I found this old concept while going through some old files, it’s over 4 years old but I thought it would be quite appropriate following this article on how high street estate agents are in decline due to the increase of online property sites. At the time there was no one offering this solution.

[Mock up of MMS enabled print property listings]

Way back in 2006 I was on the hunt for a flat in London, the shit was yet to hit the fan with the economy and house buying was frantic in the city. It was common to be waiting in a queue once you got to a property and some people put offers in without even a single viewing.

Newspapers were saturated with property sections, with estate agents taking out 1 or 2 page spreads which listed either premium or local sellers. Online property sites were popping up all over the place, each claiming better features than the next.

It was all pretty hectic with a ‘if you snooze you lose’ mentally. With all this activity, mobile was barely involved, a few agents started SMS alerts later in the year but mobile was nowhere to be seen.

The marketplace was a lot different then, the iPhone had yet to change the world and people were still paying per megabyte to surf the web on their mobile. However I saw an opportunity to utilise mobile and decided to put something together in my spare time at Enpocket using the messaging platform.

My idea was based around some key things I noticed when searching for somewhere to buy in London:

1) Whenever estate agents print listings in newspapers they don’t include an image for each property due to space restrictions. This means that I would naturally be less interested in finding out more about the text only ads as oppose to the image ads. Leading to me either forgetting to look for it online, or just lose/trash the newspaper.

2) When I did see a text-only ad in the newspaper, I was hesitant to call because it’s impossible to find out more over the phone without the estate agent making you register with them. A one minute phonecall to find out if the property is available turns into a drawn out Q&A session.

3) Decision making needed to be instant. Viewing a property that had just come on the market was often done on short notice and it could sometimes involve up to 2 or 3 decision makers. It was important to know that you weren’t missing out by seeing one property whilst other more suitable homes were being snapped up. Often the only thing you knew about the property was what the estate agent told you over the phone.

Taking all this on board I decided that MMS would be the perfect mobile solution.

The way it would work is extremely simple. Every property has a unique reference number, this is displayed alongside its advert.

The user sends a SMS with the ref number to a shortcode, we would then pull the relevant images and property details into an picture message. You can comfortably fit 5 or 6 high quality property images into one MMS or even a video walk-through, along with almost unlimited amounts of text (used for details such as price, council tax etc).

[Gentleman drawing by the lovely Leigh Pearce]

Advantages of MMS:

1) Every ‘text only’ property advertised in print could now be visual.

2) It allows people who are searching for a property to make more informed decisions whilst never needing to go online (would have been great at the time). Also means you don’t need to call the sales office.

3) Property information can easily be forwarded to other key decision makers.

4) Once it arrives in your inbox you can view as many times as you like, for free – unlike a WAP link, which at the time meant you had to keep reconnecting which is slow and costly (or not possible without signal)

5) Opportunity to start a dialogue with the house hunter. For example we could recommend other properties in the same area or price range via MMS. New property alerts could also be sent using picture messages.

6) Huge reach and low barriers to usage.

7) Can be adapted for online by adding a ‘send to my mobile’ feature.

8 ) “1 in 3 sales originate from For Sale signboards” – Why not improve that statistic by creating ‘mobile enabled’ property boards, done by simply printing a mobile call-to-action on the signs allowing passersby to text in to get the MMS.

I decided to create a working example, package the idea up and contact Foxtons – one of the big estate agents in London. Unfortunately they weren’t interested and I eventually got swept up on other projects so I couldn’t contact any other companies.

But I still like the idea and even today there is no London estate agent using MMS like this.