blame her for that, because the data is so readily accessible. However, I really thought it should be more collaborative. The biggest complaint that we've heard from agents, is how to make themselves relevant, part of the process, particularly in a world where it's so easy for consumers to get online and find property listings. So, we decided that at Nestigator, we were going to take the side of the agent and assist them. I still believe, at least for the foreseeable future, most people are never going to be comfortable buying a home without a professional on their team. Even with people believing the whole thing may go online, I think that will really just be the exception, not the standard.
So, anyway. We wanted to find a way to consider the role of the agent in the search process. We've made it real easy, if you have an agent, to connect with them on the site, allowing the agent to basically follow you around the whole experience. They are right there if you ask a question, and their number is available on every listing. The other problem we're trying to solve is the data. Right now, you have to go to many sites, and there are some serious problems with all the major players in this sector. They are not pulling listings when they go inactive, and a lot of listings are no longer available.
What did you learn from your last company, Campus Explorer, and how are you applying it here?
Jerry Slavonia: I definitely learned a lot. Where do you want to start? (chuckles) There are similarities. There was a space where we were asked the same question—why did we want to create another educational lead generation site or another college site? Campus Explorer is still a leader now in that sector. That's the same story with when I was at Rent.com. People thought we were crazy going up against the mainstream apartment sites which had been around for decades, and that really proved to be a really great company as well. The positive learning from both Rent.com and Campus Explorer, is even though a space might appear to be crowded, there is lots of opportunity. If you can treat your customers better, and have a vision to improve the customer experience, I can guarantee you that there are plenty of problems we can solve with online real estate. As far as other things I have learned, it's also difficult to have equal partners in a company. This time, I am running this solo.
What's the most surprising thing you learned from that prior experience?
Jerry Slavonia: If you are trying to solve a problem, and if you approach it thoughtfully, you need to do your best to understand all of the interested parties, and if you stick at it, and have a good team, you are likely to have some success. You don't have to create the next, unknown social app—at least in my experience—what you need to do is try to solve the major life events that people have. What college to go to? Where are you going to live and plant your roots? These are the major decisions people make in life, and I think that they are the places, for me, that are most interesting, because they solve real problems for real people.
Thanks, and good luck!