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Custom Web application helps Realtors and homeowners

IT exec Chris Lambrou built a custom Web application for the real-estate market, and solved a problem that had stymied lending giants.

Chris Lambrou developed a custom Web application that has been embraced by the Realtor community and has received the stamp of approval from lending giant Fannie Mae. Unlike many inventors, however, he hopes his innovation becomes obsolete -- really soon.

Lambrou's Web application addresses a problem that has plagued homeowners, real-estate agents and financial institutions since the real-estate market tanked three years ago: the short sale -- the process by which creditors agree to accept less than the amount owed on a house. Meant to prevent homes from going into foreclosure and to speed up contract closings, short sales have resulted in confusion instead, with houses languishing on the market for months -- in some cases, years.

So many consumers complain about outdated information, as an industry, we need to clean it up.

Chris Lambrou, director of special projects, Midwest Real Estate Data LLC

As director of special projects for Midwest Real Estate Data LLC (a Multiple Listing Service [MLS] provider), Lambrou saw that "everyone was losing" as more and more properties went into foreclosure. "There were just so many delays with the short-sale process that it caused this big backlog," he said. So, when Fannie Mae put out a call to the 900 MLS providers at a conference three years ago to help resolve the short-sale glut, he drew on his past experience and became an app developer once again.

Before he was recruited by Midwest Real Estate Data to run its call center operations and later head up special projects, Lambrou had developed custom apps for the customer support team at 3Com, a digital electronics manufacturer now part of Hewlett-Packard Co.

Known at 3Com for his "sponge-like" ability to learn and apply call-center support best practices, Lambrou focused on using technology to speed up short sales. His brainchild was a custom Web application that connected real-estate listing agents directly to Fannie Mae short-sale assistance desks. The application authenticated short-sale listings, verifying that they had a legitimate real-estate agent behind them with a real contract in place. "So much time was wasted on the short-sale process filtering out what was real and what wasn't," he said. "This is the filtering tool that makes sure financial institutions aren't being contacted by the homeowner or people who have nothing to do with the short sale in question."

The application not only verified that a short sale was ready to go, but by populating all the necessary fields, it also simplified the process significantly. Lambrou's Web application also "spoke" the Real Estate Transaction Language, or RETS, which computer systems use to handle real-estate information.

"The goal for Fannie Mae, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo is to close on a short sale within 30 days," Lambrou said. "That was the [message] handed down to them by the Obama administration, but [the banking industry] also didn't want this backlog of houses."

Custom dev for the sake of the community

The Web application was intended to solve a real problem for the community rather than make money for his company, but Lambrou, a finalist in our IT Leadership Awards, predicts that 2012 will be the year his Web application will "lose its edge." The government is pushing to speed up short sales, and the approval rate for real estate agents using the short-sale custom Web application is a remarkable 70%. Since Fannie Mae introduced the application to its short-sale assistance desk in March, 2011, approximately 1,000 short sales have been closed. And of that number, 500 were closed by 10 Midwest-based MLS providers using Lambrou's app.

The custom Web app didn't just resolve a pain point for the real-estate agent community -- Lambrou designed it to be highly customizable. Any MLS provider can use it for a nominal hosting fee and easily brand the app as its own service. For those new to the short-sale process, he set up the app as a "how to" that includes a step-by-step guide. "Unfortunately, short sales have become pretty common, but until the last few years they weren't. Not many real-estate agents were experts in short sales," he said.

With the demise of his application imminent, Lambrou is working already on his next project. And yes, it's another custom Web application that resolves a problem plaguing the real estate community: stale listing information on the Internet.

"So many consumers complain about outdated information, as an industry, we need to clean it up," Lambrou said. The custom app will verify information, then put a seal of approval on the listing. That way, consumers can feel confident that the information is up-to-date and accurate, he said.

If that isn't enough, Lambrou already has a social media widget called Share My Listing (SMyL) that has been used to connect more than 200,000 consumers with real-estate agents on social media platforms. He calls SMyL his "one-hit wonder," but his short-sale custom Web application clearly marks him a repeat performer. Others in the industry are waiting for his next hit.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, News Director.

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