Next February, Dallas-based real estate brokerage Residential World Media will debut two websites—ResidentialWorld.TV and ApartmentWorld.TV—on which it will list for-sale and for-rent homes without charging commissions. Those websites will include a host of editorial features that run the gamut from profiles of real-estate agents to interior design ideas (see pie chart). Fidel Jenkins, Residential World Media’s president, told BUILDER on Wednesday that his company’s business model is to generate revenue from advertisers on the sites as well as the 40 million DVDs of its content that it plans to distribute monthly nationwide through retail, grocery or food service outlets. (Jenkins declines to state on the record which retailers he’s been talking to, except to say that they are national chains.)
A hedge fund, which Jenkins declines to identify, is investing $300 million into Residential World Media, which operates out of a 75,000-square-foot warehouse/distribution center. (Its corporate website also lists branch offices in 26 states and the District of Columbia.) Jenkins says that within a year of launching the sites next February 6, he would like to increase his employees nationwide (including contractors) to 10,000, from fewer than 3,000 now. His goal is to elevate the two marketing websites to a level where they’d have the same drawing power as Realtor.com and Trulia.com.
Every month, the sites and DVDs will have fresh content, he says. For example, ResidentialWorld.TV’s editorial calendar for next year includes such topics as “Land and Lots,” “100 Best Cities to Live,” “Kitchens and Baths,” and “The Best Yard: Gardens of the World.” Jenkins says that site would also showcase different subdivisions, as well as products that relate to each topic. (That’s where the advertising angle comes in.)
Jenkins did not reveal which advertisers he’s signed up or approached, but he envisions companies such as Home Depot and Bank of America being interested. Jenkins also thinks these media would be “perfect” for builders and developers because those entities would be able to promote and list their homes and neighborhoods “for free.” A builder could even run its commercials for free because, says Jenkins, Residential World Media still considers those ads “real estate content.” (He says that builders and developers would be able to sign up to be included on the sites and DVDs within the next 45 days.)
Residential World Media isn’t the only company doing real estate videos to sell houses. What will separate his company’s sites and DVDs from the rest of the pack, Jenkins asserts, are their production values. (He makes a point that the content will be shot using high-definition Sony cameras.) A business model that draws revenue from ads, not clients, is also unique in the real estate universe, he says.
Jenkins has had a varied career. Before he got into real estate he specialized in corporate turnarounds for the food-service industry, and his Arlington, Texas-based Hospitality Group still exists. Earlier this decade, Jenkins was president of Windtree Homeowners Association in Dallas, representing 200-plus condo owners (he still owns a home there). He’s also built luxury homes in California and North Texas. In 2008, Jenkins took a detour when he purchased a professional hockey team in Indiana called the Ice Miners in the now-dormant Mid-Atlantic Hockey League.
While he retains some real estate interests, Jenkins says his main focus now is Residential World Media. And the genesis for what he’s planning dates back to 2007, when Jenkins came to the conclusion that real estate street signage “just didn’t do justice” to the home being sold or rented. The signage rarely, if ever, included the price of or details about the asset. “So where does that leave the customer?” he asked himself then.
His company devised street signs that had videos about the homes being sold built into them. A year later, Residential World Media received what Jenkins says was an unsolicited offer from an investor, which “exceeded $100 million,” to buy the company. The investor wasn’t interested in the signage, explains Jenkins, but saw potential in the software that operated the videos in the signs and could update them digitally and remotely.
Jenkins turned down that offer and decided instead to develop the software on his own. His latest plans have that same go-it-alone quality about them, especially the commission-free listing component that is sure to rankle the real estate agent community. “Sometimes, agents and brokers get in the way of buyers and sellers,” is Jenkins’ rationale.
John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.