ViewPoint Realty Services, a Bedford,N.S.,-based online property data and brokerage site, is reviewing its strategy with the goal of leveraging its highly successful website to draw more customers to its brokerage business.
ViewPoint is best known for its interactive online map, from which consumers can draw massive amounts of free information about the real estate market — what properties are for sale or have sold, asking and selling prices and assessments, to name a few. The business model relies on brokerage and advertising revenue.
“A significant portion of our users see us as a great website only, forgetting that it’s our brokerage services that make the website possible,” CEO Bill McMullin said in an interview Monday.
McMullin started ViewPoint in January 2010 to establish an online marketplace for real estate. The site provides the most complete data available so buyers and sellers can make informed decisions about transactions. But it also functions as a full real estate brokerage with agents who assist buyers and sellers. For example, they offer an MLS listing and advertising on ViewPoint.ca for as little as $950.
ViewPoint has spent about $2 million developing the website and the response has been profound. Last October, ViewPoint surpassed the Multiple Listing Service (mls.ca) as the most visited website for information on Nova Scotia real estate. ViewPoint.ca is now on track to generate 80 million page views per year, and McMullin said it may soon hit 100 million. The site has 105,000 registered users.
“The people in the industry who see our metrics just shake their heads and say, ‘That’s incredible,’” McMullin said.
But the company cannot operate profitably just from Internet advertising, and it’s formulating a plan to more effectively monetize the site, likely through the brokerage business.
“In my opinion, our brokerage is underperforming relative to our website,” he said.
The brokerage expects to complete 300 transactions this year. McMullin believes it should be about three times that, given the reach of the website and that there are 6,000 transactions a year in the Halifax area alone.
“Right now, we are making a decision on how to better monetize the product,” he said. “It’s not unreasonable to ask our website users to use our brokerage.”
The company’s plans to grow the business by entering other provinces have been put on hold due to real estate boards imposing data access restrictions that don’t support the company’s model of giving consumers free and easy access to data online. These restrictions have been challenged by the Canadian Competition Bureau, which sued the Toronto Real Estate Board last September.
The trial, heard by the Competition Tribunal, had McMullin as the first witness for the Competition Bureau. A decision from the tribunal is expected in the next couple of months.
McMullin is the lead investor in ViewPoint, using proceeds of exits from his previous startups, most notably InfoInterActive Inc., a publicly listed telecommunications software and service company he sold to America Online for $43.3 million in 2001.