You’ve heard this story before: Person sets out to find an apartment or buy their first home. Person struggles to navigate the noise of Craigslist, manage applications, impressions, notes, scheduling open house times, and find quality, searchable recommendations on apartments, houses, landlords and real estate agents. Person becomes frustrated and either moves to Canada, blogs about it, or begins developing a solution.
HomeLight, a San Francisco-based startup which launched on Thursday, was born out of those very same frustrations. Co-founder Drew Uher chose the latter route after he and his wife set out to buy their first home. The couple found the process of finding the right real estate agent to be painful, specifically that there was no easy (or refined) online resource for researching agents by credentials, location, experience or transaction history.
So, Uher and team created HomeLight, which aims to provide a solution by becoming a sort of Match.com for homebuyers and real estate agents. Using its proprietary algorithms, the platform creates personalized recommendations for both buyers and sellers by analyzing transactional data and licensing records of more than two million real estate agents.
On the front end, HomeLight offers a simple real estate agent search engine which users can filter based on city, specific ‘hoods, property type, price range and areas of expertise. Once they’ve personalized their search criteria, the platform serves a list of agents based on their actual skill and experience in hopes of removing the guesswork from finding and discovering the best fit.
At launch, the startup is already live in 34 U.S. markets, including San Francisco, LA, Seattle, Denver, Dallas, Atlanta, Washington D.C. and Boston, to name a few. Based on its promising early reach and growing dataset on agents, the startup announced that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from Google Ventures, Crosslink Capital, Innovation Endeavors and a number of private angel investors.
With its new funding in tow, the company will look to continue its expansion into new U.S. markets and ramp up its investments in hiring and marketing in the hopes of driving consumer adoption. The startup needs this kind of early capital to accelerate expansion, as it’s far from being the only tech company out there focusing on the real estate market.
There are umpteen startups and companies already at work tackling various parts of the chain, from managing and finding rentals to improving listings and search and discovery for apartments, homes, brokers and agents. Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, RentLingo, Zumper, Nestio, Padmapper are just a few of the names that come to mind.
The first three companies in particular are veterans (and two of them are public) and, even if they don’t already offer similar solutions, better agent search is a natural extension of their extant models. Redfin, for one, is definitely already thinking about this problem.
However, if HomeLight can really nail homebuyer/seller and seller matching (and hit scale) it could potentially become attractive acquisition bait. Real estate is an enormous (if not depressed) industry and the startup may be helping its cause by bringing some transparency to transactional data, while giving agents a way to showcase their expertise and providing buyers and sellers with objective recommendations.
In the big picture, HomeLight thinks that this kind of matching platform has the potential to be far more valuable than, say, a social approach to recommendations (the likelihood is that friends have a limited data set and experience) or good old-fashioned search. While search engines may serve results from local firms, users are likely to run into the same problem — a limited data set that likely doesn’t inform you whether an agent focuses on first-time buyers or short-sales, how much experience they have, etc.
Going forward, one of the keys for HomeLight will be how it manages relationships with its agents. While some may be eager to share their expertise with buyers and sellers in kind of a LinkedIn-style professional profile, the more stats it provides on their selling history and efficacy, the more potential there is to run into privacy concerns. Obviously, compliance with data licensing regulations and guidelines is not only important but data sharing can be tricky, especially as the industry is still in the process of adjusting to digital services and user experiences.
Scale is, as always, the other critical factor. While there’s a huge need for more transparency in the transactional process as well as on data on brokers and agents, from an end user perspective, this value only goes so far if, say, you happen to search for agents in Kentucky and only find one option. It’s nice that HomeLight potentially can tell you way more about that person than the next service, but if it’s not the right fit and there are no other options, the value diminishes. Positioning itself in smaller markets will be key.
Either way, there’s no doubt that buying or selling a home is one of the most important financial transactions one can make, so any service that can improve visibility into data and experience and help one and all find the right agent stands to make a valuable contribution to the industry.
For more, find HomeLight here.