RealUmbrella, a new site for home buyers and sellers that launches today in California, will not make many friends in the real estate brokerage industry, but it’s not supposed to.
At its Web site, the company states that brokers, Realtors and agents that exist today “are being re-purposed for tomorrow. Stand by for the real estate market shakeup.”
The company seeks to link for-sale-by-owner buyers and sellers directly in an online platform that features digital documents and electronic signatures for a flat fee.
Flat-fee real estate business models are nothing new. And while RealUmbrella is a licensed broker in California, its managers say the company is intended to serve as a for-sale-by-owner marketing platform rather than as a brokerage company.
“The legal opinion is that we don’t need to be licensed. We are not acting as a broker and don’t feel we are … we are actually providing the tools to complete the transaction for buyers and sellers,” said Bryant E. Katzen, president and CEO for RealUmbrella who is also a broker for a separate real estate company, Quality Property Management Inc.
The broker of record for RealUmbrella is Dave Katzen, who also serves as chief operating officer and chief financial officer.
RealUmbrella does not place property information in multiple listing services. The company charges property marketing fees ranging from a few hundred dollars up to about $1,000 depending on the package chosen by sellers, and there are no fees for buyers who work with RealUmbrella sellers.
The company uses disclosure and other real estate forms provided by U.S. Legal Forms, said Michael Updegraff, the company’s chief technology officer, and the company uses DocuSign for electronic signatures.
Consumers can bring their own title and escrow providers into the system, Updegraff said, or can choose to work with other service providers already linked into the platform. The company has its own mortgage company, RealUmbrella Financial Services, in California, for example, but allows consumers to choose their own lenders.
“If you’re in Chicago, the software is going to recognize that you’re in Chicago and is going to present you with local, third-party vendors, and you do have the option to use your own. Everything is geographically based,” Updegraff said, and the company has partnerships in place to provide electronic real estate documents for buyers and sellers nationwide as the company expands.
Through the RealUmbrella platform, buyers can choose to view property details, neighborhood information and comparable homes, and communicate with sellers and schedule viewings of for-sale homes.
Buyers can submit purchase offers to sellers, who are notified by e-mail or text message, and sellers can choose to counter the offer, accept the offer or turn down the offer. Redfin is another real estate company that offers an online platform for buyers to present offers to sellers.
Bryant Katzen said that while the system is designed to allow buyers and sellers to eliminate real estate commissions by offering the ability to close a transaction without an agent, it’s up to the parties involved whether or not they choose to bring a real estate professional or lawyer into the deal.
There is a loan prequalification process built into the site, Updegraff said, and sellers who choose to list properties using RealUmbrella can choose to require prequalification as a condition to viewing property details. Prospective buyers can upload prequalification letters into the system, he also said.
While RealUmbrella sellers will not have access to MLSs, which are a typical vehicle that real estate professionals use for marketing properties and offering compensation to cooperating real estate professionals, Updegraff said that the company does offer sellers the option to market properties at national real estate Web sites including Google, Zillow and Trulia.
The company also offers click-to-call and click-to-chat support services for clients, and allows sellers to track viewing statistics related to their property.