Tour hot real estate - by bike

A real estate broker uses pedal power to boost business.

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By Matt Kolb, as told to Laurie Budgar

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On the road: Matt Kolb wheels through a Boulder neighborhood.
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Kolb shows off a home to prospective buyers.

BOULDER, COLO. (Fortune Small Business) -- I'm a realtor in Boulder, and a couple of years ago I had a buyer in from out of town. We did the usual thing - drove around, looked at 10 or 12 homes - and made plans to see more the following day. Well, he called the next morning and told me that he had borrowed a cruiser bike from his hotel, ridden through a nearby neighborhood and met a guy who was interested in selling his house.

"Sorry, Matt," he said. "I bought a home last night."

I'm a triathlete, and I like to preview houses for sale by bike. Losing that sale made me wonder whether my customers might also enjoy pedaling to properties. It was an "Aha!" moment. I called a good friend, Chris Sweeney, who was a Realtor with another firm, and said, "Let's start a business." That was in May 2007.

So now Chris and I run our own agency, Pedal to Properties. We're the proud owners of 12 Electra three-speed cruiser bikes, and we just donated 36 more bikes to local hotels. Guests can take them out for free to experience Boulder. And just in case the guest needs a real estate broker, our contact information is prominently displayed on each bike and in every hotel room.

About 40% to 50% of my clients choose to ride the bikes. Many brokers structure house tours by going from the least expensive to the most expensive property. I start uphill and proceed downhill, so we can just coast at the end of the tour.

We ride at a leisurely pace, and we normally don't cover more than three miles in a trip. We get to know one another, and I can point out neighborhood features such as parks and bike trails.

I do group rides every Wednesday. That's great for sellers because I'm bringing six to 10 clients through their homes in one shot. And surprisingly, there's never been competition among buyers. They're all looking for different things. Some have kids, others don't. Some love ranches while others prefer Victorians.

In the summer, we go to arts and sporting events. We bring our booth, bikes, coffee, treats and a computer so people can look for properties online. It's turned into a tremendous opportunity to market ourselves and stand out, which is an advantage I didn't expect when we started the business.

Our approach to customer service has really paid off. In 2007 our revenues were a little more than $11 million, double what we did the year before.

Although Boulder's real estate market is relatively healthy compared with the rest of the nation - partly because we avoided the housing boom that a lot of cities experienced and also because we have a strong job market - the recession has made it difficult for folks moving to Boulder to sell their existing homes. The tightening credit market also means that fewer self-employed people qualify for home loans. Still, we're projecting 2008 revenues of $12 million to $14 million - a 10% to 15% increase over last year. This fall we hired two new agents, bringing our total to four.

Why are we successful? For customers, the big advantage is getting on the bicycle and really seeing the neighborhood, not just the house. And they are laughing because it makes them feel like they're six years old again. The business model works in Boulder, where many people move for the active lifestyle. My goal is to franchise the concept or open individual offices in five to 10 markets. We're starting with a Portland, Ore. office, which should be open by early next year.

I can't wait to get up in the morning and look at properties on bikes - I still get goose bumps talking about it.  To top of page

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