‘Virtual assistant’ for real estate

Published 10:10 pm Wednesday, August 8, 2012

At home in Sleepy Hole, Tommy Holland demonstrates his cloud computing real estate application for companies and real estate agents to manage client relationships and generate leads. He said that the concept came to him two years ago after his wife “got very proficient with Excel.”

In the real estate game, the only thing more important than knowing when a client’s child was born is remembering to ask after last weekend’s birthday.

So says a Suffolk-area real estate agent of 12 years, who has developed a cloud computing application which acts like a “virtual assistant” to manage client relationships and generate fresh leads.

1step2referrals.com is the brainchild of Tommy Holland, a Sleepy Hole resident who took leave from a managerial position at William E. Wood and Associates to work on the project.

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The application has two components, Holland explained. For companies, an automatic reminder system guides client follow-up after closing, while for agents, a virtual assistant links to a rich database of client details.

Real estate agents are notoriously neglectful when it comes to maintaining client relationships after closing on deals, Holland says.

“An agent will always mean to stay in touch but get sidetracked,” he said.

This doesn’t make sense when 75 percent — a conservative estimate, Holland says — of business comes from “clients you already have.”

Holland’s system sends the agent a contact schedule that “takes the brainpower out of managing the relationship.”

Via desktop computer, iPad and smartphone, agents receive email prompts and calendar alerts about which clients to contact, based on information fed into the system and how it is configured.

“Every Monday will give you a different list of people to contact,” Holland said. “It also has what’s called ‘Friday Push,’ which are active clients which we’re working with. It encourages weekly follow-up.”

Agents receive prompts on what to talk about during client contacts based on the information fed into the application, such as family member birthdays and favorite restaurants, sports teams and pastimes.

Clients are emailed or called direct from the intranet page, which links to other platforms like Google Maps — pinpointing client addresses previously handled on their behalf — and a client’s Facebook page.

“It takes note of what (kind of property) a client may be looking for, and offers tips” like making a quick phone call to offer congratulations on a loan approval.

Real estate agents gain a personal database that continues to grow as the application is used, and this remains with them throughout their careers.

“My thinking is that agents concentrate on online lead generation, (but) is that really the source?” Holland said.

Most of Holland’s leads, he said, come from “my phone ringing and a past client saying, ‘Hey, my neighbor wants to sell.’”

Holland plans to sell the system, which is downloaded and accessed via username and password, for $10 a month for 12 months, for Hampton Roads real estate agents.

He hopes to organize an official launch in Virginia Beach in October with the Virginia Association of Realtors.

Two companies in Virginia Beach and North Carolina are already using the system, he said, and others in South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Florida are interested.

“There are half-a-dozen extra features we already have planned,” Holland said, adding he’s already thinking of other industries that could benefit from using the app.