T he lion’s share of listings have moved from the daily papers to the Web. But if Eric Blumberg gets his way, another tectonic shift may be on the way. Blumberg’s New Jersey–based software company Smarter Agent will, later this month, begin offering a cell-phone program called Smarter Agent Apts for Rent. Shoppers can download it to a mobile phone, just like a ringtone or a game, for $2.99 a month. Then, using GPS technology, the service will provide a list of available apartments by Zip Code, street, and even by block. It’s also searchable by address.
Blumberg is hoping that potential tenants who are cruising the open houses on Sunday morning will call in a list for, say, a three-block stretch surrounding their prime destination, and start shopping from there. It’s also handy for all those singular New York reasons people choose to live where they do, like wanting to be less than five minutes away from the subway or within a favorite restaurant’s delivery zone. The idea’s not new: Many real-estate Websites already let visitors tailor requests by neighborhood, number of bedrooms, and price range. But, says Blumberg, “when you’re out looking for real estate, you’re out looking. You’re not in front of a computer or reading the paper.”
It all sounds appealing, but don’t ditch Craigslist just yet. For starters, it supplies rentals only. Also, lists are generated through the Website Apartments.com, which—though it has an impressive reach—isn’t exactly comprehensive. (At press time, a search for places in Harlem turned up exactly one.) Cell-phone Web browsers aren’t quite mature products, either—they’re a headache to use. Blumberg acknowledges as much. “There’s no such thing as a 100 percent complete list of apartments,” he says, though plans are in the offing to let landlords upload their own ads for free. And there’s another hiccup: “I’m only as good as the technology I’m riding on,” he concedes, referring to Sprint and Nextel, the carriers with which he’s starting off. “You may get calls dumped.”
Are brokers worried about being bypassed? Not surprisingly, some see that prospect down the road, and have already begun scoffing at the utility of this service. Peter Comitini, a Corcoran agent familiar with the technology, isn’t sold. He says landlords like agents to do the work of showing properties and vetting tenants, especially since they’re not the ones paying the broker fees. “[Landlords] have too much on their plates,” he says. Besides, “Have you ever used a browser on a cell phone?” he asks. “It’s one of the most frustrating experiences … I’d rather see detailed info on the Internet, where I can view floor plans and pictures.”