Listing portals may have transformed the real estate industry, but the service they provide isn’t all that innovative, according to Michael Koh, CEO of the new listing search app fypio.
Essentially, the likes of Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com have aggregated data to create public directories of listings. People must sort through homes based on the contents of that data: property criteria.
Fypio breathes new life into that model, Koh said. The “Match.com for real estate,” which recently launched in San Diego, steers users towards properties based on their lifestyle, gauging their desired neighborhood characteristics and home amenities, and constantly honing recommendations based on how people use the app.
“Everyone starts with property; we start with buyer,” Koh said.
Well, not everyone. A handful of other apps like StreetAdvisor, Relocality, Dwellr and NeighborhoodScout are pioneering real estate search based on neighborhood preferences — spicing up the basic search experience popularized by listing portals.
And to their credit, listing portals also are increasingly factoring lifestyle considerations into their products. Trulia recently placed crime ratings directly next to property descriptions on its listings pages, for example.
In addition to property specifications, fypio asks users to choose three lifestyle options from among a list including “low crime,” “schools,” “kid friendly,” “shopping,” “entertainment,” “greenspace,” “dog friendly” and “health.”
“You tell us what’s important, and our algorithm sends you properties based on that,” said Koh, who, as CEO of Koh Inversiones, claims to have owned the largest property management firm in Argentina.
The app also injects lifestyle considerations into its listing pages. Users may swipe through cards on each listing that display characteristics of the area within a one-mile radius of the home, including crime level, school and health quality, and breakdowns by household income, sex and “cultural background” (the app’s term for racial makeup).
“I want to give you an idea of what your life would be like in that home,” Koh said.
Fypio appears to be the only other service besides Trulia to show crime ratings on listing pages. And though a growing number of sites are showing racial data on neighborhood profile pages, the app may currently be the only service to stitch racial data into listing pages.
That could potentially put fypio under the scrutiny of the The National Fair Housing Association, which has said that mixing racial data with online real estate search “definitely raises fair housing concerns,” and recently began investigating the practice.
Asked if fypio would allow users to search based on the demographic makeup of a listings’ surroundings, Koh said that the app couldn’t because of fair housing laws.
Bolstering its lifestyle-based search, fypio also lets users filter listings by style (modern, contemporary, traditional) and features like swimming pools, fireplace, garage and outdoor living.
The app represents listings for such searches using photos of the specified features.
For example, you could search for homes between $500,000 and $700,000 located in safe, pet-friendly neighborhoods with access to good schools, then filter for living rooms, and then see the living rooms of all the listings that match your search criteria.
Fypio plans to generate revenue by selling leads to agents. But much like “Zillow-killer” Blossor, it also wants to cater to people who won’t buy homes anytime soon — “the designers getting renovation ideas, voyeurs snooping around in neighborhoods” and “dreamers” — Koh said.
So the app is providing a social, game-like experience in addition to its lifestyle-centric search experience.
Users may create and share collections of homes through email and social networks. Later, users will be able to see which of their Facebook friends are using fypio (the app requires people to sign up through Facebook) and live near listings, Koh said.
They also will have the option to connect with other fypio users, a feature that would let spouses quickly identify listings they both like. One day, users will be asked to build their dream homes by selecting photos from various listings.
These aspects of the app, along with a user’s history of searching, will support the app’s “predictive search” capability — perhaps the final frontier of online real estate search.
The goal is to continually hone in on a user’s preferences, and then steer them towards listings that match those preferences, either by curating properties on the home page or sending those listings to users through email.
Another feature that’ll put fypio in the vanguard of online search innovation: a compare-and-contrast engine.
Recently-launched FindTheBest Homes — somewhat puzzlingly given that the home search is basically one long exercise in comparing and contrasting — may be the only other service that provides such functionality.
“What we will do is ask people to input their addresses so we can instantly compare and contrast their life where they live vs. any property in the [multiple listing service],” Koh said.
Fypio plans to scoop up its inventory by tapping multiple listing services. The app accesses an MLS Internet Data Exchange (IDX) feed through what he calls a “broker participant.” In exchange for providing that access to fypio, the broker gets free leads from the app for six months. After that, fypio plans to sell leads to brokers.
Fypio’s broker participants “tend to be progressive brokers that kind of agree that the technology is outdated and there’s no innovation,” Koh said.
Fypio has “broker participants” lined up in markets throughout California, the Dallas-Forth Worth area of Texas and Washington, D.C., for when the apps chooses to expand from San Diego, according to Koh.
Some real estate stakeholders have criticized companies like fypio for exploiting IDX feeds without providing traditional brokerage services. Critics have dubbed such firms “paper brokerages” and question whether they should be able to access the MLS.
Koh says he’s confident that fypio will have all its bases covered. Fypio’s attorney, Bob Butters, is a former deputy general counsel for NAR. He knows the ins and outs of MLS rules as well as anyone.
“We work with him very carefully just to make sure that we’re following all the rules,” Koh said.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Koh claimed he was the CEO of Argentina’s largest property management firm. He was formally the CEO of Argentina’s largest property management firm, but has since left that position, according to Koh.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Bob Butters is a former general counsel for NAR. In fact, he is a former deputy general counsel for NAR.