HomeCanvasr, a platform that lets agents market properties under the radar to a group of buyers who pay for access to off-market listings, has relaunched in Brooklyn, New York.

The startup’s platform lets buyers see homes that are not listed on any local listing service, joining a slew of technologies that are loosening listing services’ grip on for-sale inventory. Social media networks, internal broker communication systems, and, more recently, Zillow’s “coming soon” feature, are all providing means for homeowners to market or sell their homes without the help of a multiple listing service, prompting debate about whether such tools are good or bad for the industry.

HomeCanvasr allows agents or homeowners to premarket homes before listing them in a local listing service or to post them as “pocket listings” — properties they have no intention of including in a listing service. The platform also lets owners gauge demand for a property by seeing what kind of interest they get at a particular price.

HomeCanvasr’s inventory is not visible to the general public, however. The site maintains a private database of buyers.

“We provide tremendously more value to agents because our marketplace is ‘private,’ which is what many agents are worried about if they expose a premarket listing to the world,” said Steven Szczur, a co-founder of the company.

“We see ourselves from an agent standpoint as a first-stop shop for an agent because we have a direct pool of buyers,” he added.

In its first iteration, HomeCanvasr served buyers and sellers in northern New Jersey. Now it’s relaunched to focus solely on Brooklyn with the fresh support of Jonah Landman, a local blogger and consultant who has made a business of tipping buyers off to unlisted for-sale properties there. Focusing on Brooklyn enables HomeCanvasr to tap Landman’s network for users.

Buyers describe the criteria of their desired home and provide information on themselves, including whether they are preapproved. They may view listings for free, but to see exact addresses, they’ve got to pay a one-time fee of $200, and then $50 a month for access after that.

“If you put your listing out on Zillow, you have to wait to be contacted,” Szczur said. “On our platform you can contact those buyers directly.”

Since the site’s launch last week, 500 buyers have signed up (though only a small fraction have paid to see exact addresses), and 42 homeowners have posted their homes.

Why would homeowners want to keep a property they are trying to sell hidden from the majority of people who might consider buying it?

Mainly privacy, Szczur said. It’s a reason often cited by agents for their clients’ decision to shun the MLS.

Some homeowners simply don’t want to deal with hordes of buyers, he said. Szczur pointed to the case of an agent at Corcoran Group who used HomeCanvasr to connect with a buyer off the MLS.

“His wife didn’t want 300 people going through their house,” he said. “And he was a Corcoran broker — he could have had 300 people the next day, but they didn’t want that.”

Proponents of selling homes off the MLS say that it serves sellers who want to avoid the hassle of open houses, negotiations and other challenges that come with publicizing a listing. Critics, however, point out that a home is less likely to fetch market value if only a few potential buyers, rather than all of them, have a chance to learn about the home.

They speculate that many agents may not adequately convey that risk to their clients. One reason, they say, is that holding a listing off the MLS makes it easier for an agent to set up a deal with an unrepresented buyer or a buyer represented by a colleague at the same brokerage firm.

Such “dual agency” transactions allow either the agent or broker to make more money because they don’t have to split their commission with another agent or broker.

“Some agents want to deal with direct buyers and we provide a platform essentially for that,” Szczur said.

homecanvasr listing search results page

Screen shot showing HomeCanvasr listing results page.

HomeCanvasr offers particular appeal to small Brooklyn brokers, according to Szczur.

They often only require their clients to sign one or two-month listing agreements, so they “don’t want to share this listing out to the whole world because another agent could turn around and go straight to the homeowner,” he said.

And they also often don’t belong to RLS, the citywide listing service operated by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). That allows them to tuck their listings away in HomeCanvasr for as long as they like — maximizing their chances of double-ending a transaction.

Agents at brokerages that belong to RLS may run afoul of the listing service’s rules if they list properties on HomeCanvasr, however.

While members are permitted to hold a listing off RLS at the request of a client, they aren’t allowed to post a listing on just one website, even if the client asks for that, according to Steven O. Goldschmidt, co-chair of RLS.

“If an owner doesn’t want to share a listing … that’s fine,” he said. “I can quietly market it, but I can’t put it on a public website.”

RLS gives agents up to 24 hours to enter a home into RLS after signing a listing agreement, so Szczur contends that members could at least advertise the home on HomeCanvasr during that window.

Nope, Goldschmidt said. That’s not allowed either.

“Once it goes public on a website, it’s got to be everywhere,” Goldschmidt said.

Szczur said the site also offers appeal to homeowners who want to sell their homes without representation, known as for-sale-by-owner (FSBO). Others can use it to get a bead on demand for a property.

HomeCanvasr provides the “ability to gauge demand of their home without publicly ‘listing’ their home,” Szczur said. “This makes the ‘decision’ to sell much easier (real-time data versus past sales, which is what agents provide  you).”

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