Bill Pauling has learned throughout his real estate career that the secret to a happy client is a well-networked agent.
So Pauling has come up with a website to help agents and potential home buyers who are frustrated with the ongoing shortage of homes for sale. In late 2011, he teamed up with Web designer Nils Hansen to create 400 Doors, a site that allows agents to spread the word about their buyers' needs and post listings before they hit the market.
"There's really no other way for agents [from different brokerages] to connect," said Pauling, who also is a full-time agent with Edina Realty. (400 Doors has no affiliation with the brokerage.)
The www.400doors.com site is free and is designed to exchange ideas and information that are passed face-to-face among agents in daily meetings and chance encounters in their offices, hallways and elsewhere. The site is designed so that it's accessible even to those without any technical expertise, Hansen said. To that end, there's a "daily distiller" that can aggregate information from a variety of searches into one file.
To make money, 400 Doors has a vendor list that's meant to replicate the back-pocket list of handymen, contractors and other service providers that agents have developed during their career. Agents can post that list, and those vendors can then become paid "sponsors" who are required to offer a special discount to buyers, sellers or their agents. There also are sections for active listings and information about rental needs.
Unlike Pauling's full-time job, which is in a traditional office, 400 Doors is based in a nontraditional setting called CoCo ("coworking and collaborative"), a 20,000-square-foot shared workspace in downtown Minneapolis that occupies the historic former trading floor at the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. The goal is to create a place where people can freely share ideas and team up with each other on projects. It was a chance meeting in CoCo's kitchen where Pauling and Hansen met Web developer Robert Nelson.
Neither Hansen nor Nelson came to the project with much experience in real estate, but both quickly gravitated to the idea.
"There was chemistry, and a belief that we were going to make this happen," Nelson said.
This isn't Pauling's first time launching a real estate site: In 2007 he started an agents-only website called Tuesday Networking that enabled agents from different brokerages to share information about their listings long before they hit the market, an effort similar to 400 Doors.
Since officially launching the newest site last year, more than 450 local agents from more than 40 brokerages have signed up. Sales agent Carolyn Gronfield signed up for 400 Doors as soon as she received an e-mail about it.
"It gives us the ability to communicate outside our individual brokerages in a way that no one else has," she said.
She said she's already sold several houses that she either posted or found on 400 Doors. One recent client was on the hunt for an entry-level, Craftsman-style or Tudor house in south Minneapolis. "And that's really difficult to find," she said. "If something came on [the market] they'd have 16 offers immediately.
She posted a wish list on her buyer's needs and immediately got an e-mail from another agent who had just done a market analysis on a house that fit the bill, but wasn't scheduled to hit the market for several months. That agent let her client tour the house — and make an offer.
"With the kind of competition we would have faced, it would have made it impossible to otherwise secure this house," Gronfield said. "It was magic."
Pauling said he has his sights set on getting more than 1,000 agents to register. He's not interested in trying to compete with traditional listing services, but he does plan to expand the network to housing markets in other major metropolitan areas. And eventually, he plans to replace the public version of Tuesday Networking with 400 Doors.