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PlanetRE’s consumer app is more MLS than search friendly

06/12/2020

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Have suggestions for products that you’d like to see reviewed by our real estate technology expert? Email Craig Rowe.

The PlanetRE app is a real estate search and productivity app for buyers and sellers.

Platforms: iOS Ideal for: Agents; PlanetRE software users; consumers in Northern California/L.A. County

Top selling points Built-in transaction history Back-end agent interaction In-app document signing Tracks/publishes listing search activity Listing feedback/ratings Top concerns

The company has a lot of competition from much larger industry names, from Zillow to Keller Williams. While the app is good, PlanetRE agents will have to work hard to encourage client adoption.

What you should know

PlanetRE has developed a decent real estate search app for consumers looking for services in the following California counties:

Santa Clara Santa Cruz Monterey San Mateo San Joaquin San Benito Los Angeles

There are map searches, an easy way to toggle on and off how neighborhood amenities (parks, schools, etc.) overlap with available listings and INRIX-integrated commute times.

There are also search filters according to lifestyle, accessed via a menu of category blocks, such as “Culturally Rich,” “Health and Safety,” or “Golfer’s Paradise.”

(How golfing gets its own app category over a multitude of other popular regional activities is intriguing. Northern California has stunning shorelines, endless trails, cycling, wine, etc.) (And the app should better define “Culturally Rich.”)

The app is linked, or branded, to an agent or brokerage, and thus the houses available will be limited to that agents’ market. This isn’t a national search app, so it’s hobbled before it leaves the gate, at least in terms of what else is out there in mobile consumer search.

Activity on the app feeds into PlanetRE’s Socialite CRM, which helps app-affiliated agents keep track from their desktop what’s happening in the market.

The initial search screen after opening is visually mediocre, and it looks more like it was coded as a mobile-responsive browser app than a true mobile app.

Search results emerge on the map as plain dots or flagged price icons. There’s color coding in play to demonstrate market status.

Tapping a result reveals a price and a listing detail card for a full-screen view, which is the highlight of the app. The full listing sheet is nice to work within; images can be scrolled without opening a separate window, and I can share it in two taps.

There’s a tabbed menu view that gives me quick directions, a street view, or bird’s-eye look, all via Google Street View. I think the breakdown of community features is well executed.

Parts of the search interaction are cool, substituting typical drop-down menus with a soft-edged slider for beds, baths and preferred school rating. The school ratings are vague, however, using a 1-plus to 5-plus scale. Is 1 the best? What do the numbers represent?

The other search parameters are selected by a misleading drop-down. Tapping a black arrow instead triggers a clinical pop-up of technical housing terms, many of which are going to confuse and likely frustrate today’s efficiency-minded, lifestyle-driven mobile home shopper.

For example, I can search for homes by “Cooling Type.” Cooling type?

Doing so reveals an exhaustive list of ways to air condition a home, including four different kinds of air conditioning (area, individual, none, and unit), roof package (joint or separate), whole house fan, and multi-units, among others. There’s also a “new construction” option.

Under “Water Source,” I can choose to browse for homes that are sourced by a creek, riparian rights, untreated, or 11 types of well. Under “Foundation,” I have mudsill as an option. Are typical homeshoppers aware of what that is?

It’s clear that PlanetRE has mapped its search functionality against common MLS fields from its data partner, MLSListings, Inc. in Northern California.

It’s not uncommon for a search app to, in some ways, mirror the detail of an MLS search. But, don’t consumer search apps exist because historically multiple listings services have proven to be out of touch with consumer needs? Isn’t this why we have Zillow?

This app demonstrates that in spades.

Consumer-focused home search should smooth over, or outright eschew, intricate industry jargon on foundation types and water sources, especially in the mobile environment. This looks more like something an inspector would use, or what I’d find exploring a tax record.

This is the mobile search equivalent of MLS hot-sheets.

The app does have a creative search tool in a “Calm to Noisy” slider that filters homes according to proximity to highways or commercial centers. I’d like to see more of this kind of interaction.

Potential sellers can use PlanetRE to get a home value, powered by Zillow.

Enter the address and you’ll get a property details page and its Zestimate. The app alerts the agent on the backend that a user has requested a valuation. It’s not much in terms of lead qualification, but it can be a good enough reason to make contact.

If the user is a previous client, any transactions from their CRM record will filter into the app.

PlanetRE’s transaction management tools can be accessed via the app, and they allow buyers to execute any number of required documents sent to them by their agent and sign using the company’s SOC-2 compliant encryption.

As someone who has signed formal offer documents on a mobile phone, I find this integration well worth the effort on the part of PlanetRE. The market is growing more comfortable with digital, arm’s-length business, especially in light of the COVID-19 working environment.

The productivity tools and backend interaction are nice touches, but evidence shows that PlanetRE really built an agent productivity app under the cloak of consumer search.

From the lack of search ingenuity to the use of a Zestimate, there isn’t anything new here.

PlanetRE needs to give more credence to the fact that Zillow, realtor.com, Trulia, Redfin, Movoto, Keller Williams, Homesnap, and a number of other national brands and proptechs already have their app logos on millions of mobile device home screens—apps that people use simply for the love of real estate, to dream about that refreshed urban craftsman two streets over that might finally be on the market.

In summary, the market for home search apps is crazy tight, and I’m not sure there’s any room in there for this app. At least not its current state.

Have a technology product you would like to discuss? Email Craig Rowe

Craig C. Rowe started in commercial real estate at the dawn of the dot-com boom, helping an array of commercial real estate companies fortify their online presence and analyze internal software decisions. He now helps agents with technology decisions and marketing through reviewing software and tech for Inman. He lives near Lake Tahoe in the northern Sierra Nevada of California.

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