A San Francisco-based startup says a mortgage calculator it built to help homebuyers gauge the affordability of listings can now be used by real estate brokers to boost originations by their in-house and preferred lenders, and to protect their agents from losing clients to rivals who advertise on search portals like Zillow and Trulia.
For $99 per year, agents can brand Planwise’s mortgage calculator and provide the tool to homebuyers via a browser plugin that works on Chrome and Firefox.
When homebuyers who have installed the “Planwise Connect” plugin visit Zillow, Trulia, Homes.com, Yahoo Homes, realtor.ca and Real Estate Book, it pulls in home prices from the property detail pages on those websites.
The browser plugin also overlays their agent’s contact info on the property detail pages of those websites — a clever way for agents to bring their brand to some of real estate’s most popular real estate sites.
Planwise Founder and CEO Vincent Turner said the company wants to make the plugin functional for users of other popular real estate sites like realtor.com and homefinder.com.
In a pitch to agents, PlanwiseConnect promises to minimize “risk of client loss to third-party portal advertisers by virtually connecting you to your buyer continuously,” so that they “don’t lose clients to portal advertisers.”
The company’s website promises brokers that the plugin can not only ensure that agents “stay connected to their clients as they search for homes,” but “increase loan originations for your in-house lender” and generate “leads to increase revenue for … preferred lenders.”
“PlanwiseConnect’s portable, branded mortgage calculator addresses the only demand of lenders — qualified leads through Realtor relationships,” the company says.
Those relationships are governed by the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), which prohibits mortgage lenders and settlement services providers like title insurers from paying kickbacks to real estate agents and others in a position to provide referrals to them in return for sending clients their way.
Some real estate brokerages own and operate an “in house” lender, or hold an ownership stake in a joint venture with a mortgage lender. Such affiliated business arrangements (AfBAs) are allowed under RESPA, but the real estate brokerage’s relationship to the mortgage lender must be disclosed to borrowers.
Real estate brokerages may also charge mortgage lenders and other settlement services providers for helping them market their services. Some brokerages say they refer business to “preferred lenders” without any expectation that they will be compensated, simply because they believe those lenders will provide the best service to their clients.
Screen shot of the PlanwiseConnect plugin in action on a Zillow property detail page. Notice the plugin’s menu bar at the bottom of the image and the affordability tool, which automatically pulls in the list price from the detail page.
With the PlanwiseConnect plugin installed, consumers see a menu bar across the bottom of their browser on the property detail pages of the above sites that allows them to use Planwise’s affordability tool, share the listing with their agent or get preapproved for a loan from one of the agent’s preferred lenders.
Agents can invite as many preferred lenders as they want. Lenders pay $99 per year to Planwise for each agent that invites them into their version of PlanwiseConnect.
Planwise, which launched in 2011, participated in the National Association of Realtors’ inaugural startup accelerator program, REach, in 2013. In August 2013, NAR’s investment wing, Second Century Ventures, invested a previously undisclosed amount in the startup to help its push into real estate. A May 2014 report from NAR’s Finance Committee revealed that amount to be $150,000 in convertible debt. At the end of 2013, Second Century Ventures had a 5 percent ownership stake in Planwise.
In September, real estate tech firm Tribus began integrating Planwise into the websites it builds for brokers and agents.
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