Real Estate

Matchmaker, matchmaker, find me a mansion

Palo Alto startup aims to connect buyers and sellers of high-value, off-market properties

Twenty to 25 percent of the real estate for sale in the Bay Area is off-market, according to Eric Trailer, Palo Alto entrepreneur. These homes and properties are generally invisible to the public, including potential buyers, who must rely on agents to work magic -- and their personal contacts -- behind closed doors.

At best, finding the right buyer is hit and miss. At worst, it can be a long and costly nightmare. For Trailer, it's an opportunity.

Trailer is the CEO of Producers' Forum, a Palo Alto startup company that aims to "complete the real estate market" by connecting buyers and sellers of off-market properties. It's the Match.com of high-end real estate, and it's already facilitated 2,000 connections since its founding with a beta-version in 2010. It's also attracted attention from industry experts. Inman (an online source for real estate news) named Producers' Forum a finalist for its 2011 Innovator Awards.

"Any other market is driven by demand. Real estate is driven by supply, and the buyer pool is not understood," Trailer said. He sees Producers' Forum as a way to aggregate information that had never existed in a single place, and as a way to stage a massive, virtual "wants and needs" meeting.

He emphasized that he fully supports the Multiple Listing Service, or MLS, and wishes to complement, rather than compete with it. His Producers' Forum won't include records for properties on the MLS, but will cater to those who prefer not to advertise their intentions to the public.

Sellers often cite privacy as a principal motivation for not including properties on the MLS. Many of the off-market homes are particularly high-value properties -- often upward of $4 million. Such sellers may not want neighbors trudging through their homes, and many don't want their Monets and other valuables to be displayed online and attached to addresses, Trailer said.

That's why Producers' Forum is strictly a "B2B" venture. Licensed real estate professionals create and access listings on behalf of the clients they represent. When a buyer's interest corresponds with a seller's, their respective agents are notified in real-time, and they may contact one another, and their clients, to discuss further proceedings.

Members of the general public, including the buyers and sellers, are prohibited from accessing the off-market listings.

Trailer said the service will open doors for real estate agents, as well as buyers and sellers, because the forum will aggregate information from professionals across multiple agencies and geographic markets. Historically, agents have relied largely on phone calls and emails to contacts in order to find matches for their clients, Trailer said, a process that is far from exhaustive and often involves referral fees.

Producers' Forum will also act as a home for properties that have been withdrawn or canceled from the MLS, as well as distressed properties.

The forum is free, and Trailer said it will always be free at the basic level, though premium, paid options will be added in the future. The company's revenue comes instead from vendors who sponsor the site.

Trailer split time between Palo Alto and Oregon growing up, and spent a year at Gunn High School. He has lived in the area full-time since 1992 and also serves as the president of Absolute Mortgage Banking in Palo Alto. He launched his new business Bay Area-wide, and is currently expanding it to Southern California, Nevada and Oregon, with the notion of functioning nationwide before long. A mobile app is also on the near horizon.

Producers' Forum, which rolled out in February and formally launched in May 2011, currently has a membership of almost 1,000 real estate professionals and counting, he said.

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