PORTLAND, Maine — The spring real estate market is quickening.
“For sale” signs are popping up, buyers are coming out of hiding, contractors are in demand. To keep up, brokers are on non-stop speed dial.
In Greater Portland, a new tool has emerged to help them — OwnerAide.
The web service by a Portland startup that launched this month digitally connects real estate pros, homeowners, buyers and contractors. Where a service directory or phonebook sufficed in the past, OwnerAide is an interactive, interconnected way to get jobs done fast.
“At the core, our business is a job-creating engine,” said Nicholas Pontacoloni, company co-founder.
Through the network, homeowners can solicit help, a local plumber can respond to a bid and a real estate agent can build a web of seasoned, trusted tradesmen.
“It takes technology that LinkedIn has made popular in terms of professional networks and brings in elements of Angie’s List,” said Pontacoloni.
Having worked for LinkedIn as an enterprise account executive, the 31-year-old Pontacoloni “learned about the power of professional networks, special collaborative technology and digital media.”
Now he harnesses it to serve the home improvement marketplace.
Owning property in Vermont and Boston, the Connecticut native saw an opportunity in the digital sector for real estate management.
“I realized LinkedIn was great for corporate America and career jobs, but this whole local economy that takes pride in craftsmanship — I call blue collar 2.0 — was left out. I wanted to bring back these fields and make them as relevant as they were before,” said Pontacoloni, who moved from downtown Boston to Hollis in the fall to build the business.
Having just launched in Portland, the network is still growing. But the agents the startup has reached out to like what they see.
“It’s a Rolodex on steroids,” said Kristen Wheatley, an Auburn broker with The Maine Real Estate Network. “I’m a tech person and quite skeptical; this is one thing that I do see as valuable.”
By creating her own business directory of plumbers, title lawyers and painters, for example, she can help homeowners manage their property.
“This isn’t really another social media channel, it’s a service where they can go when they need a contractor or pest control,” said Wheatley.
Through building and sharing her own business network, she stays relevant in a changing field.
Because “real estate agents are a one-man band today,” says Pontacoloni, “they run around giving recommendations. Through OwnerAide they can be seen as the go-to resource for everything home.”
At its core, OwnerAide is a job creator for the home improvement industry.
“The story that we want to tell is about building local economies, about creating jobs locally,” said Pontacoloni.
Because the service offers reviews of job performance, it’s smarter than Craigslist, which “can find jobs quickly, but you are taking shots in the dark,” said Pontacoloni. And Angie’s List? “You still have to make the phone call to explain the job.”
To improve the experience, “we took those two things and put them together, made better systems and took elements from eBay, so people can bid on jobs.”
That speaks to Portland broker Liam McCoy, who sees the invention as a market changer.
“So many people have a hard time picking up the phone,” he said of contractors and tradesmen. “A lot of these guys don’t have a secretary, they are in cars going to jobs. If they have the capability to accept them on the go, it will make them more responsive,” said McCoy, of Legacy Properties Sotheby’s International Realty.
And with a mobile-first mentality, OwnerAide makes sense.
“Everybody that I know in my sphere will have access to my network with a phone. I can be at my son’s Little League game, someone says they need their house painted, I can put it out to bid right there and quickly get a response,” said McCoy. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Though Pontacoloni formed OwnerAide in 2012 with partner Michael Zizzamia, the mobile market was not ready. It sat on the shelf for months and was reworked considerably since the fall.
Moving operations to Portland in November to take advantage of the tech talent pool helped him relaunch as a more focused online tool. At the Think Tank, a co-working space on Congress Street, he hired Patrick Kenney as his senior engineer and is pleased with the progress.
“I found talent here that was available and excited to work on a new and interesting project,” he said. “Portland is ripe for a technology, startup revolution. It’s a vibrant community.”