Ellicott City business to offer home listings by phone

January 20, 1994|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

Sharon Maltagliati is hoping her Ellicott City business will do for real estate agents and homebuyers what telephone dating services do for the lonely-hearted: find that perfect match.

Called "Dial-A-Tour," the service launched this month lets callers listen to recorded descriptions of properties for sale. Callers' identities remain anonymous -- unless they want the listing agent or broker to contact them.

"It's designed to be easy to use and give the agents and brokers a way to keep their listings updated 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says Mrs. Maltagliati. "It gives buyers a way to find out about listings, without fear of giving away who they are to agents if they aren't interested."

She and her husband Jerry, co-founder of the business, see big growth potential for their start-up company, SLM Computer Business Services, which initially will focus on Howard County.

The two launched SLM in November after several years of research and raising money.

They were given business advice by Joseph Mosmiller, chairman of Loyola Federal Savings & Loan.

The Maltagliatis' company started by offering electronic billing services for dental and medical practices and computerized telephone monitoring for the elderly, the homebound and latch-key children.

The automated monitoring service calls subscribers up to three times a day to check on them. If they need assistance, they punch in a code number, and SLM alerts authorities.

"We looked into a lot of different businesses, including franchises, before deciding to go with this one," said Mrs. Maltagliati of the various computer services. She estimated that the business cost about $15,000 to set up.

The phone-based real estate listing service was an idea they'd heard was being tried elsewhere in the country. After further research, the couple bought a computer software package from CBSI Inc., an Indianapolis-based computer software company, that would allow them to set up such a system.

Mr. Maltagliati, a computer systems expert with Westinghouse, fine-tuned the software for the service SLM wanted to offer locally.

Their phone-based real estate listing service works this way:

Brokers and agents pay a one-time $25 fee to become subscribers. They then rent "boxes" on the phone-based system.

In each box, the agent or broker can record a description of the property for sale, its listing price, the agent's name and other information.

SLM provides subscribers with signs that can be attached to the Realtor signs on properties, listing the telephone service's main phone system number and the box to request when calling the service.

Interested customers can call the number to hear a description of the property and leave a voice message if they want an agent or broker to contact them with more information.

The automated phone system then will call the appropriate real estate agent or broker, alerting them within minutes to the customer message. The agent can get access to the message from any push-button phone.

The phone system also provides a way to determine the general interest in particular properties by tracking the number of calls to each box.

Subscribers are charged $10 a month for a single box, and the rate drops when additional boxes are leased. For example, a subscriber leasing 20 boxes would pay about $5 per month for each box, said Mrs. Maltagliati.

So far, Mrs. Maltagliati has signed one subscriber, an agent at American Properties in Columbia. She also has drawn interest from several local mortgage loan companies that want to list information about loan products and update interest rates daily.

To attract subscribers, Mrs. Maltagliati plans a direct-mail marketing campaign in February aimed at real estate companies in Howard County and nearby communities.

"I think this service has a lot of growth potential in this area," said Mrs. Maltagliati. "Some companies in other areas of the country where it's been marketed successfully have 600 to 1,000 subscribers."

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