When WikiRealty founder and CEO Sanjay Kuttemperoor attends conferences like the recent California MBA Innovators Conference, he notices that most companies, in adopting Fintech capabilities, are focusing their efforts on what he calls “middle of the tunnel”. This means they are engaging the customer once they’re already in the lender’s ecosystem. But he’s seeing little to nothing regarding how to get them in that ecosystem.
That, Kuttemperoor said, is WikiRealty’s niche: Targeting potential home buyers before they even necessarily know they’re in the market for a new dwelling, and putting its client companies on those potential buyers’ radar.
A former real estate developer and lawyer, Kuttemperoor says a significant change was observable throughout the industry in the post-Zillow era, in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse.
“We were dealing with the chaos in the real estate market. And I saw the industry evolving in terms of how real estate professionals were really struggling with how to compete with the large tech giants that are out there — how to sort of get in front of the consumer, connect with the consumer early on,” Kuttemperoor told Mortgage Media’s Dave Matthews during the innovation conference. “And we really developed WikiRealty as, let’s call it the enabling layer that allows the local real estate professional — whether you’re a loan officer or a realtor, whoever you might be — to compete with these large tech giants. Because at the end of the day, real estate is still hyper-local and that’s where the opportunity is to compete. … I think it’ll be a long time before someone pushes a button and buys a home.”
That said, people are going online to get intelligence before they connect with a professional. WikiRealty aims at making that intelligence as useful and hyper-local as possible and ensuring its client professionals are associated with that intelligence.
It goes deeper than just, say, taxing entities and school districts. The property itself is just the tip of the iceberg, Kuttemperoor noted. Think about things like parks, restaurants, retail, traffic patterns. Is there a good organic grocery down the block? How about a great family park? Is their neighborhood discussion or controversy over traffic flow issues? Essentially, anything that might influence a person’s decision to buy a particular property in a particular block in a particular neighborhood.
“The reality is where you live in the neighborhood is just as important, if not more important, than the property you buy. And believe it or not, that gathering that neighborhood intelligence is still a very disparate, fragmented process,” Kutemperoor said. “And what we do is try to add some structure around that process that really helps educate the consumer, helping them understand where the best neighborhoods are, and at the same time figure out who the best professionals are that they want to work with.”
Essentially, Kuttemperoor describes his business’ goals as providing fully automated marketing technology for the loan officer or bank trying to connect directly with the consumer some nine to 12 months out, even before they’ve searched for a property and are just starting to look for a neighborhood.
That’s where professionals are well-advised to focus, he said: “Candidly, if you’re a loan officer, you are a bank, and you’re focusing only at the end where once people have identified a property, you’re leaving money on the table and you risk becoming irrelevant over the long-term.”
Getting to the people first is how professionals are going to compete with the Zillows and other giants. WikiRealty’s aim, he said, is purely to drive awareness and traffic to the subscriber.
When a professional signs up and says what market they want to focus on, WikiRealty looks at what’s trending online. They pull in all possible sources, with a human in the loop looking at everything and deciding what needs to be highlighted. Then WikiRealty’s content writers prepare an around 250-word piece about a particular aspect of a neighborhood (local bakeries, cafes, parks, etc.) and attach the loan officer’s brand to it, and push it out. It’s published on WikiRealty’s property-listing platform, of course, but also distributed out to the client company’s assorted social-media presences including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, with the goal of getting it seen as often as possible, in a very wide net.
And who are those sources? People in the communities. As WikiRealty’s LinkedIn page puts it, “WikiRealty has created an online community where people come together to share their insights and knowledge about specific locations, properties and topics. … Our community is made up of people from your neighborhood: buyers, sellers, brokers, lawyers, bankers, developers, contractors, designers, architects … basically anyone who touches and has some knowledge about your community can be a part of our WikiRealty Community.”
It starts with pure marketing: Everybody that’s engaging with that content, WikiRealty puts into a retargeting budget and works with the loan officer and get that message in front of the retargeted group. It’s a less in-your-face approach than the LO coming out of the box at the start with “Here’s my ad,” Kuttemperoor noted.
As he put it: “We want to create that awareness for that loan officer, for that mortgage company so that in the back of their minds , they see ‘XYZ mortgage company’ and ‘Sally Smith, loan officer,’ over and over and over, So when they are ready, they decide, ‘Oh, I remember that. I’m going to call that person.’”
Some professionals working in very small or rural markets have wondered whether there’s really much to write about. Kuttemperoor’s answer: “If there are people there, there’s always something to write about.”
Down the road, he expects to be able to offer even more specific local data about consumer sentiment on the most hyper-local levels: “We will be able to say, in XYZ market, people are talking about the stop sign versus down the street they’re talking about the new organic grocery store that opened up,” he said. “And that data has tremendous value to a variety of players, both in the industry and outside of the industry.”
The initial expectation was that the real estate professionals would be contributing all this data on their own, but Kuttemperoor said it can be hard for them to take that on while focusing on their key business. “So, we kind of take that function off their hands and do it all for them,” he said. “It is fully automated to the extent that we produce the content, we publish it, we distribute it, we run targeted ads behind the content, so people in their marketplace are seeing the content. And then we … kind of bring them to the 5-yard line and the loan officer, all they need to do is sort of pick up the ball and do what they do best offline.” In other words, engage the customer and start the conversation.