A new real estate technology company backed by Google Ventures, among others, officially made its debut into the fractious world of agent rankings today.
HomeLight is a referral-based site that claims to match homebuyers and sellers with unbiased real estate agent recommendations based on transaction performance data.
The site launched out of beta today with $1.5 million in funding in hand from Google Ventures (the venture-capital arm of search giant Google), Crosslink Capital, Innovation Endeavors, and several undisclosed angel investors.
The company had been in beta since late last year.
Screen shot of HomeLight home page.
With a few clicks, buyers and sellers on HomeLight get a list of recommended agents and can filter their results by city, neighborhood, property type, price, and whether they are buying or selling.
Screen shot of HomeLight’s agent search.
The company’s proprietary algorithm considers historical home sales data from public records, licensing information, and transaction data obtained directly from agents and brokers in its rankings, according to Drew Uher, HomeLight’s CEO and co-founder and a licensed real estate broker.
"Our goal is to match every homebuyer and seller in the U.S. with the most qualified real estate agent in their market, by giving consumers a transparent view to the data so they can make a smarter decision when buying or selling a home," Uher said in a statement.
"I bought my first home a couple of years ago with my wife and we learned that the right agent can make all the difference in the world. When we found that agent he made the whole process smooth and easy," Uher told Inman News.
San Francisco-based HomeLight is a licensed brokerage in 20 states and, as of today, is live in 34 metro areas nationwide, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Boston. The company has multiple listing service memberships in all 34 metros, Uher said, and verifies all transaction data submitted to HomeLight by real estate professionals.
Listing data only appears when HomeLight has obtained it directly from real estate pros, he said.
Other sites that have attempted to offer consumers agent productivity data have met with opposition.
In April 2010, HAR.com, the public-facing site for the Houston Association of Realtors, rolled out a "Realtor Match" tool that allowed consumers to see which agents had the most transactions and listings in a neighborhood they were interested in. Agents complained, however, and the association was forced to disable that particular feature of the tool after just a few days.
Seattle-based online brokerage Redfin offered agent "Scouting Reports" that included transaction data for agents in 14 markets going back three years in late September 2011. The brokerage pulled the plug on the reports less than a week later, citing holes in MLS data.
More recently, two regional MLSs filed ongoing copyright infringement lawsuits against NeighborCity.com shortly after the site rolled out updated profile pages for 850,000 agents that feature agent scores and performance metrics based on their transaction history.
HomeLight differentiates itself from those sites in that it doesn’t allow consumers to look up specific agents and see their performance data. "We’re only promoting agents," Uher said. "They’re only going to show up when someone has searched on our site and they’re only going to show up as a positive recommendation."
"We are here to be a tool for (agents) to reach a broader client base and to showcase their skills to the world. Some of these past efforts to put agent data online have been malicious or they haven’t had agents’ best interests in mind. We’re out to help both clients and agents," he said.
Uher said he doesn’t think of HomeLight as an agent ratings site.
"I would think of us as a way to connect consumers to (agents). We don’t say this agent is a B-minus or a C-plus; we say here’s the best agent for the following user. These are this agent’s strengths," Uher said.
The agents featured on HomeLight do not pay to show up as top agents. Instead, the company’s business model is based on referrals. Agents pay what Uher described as a "a small referral fee" only if and when a transaction closes with a buyer or seller referred to them by HomeLight. Uher declined to disclose the amount of the referral fee.
HomeLight claims to have transactional data and licensing records (including disciplinary actions) for more than 2 million current real estate licensees in its coverage area — with 450,000 licensees in California alone. Most do not actively practice, and if they haven’t completed any transactions, they do not show up as agent recommendations, Uher said.
Agents can opt out of the site, but so far "no one has complained," he said.
"What separates us from other companies in this space is that we are here to empower the traditional real estate agent. We believe in the traditional real estate agent and we don’t believe the discount model is going to be successful. In this market, agents are seeking to legitimize themselves, and we are a way for them to add value," Uher said.
HomeLight is a source of new clients for agents, Uher said.
"They’ve been very, very happy with the clients that we give them because the clients that we give them match their strengths and match their needs," he said.
HomeLight’s referrals are "stickier," he said, because clients believe agents have been picked especially for them "so they are more likely to end up transacting with the agent we introduce them to."
Transaction data on the site tracks back to 2009 and HomeLight tries to update it monthly, though that can vary based on the agent or the market, Uher said. The two most important factors HomeLight’s algorithm considers are location and price, he added.
"If an agent has a lot of experience in your target area and your target price range, that’s the primary driver," he said.
Screen shot of HomeLight agent profile.
Screen shot of HomeLight agent profile.
Agents who claim their profiles on the site can provide HomeLight with additional information that may be used to further refine consumers’ needs.
For instance, an agent can list specialties such as working with investors or first-time buyers or highlight their knowledge of a foreign language. For now, consumers can read the profiles of their recommended agents, but HomeLight also plans to incorporate such niche areas into their agent search questionnaire in the future, Uher said.
Agents will also ultimately be able to submit their transaction data through their profiles, he added. Thus far, agents have submitted transaction data via email or other means.
Future iterations of HomeLight will also include client reviews and recommendations from social media sites, Uher said.
HomeLight plans to use its new funding to expand to additional markets and drive consumer adoption.