In the big brand vs. boutique brokerage decision, most agents assume one of the main trade-offs is going to be between a relatively impressive suite of tools and support at the major companies versus a scaled-down but more nimble approach to technology at the smaller ones. But @properties is trying to have it both ways. For nearly a decade, the Chicago-based brokerage has been working to create a toolbox for agents called pl@tform. The suite includes tools to manage customer relationships, transactions, social media and marketing campaigns, among other applications.
But to Joni Meyerowitz, chief operating officer of @properties, the real benefit comes in the user experience, rather than the list of capabilities. “One of my favorite things about pl@tform is that everything is tied together and talks to each other, so it’s very easy for our agents,” she said. “For example, when an agent takes a new listing, they just start a property folder by giving the basic info, and then everything populates with an easy checklist that links to all tools to get everything done for that listing.”
At the individual agent level, having a back-end system in place can be a time- and money-saver. But pl@tform symbolizes something entirely different for @properties at large, and that appears to be an expansion plan. The company has partnerships in place with both Georgia-based Ansley Atlanta and Virginia-based Nest Realty, and access to pl@tform is included in those agreements. But Meyerowitz also noted that the system is being “scaled for use on a national stage” as a potential “separate revenue stream through licensing and other business models.”
Moves such as these seem to be part of a larger strategy to compete with big real estate brands while still maintaining a scrappy culture that pursues innovation. “Even though @properties is now 20 years old, we still feel like a startup and act with that same sense of urgency and agility,” Meyerowitz said. “We all constantly want to do better, innovate and improve, and when you have a team like that in place, exciting things happen.”
Understanding the company’s place in the market and seeking out other companies that adopt a similar mentality helped @properties choose these partners. “We love the culture at both Nest and Ansley, believe in their management team, and know they will continue to grow,” Meyerowitz said. “We like to align ourselves with other market leaders so we can all collaborate and continue to grow and improve.”
One element that sets @properties apart from many brokerages creating tech tools is the fact that their development team is on staff. Many nontech companies rely on contractors to put together software to save on costs and staffing, but Meyerowitz noted, “Our team is made up of 100% in-house, W-2 employees who, prior to COVID-19, worked full-time in our Streeterville office.”
As much as @properties might like to compete directly with Realogy and other international real estate brands, though, the fact is that they are still regional in scope. That’s why it’s important for the company to be strategic about what it chooses to develop on its own, and what can be adopted or integrated from existing technology. The main question to answer in that process, according to Meyerowitz, is whether or not the tool needs to integrate with and be branded as part of the pl@tform. “Anytime we build a new tool, we ask ourselves if it’s critical to tie into pl@tform seamlessly. If the answer is yes, we build it in-house. If not, we look for someone else who can do it better,” she said, adding that they’ve developed some 95% of the tools they use.
Another critical factor is getting end users — most typically, agents — involved in beta testing. “We are so fortunate to get constant feedback on our tools through agent advisory boards, feedback tools on pl@tform, and through our training and management teams,” Meyerowitz said.
So what’s next for pl@tform? Meyerowitz said they’re working on making transactions more transparent for clients, tying @properties’ mortgage and title companies into the deal management system, and creating a post-closing tool that will add value for buyers.