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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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April 23, 2008 12:00 AM

Online realty startup Estately lands funding, eyes regional expansion

Posted by Brier Dudley

Zillow gets more attention, but has more local listings in the greater Puget Sound region, according to Galen Ward, co-founder of the plucky little real estate Web site that just landed its first funding.

Seattle-based Estately gets all the listings held by the local Multiple Listing Service because it's actually a member of the service, via a licensed broker.

The company serves up the listings in with customer-friendly search tools - my favorite is a drop-down transit options menu that lets you search for homes for sale near Link light rail stations.

The listings are presented with Google-powered maps, supplemented with area information such as nearb schools and parks - drawing on Ward's previous experience as a GIS consultant.

But search isn't Estately's main business. It makes money by connecting househunters with screened real estate agents, linking them according to the specific needs listed by consumers and the expertise of the agents. It's only compensation for the matchup is a percentage of closed sales.

It's not profitable yet, but cash flow has enabled Ward, 29, and co-founder Doug Cole, a 30-year-old former grad student - to grow it into a five-employee venture. Not bad for a startup launched in December 2006 with $5,000 of their own money.

Today they're announcing that they received $450,000 in funding from angel investors who were identified only as local online entrepreneurs.

Ward said they'll use the money to expand the business to other areas, initially down the West Coast. It's not a lot of money but he said they've got an efficient operation and reusable platform so they won't need to hire more people to add additional cities.

What about the real estate downturn? Ward said Estately's traffic has been growing despite the industry's problems - traffic has doubled every three or four months, and surged since the fall.

"I think it's in spite of the market - there are still a lot more properties on the market than there are buyers willing to buy,'' he said.

Through its MLS relationship, Estately has around 48,000 houses listed but it plans to have five times as many by the end of the summer, which suggests to me that it's next target is a big market like Los Angeles or San Francisco.

I just wish they'd stuck with the company's original name - - which seems perfect for residential real estate circa 2008.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.