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Spring in The Shenandoah: Solid Earth selected in Charlottesville

imagesHuntsville, Alabama May 6, 2016 Solid Earth, Inc has been selected in a national competition to deliver the Spring Enterprise Portal solution to the professional members of the leading Realtor(R) Association in Central Virginia: The Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS. The site will replace and extend the site now featured at MyCAAR.com.

Charlottesville has operated a consumer facing property search website for years, at one point using an older platform from Solid Earth. The new Spring Portal software will allow the Association to reach more consumers by providing additional information services. Spring is a mobile-friendly, responsive technology designed to work well on all IT devices from iPhones to Kindles to Desktops. Incorporating information from many data sources, the site will feature near real-time property listing data along with school information, local health care providers, flood and hazard information and more.

The site allows Consumers as well as Professional members to create accounts. With an account consumers can save and follow properties and share their searches with friends. Professional members can see a Dashboard that measures the traffic happening on their listings and manage incoming inquiries from consumers.

Spring also features a simple, affordable, responsive IDX option for Companies and Agents called Downstream IDX. The service is optimized for WordPress and other popular web platforms commonly used by real estate agents.

Anne Gardner, Association Executive Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS®, had this to say about their selection of Spring:

“CAAR and its members understand the need to provide Central Virginia residents (and beyond) a clean, professional, and easy-to-navigate home search engine whose foundation starts with accurate and timely data. This request was evident especially after CAAR surveyed local consumers on their home search wants and needs. CAAR looked at various platforms and decided to move forward with Solid Earth’s Spring platform. It delivered in both functionality and design our consumers requested while maintaining the important relationship between the consumer and REALTOR®.”

Spring focuses on elevating the broker and agent as the local market expert while inviting the consumer into the heart of the transaction. Spring’s responsive design eliminates the need for separate downloads installs or external mobile apps.

About Solid Earth: Solid Earth has been in the real estate software business since 1998, is owner operated and is focused exclusively on real estate software. The company has been located in historic downtown Huntsville, Alabama since its inception and does 99% of all work onsite, in house. The company sells and supports two products: LIST-IT MLS and Spring Consumer Portals. The LIST-IT system launched in 1998 and is being replaced by Spring. The Spring Platform is the exclusive consumer search portal for these organizations representing 10% of REALTORS nationally (in order of installation, most recent last):

  • Greater Alabama MLS (Birmingham, AL)
  • Franklin & Gulf County Association of REALTORS (Apalachicola, FL)
  • Sandicor Regional MLS (San Diego, CA)
  • Greater Baton Rouge Association of REALTORS (Baton Rouge, LA)
  • Metro Indianapolis Board of REALTORS (Indianapolis, IN)
  • MetroTex Association of REALTORS (Dallas, TX)
  • Tuscaloosa Association of REALTORS (Tuscaloosa, AL)
  • Gulf Coast MLS (Mobile, AL)
  • New England Real Estate Network (Statewide, NH and VT)
  • NW Mississippi Association of REALTORS (Southaven, MS)
  • Greater El Paso Association of REALTORS (El Paso, TX)
  • Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS (Charlottesville, VA) (coming soon)

The Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) is a trade association for real estate professionals in the Charlottesville area (including the City of Charlottesville and the Counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson).The term REALTOR® is a registered collective membership mark which may be used only by real estate professionals who are members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® and subscribe to its strict Code of Ethics. 

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What’s Bigger than Football in West Alabama?

Bryant Denny is Big

Not much is bigger than football in West Alabama. About the only thing that could rival the emotional and economic impact might be real estate. There are billions and billions in value when you think about the thousands of homes, apartments, parcels of land plus the commercial property being bought and sold in the region.

At the center of that activity is the Tuscaloosa Association of REALTORS and they have selected Solid Earth’s Spring platform to take their brand to market. If you are interested in property anywhere in the region; start at www.TuscaloosaMLS.com.

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Spring SEO Tweak: Managing Old Links

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Our customer in San Diego recently pointed out a potential problem with Search Engine Optimization in Spring. When someone Googles a property address, they sometimes get a Page Not Found message like the one in the image in this post. When that happens, Google tries to improve their search results by removing the link for future searches. The site too will be penalized for allowing a broken page to happen.

To solve this problem the Spring team created a simple solution, an off market landing page. With these pages in place, there is never an error message and all listings are persistently available to the search engines. This keeps old links from returning an error to the consumer increasing the enjoyment of using the site, and improving search engine results.

The off market landing pages only show basic information like the map location and essential property information. It does not show brokerage information, since it’s no longer a listing, and does not show photos or remarks or other data elements that might belong to a particular Broker. We’ve made certain other modifications to the page to make it work better with Google too. So far, the results are fantastic, showing a 2/3 increase in clicks in just one month.

The pages look like this (click on it for a live sample on the new www.MLSBox.com). Great job Spring Team!

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Spring Portal: Some Preliminary Questions Before NAR

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So Spring is a really pretty thing, that’s clear enough. But we are in business and that means we are focused on delivering a service that is economically successful. In the interest of saving you and us lots of time in New Orleans next week, allow us to cover some basics. What does Spring do? What does “portal” mean exactly? Is it an MLS? Is it an IDX or VOW product?

What does it do?It’s a website designed to feature real estate for sale and to route inquiries from consumers to the appropriate member/professional. The website is similar to other search portals like Zillow and Move. It shows consumers how to search for property and to connect with local sales agents to ask questions and set-up appointments etc. That’s a portal. With a targeted marketing focus and some time, a great platform like Spring can enable a local association -or even a broker- to compete with national and regional portals. There are many technical details, contact us for those and/or read this.

Is it an MLS? No, it’s not an MLS. To be an MLS, members would have to use it to enter and manage the listing information. Instead, Spring Portal is an easy add-on to the existing MLS and pulls the data every 15 minutes using RETS so that it can be used in Spring. For example, in San Diego and Baton Rouge Spring connects to Black Knight’s Paragon system and in Indianapolis to CoreLogic’s Matrix system (coming soon). Spring can connect to any RETS compliant MLS so if yours is less than stellar when it comes to consumer interactions, Spring could be the answer.

Is it an IDX product? Yes, a brand new one. Spring is a portal but it can also be installed for Brokers and Agents (rules permitting) in two ways: a Broker Portal and also as an IDX service we call Downstream IDX. Let me explain:

  • Broker Portal – Solid Earth can configure the Spring Portal for use by individual brokers for use as their office/company website. This product is available now in any Spring Portal market (see the bottom of this page for a list). Features include all of the Portal features plus customized buyer lead and seller lead routing and mortgage lead routing through the affordability calculator.
  • Downstream IDX – Any member of a Spring Portal can sign-up for Downstream IDX through the Agent Profile (see the bottom of this page for a list). Inexpensive and fully integrated into the Spring project, Downstream is an excellent choice for IDX. There will be more about Downstream in the coming weeks.

Why is it better than other products? First, there is the pretty part. Spring is beautiful and it adapts itself to any screen or device with a technique called Responsive Design. But it’s strong too. And smart. Spring tracks dozens of elements relating to every click as consumers and agents use the system. That data and much more information is presented to the professional members of the system so they can better manage their digital marketing efforts. So, finally. Do you need to come by a see us at NAR? If you are one of these people, then definitely yes:

  • An MLS/Association that wants to take back their local markets with a high quality search portal
  • A Broker that wants a high quality portal to represent their brand in the local market
  • A judge from the Inman Innovation Awards so we can thank you for making us a finalist in two categories this year!

* Black Knight, Paragon, CoreLogic and Matrix are all protected marks of their respective owners and legal departments. No rights assumed or implied.

Here’s a list of current Spring Markets as of 11/01/2014:

FAQs from last Friday’s Inman News DemoDay

questionSo here are some Questions generated during and after the Inman News Demo Day on Friday August 22nd.

Q: Can you use Spring in Canada? A: Yes, you can use this in Canada. The dedicated User Experience Designer we were just describing is from Toronto area and went to University of Guelph. We know we don’t need to be Canadian for the software to work there but it probably helps.

Q: Can you use Spring as a Portal but use a different MLS? A: Yes, we specifically designed Spring to work that way. It’s working that way in San Diego paired with Black Knight’s Paragon system. We have a special product called a Paragon Plugin that we sell to Spring users who wish to sync leads etc with Paragon.

Q: Is Spring RETS Compliant? A: Yes, Solid Earth was a charter member of the Real Estate Standards Organization and our data is all stored using RETS Standard Names for accessibility.

Q: What does Spring cost? A: Spring can be configured to power a city or a single real estate office. For that reason, there is a range of pricing available depending on how the system is staged and what datasets it contains. Generally speaking, portals for cities start at a few thousand dollars / month. IDX and VOW solutions are far less expensive, starting around $100/month for companies and teams and around $50/month for agents.

Q: Is Spring available in my area? A: Yes! As long as you live in one of the cities in the list below. If you do not live in one of these cities Solid Earth has not yet mapped or scheduled your area. But, we still want to build you a site so contact us at sales@24c.d14.mwp.accessdomain.com or fill out this form to let us know you are interested.

  • San Diego, CA – SandicorMLS
  • Birmingham, AL – GreaterAlabamaMLS
  • Panama City, FL – Bay County MLS
  • Chattanooga, TN – Greater Chattanooga MLS
  • Baton Rouge, LA – Greater Baton Rouge MLS
  • Lafayette, LA – Acadiana MLS
  • Apalachicola, FL – Franklin & Gulf Counties MLS

Q: What if my company is a member of more than one MLS? A: Spring is great for this. If you are a member of more than one MLS Solid Earth will connect to all of them and pull data into Spring. This will let your customers see all of the inventory that your brokerage license entitles you to display, in keeping with the MLS rules of course.

Q: How do the agents get the leads? A: That’s part of the reason that makes Spring so powerful. The owner of the site, that’s the MLS or the Broker usually but could be an agent, specifies how long a lead sits with the Listing Agent, usually in minutes. Then the lead routes to the Broker/Office Manager for handling. It’s up to the Broker how long the listing agents gets the lead, if at all. The takeaway is that it’s configurable to work basically however the site owner wants.

Forgotten Coast Makes Memorable Decision

Old Florida Postcard To me, the phrase “Forgotten Coast” brings to mind images of old Florida. Low ragged shrubs and palmettos. Palm trees obscuring the relentless sun, casting deep leafy shadows over quaint flat bungalows tucked in among the dunes. I am talking about the Gulf of Mexico coastline just east of Panama City. As you travel away from the condo towers the coast transitions from beautiful, broad beaches and sandy islands eventually to mangrove and saltmarsh. The mangroves create some of the most biologically rich places on the Gulf Coast, producing world-class fishing and bird watching and of course their famous oysters. Here, in this relatively quiet corner of the bustling Gulf Coast, something interesting is happening in the real estate community. In a time of rapid change and tumult in the industry, the Realtors Association of Franklin and Gulf Counties (RAFGC) has decided to make a mark for themselves, as innovators.

Last Tuesday, the RAFGC Board of Directors approved a proposal to engage in a design-build project for their next MLS. The new project will combine their existing MLS consumer portal, their mobile app and their MLS into a single new website, something that’s never been done before. For the last three years Solid Earth has been building a new technology platform we call Spring. Spring is a unified digital marketing platform built on a restful API designed to be configured several ways. Franklin has elected to use all of Spring’s capability and between now and next summer, they will receive these products in succession:

  • Spring Portal – RAFGCs consumer portal, forgottencoastlife.com, will be transitioned to Spring and relaunched on the new platform as forgottencoastmls.com.
  • Spring API – released along with the Spring Portal, Spring API provides a modernized RETS-friendly alternative for data syndication and distribution, as well as a broker-empowering way to interact with the dataset. It’s what’s next in #retech
  • Downstream IDX / Office and Agent – along with Spring Portal, Solid Earth is also releasing a new IDX/VOW solution. This is a quick, easy way to provide high-impact mobile-friendly property search websites for brokerages and agents.
  • Spring MLS – the RAFGC MLS has agreed to help design the last few pieces of the MLS feature set for Solid Earth. Spring has almost all of the features necessary to provide a standalone MLS but there are several utilities and administrative functions that need to be finalized. The best way to do that is with an actual customer so we are grateful to RAFGC for engaging.

To date, Solid Earth has licensed the Spring Portal solution to several MLSs around the country including SandicorMLS, one of the largest MLSs in the country. But, this is the first time we have won a contract for a full solution including the consumer portal, the mobility features and the MLS all in one IT project. For RAFGC this will be a game changer, creating a manageable, scalable platform through which their brokers can optimally market and distribute their inventory.

What’s new about this?

  • It’s Unified – All traffic, professional, consumer, mobile, etc, is concentrated on one website, creating a common user experience for consumer, sellers and professionals alike. Everyone works in the same place so activity can be monitored and studied. Sort of like, what? Oh yeah! Zillow!
  • It’s Complete – Like Zillow, it includes Public records, On and Off-market Listing Data (local rules permitting), Points of Interest, School Performance Scores, Neighborhood Statistics and just added: Neighborhood Health Care providers filtered by insurance provider.
  • It’s Open – All data, real estate data as well as usage analytics and more are available through the API. Plus, using the Spring Rules Engine, listings can be edited from a broker’s own website or form, no need to use the MLS UI unless it’s what the broker wants. See how PlanWise has used the API to provide better, deeper integration with Spring.
  • It’s Responsive – All pages, forms, photos, maps and features display equally well on a tablet as on a desktop. Smartphones, even Kindles can be used to access the site. No need for an app.
  • It’s Pretty! – Real estate websites have not been winning beauty contests. This one is clean, uncluttered, bright and shiny. Designed by our dedicated User Experience Designer to be enjoyable to use.

When we were wrapping up the meeting last week in Apalachicola, I asked one of the Directors how they felt about being a guinea pig of sorts. From across the room, Gloria Salinard their lead staff person (Association Executive in real-estate-speak) said something I will always remember. She said:

“We’re not guinea pigs, we’re PIONEERS!”

Everyone, and I mean everyone, at Solid Earth has been searching for that special visionary customer, the one described in that Steven Blank book, the one who looks at your idea and says:

“Matt, I’ve never seen anything like that. It doesn’t look like the MLS we’ve always used so, it must be what’s next! We get it! Sign us up!”

So even though their brand is The Forgotten Coast, they will never be forgotten at Solid Earth. They are our pioneers and we could not be more proud of them. For information on how your MLS can join the unified movement, fill out this form and someone will reach out.

Spring Refresh: Shiny Newness and More

Little KittyMost living things have developmental stages. All cats were once kittens; all dogs: puppies. The Spring real estate marketing platform from Solid Earth is a living thing too. It changes all the time based on input from customers and from the really special and creative people on the Spring design team. Every now and then there are leaps in developmental stages, big milestones that should be marked and celebrated and Spring had one of those this week.

Starting Tuesday in San Diego, new code and features were pushed to the network covering all Spring markets. We updated the user experience (UX) in several ways to improve performance and ease-of-use and we squashed some bugs too. Here’s a short list of the latest fresh baked goodness from the Spring team.

What’s New

  • Updated Dashboard – The revamped Agent Dashboard now includes Top Referring URLs, an Inventory Snapshot and Lead Summary
  • Enhanced Responsive Interface – Layout updates include an interactive side-by-side list and map view, always accessible and collapsable advanced search menu, more real estate on the landing page for SEO friendly content, and additional opportunities for cross-device advertising.
  • Advanced Agent Search – Searching for an agent now gives visitors the ability to quickly click to view that agent’s listing inventory. The auto-complete search will also feed the visitor any possible match to the name they’ve partially entered.
  • Points of Interest – Comprehensive new list of POIs from Factual. This is really cool, we’re all still playing with it. See the insert at the end of the post for a screen shot.
  • Public and Private Collections – Not only did we add a map view to the collections, but we also created Public and Private collections. Visitors, co-signors, trusted friends/family from across the country, your preferred Realtor(R), or your client can now follow a collection to check listing activity. Private collections can also be created and shared by invite only.
  • More Mobile Friendly Search Features – Search options, like price, beds and baths have been refreshed to better accommodate mobile use. The price is now selected via a slider-bar while beds and baths are offered up as radio buttons.
  • Communities List – At the bottom of the landing page, we’ve added a list of local areas/communities/neighborhoods bringing the inventory forward for search engine optimization. This list can be populated based on a number of calculations such as: most searched, a random subset of the total with each page refresh or even a static list.

The Spring team is hitting it’s stride with this release but there are several other features nearing completion. As the new features come across we’ll add another post to highlight the changes.

In the mean time, how is your technology evolving? Leaps and starts? Smooth incremental steps? Not at all? We’re curious… share! We deserve your feedback, if only for the gratuitous use of the kitten picture. 🙂

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Finding a Better Way to Do Mobile

innovation metaphor

A few weeks ago I wrote about Five Reasons to adopt Spring as your MLS portal. Since then Solid Earth has been selected as a finalist for two(!) Inman Innovator Awards to be announced in a couple of weeks at Real Estate Connect. One of those awards is for Most Innovative Real Estate App, Tool or Vendor for our Spring real estate marketing platform. So what makes Spring so innovative?

There are several features that make Spring innovative: the fact that it is built on a Restful API, that it is a unified design capable of being used as an MLS, as a consumer portal, as a broker portal or all three. Maybe most importantly though, it is one system designed and tested to operate on all current devices: desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. It does Mobile in a better way.

Using a technology called Responsive Web Design, Spring is built using the same design principles used in the top award-winning web properties. It is more than a mobile version of the portal software, it is a way for the users to have a high quality experience no matter what device they are using. So its an excellent way to provide new features to the huge numbers of mobile users on our sites while never taking our attention from the main system, they are the same.

So responsive web design, or RWD, is the up and coming way of including mobile and tablet support inherently, without an extra fee or a need for a separate IT project.

Its great to be recognized as an innovator, especially after 14 years in the business. Its even better for one of our customers to be selected as a finalist, because of an event we managed for them in February called the GreaterAlabamaMLS.com Hackathon.

If your MLS or your brokerage would like to be innovators in your market, contact the team at Solid Earth for a demo.

Throwback Thursday: Bill’s New Adventures

This month marks the beginning of a new chapter at Solid Earth and the end of another. Spring is making its debut in a Top Ten US city and Bill Fowler, our long serving Chief Marketing Officer, is graduating from Solid Earth to a new opportunity. He’s starting a new marketing company and starting a new real estate consulting firm with some ex-Inman friends. Bill was an important part of the team that created the new product that is launching in San Diego and its success is due in large part to his vision and strategic influence. Bill at 4, at the Farm

For the last 13 years Bill has worked closely with Solid Earth customers and the management team to chart a course and we are excited to see it take shape. So as we transition from the old normal to the new normal, it’s a good time for Bill to chase some big new opportunities. We are thankful for his efforts on our behalf and will miss having his humor and wit in the office every day.

So everyone at Solid Earth wishes Bill nothing but success and happiness in his new venture. To us it’s not surprising that some of the smartest people in real estate marketing have sought him out to join them. He was, after all, part of changing the world. Good luck Bill, see you at Mom’s.

Spring – Feature Update

The great thing about working in an “agile” company is the way we can easily adjust to needs of our customers and the swift changes in the technology and real estate industry.

Since our last feature update on broker deep links we have continued to add new features to Spring based on what our customers value most. We have released updates to search, map, and homepage. These updates are only the beginning of Spring’s capabilities and you can expect to see even more amazing new features and functions as Spring evolves.

Searching Multiple Location

Spring now give you the ability to search multiple locations by using the “or” function. You can easily give it try on our demo site by searching one of the following inquires. Type in the search box [or: blossomwood twickenham] and Spring will return listings for both subdivisions. You are also able to search multiple zip codes or a mixture of zip codes, subdivisions, and cities. Example: [or: 35801 35802] [or: blossomwood 35802]

Professionals can search new listings and modified listings by relative dates, from 1-30 days. We have added the ability to search properties by specific list date ranges as well. This gives the agent the ability to search listings from 04/12/2010 to 12/31/2010.

Mapping

Spring has a new mapping facelift. Any user can can view listings using the terrain, street, and satellite layers. As a professional you can now see color coordinated property statuses on the map making it easier to interpret your search results.

Homepage

It is easy to locate the newest listing right from the home page. Do you want to narrow your newest listing search to a specific price range? Login, click today’s newest listings, and update your preferred price range. Save the search to recall in Spring anytime.

If you have any questions about Spring or want to schedule a demo please contact me at kstanfield@24c.d14.mwp.accessdomain.com or Lauren at ljohannesmeyer@24c.d14.mwp.accessdomain.com