After a multi-decade career in real estate that culminated in rising to the top of Keller Williams as its CEO, Chris Heller joined a new brand at loanDepot earlier this year. Heller is now CEO of mello Home, loanDepot’s home services brand that will connect mortgage borrowers with real estate agents who can help them find their perfect home.
But that’s just the start. Ultimately, mello Home plans to connect new homebuyers with contractors, solar panel installers and many other home service providers.
Since Heller took over the company in late February, the platform has onboarded 600 agents, he told Inman in an exclusive interview last week at mello’s new “tech”-inspired campus in Irvine, California.
Agents who join the platform as a way of connecting with homebuyers must have three years of full-time experience as real estate agents, and have closed 50 transactions in the last year (Heller said that requirement can be adjusted in low-volume markets).
Heller divulged more about his thinking and mello Home’s strategic position in our following Q&A interview.
Who do you see as mello Home’s biggest competitors right now?
I don’t see us as having competitors. There are companies that do similar things, but we’re only competing with ourselves and competing for our own customers.
What elements of what mello Home is doing would you say differentiate you?
There are certain elements we do that make us dissimilar to each of those. For example, one of the things that’s different from some of those companies is that we go directly to real estate agents, not through brokerages to acquire and to create referral partners. Another thing we do that’s different than some of them is we have a concierge team that is an additional point of contact for the consumer. That concierge is communicating throughout the transaction with the consumer, agent and loan officer to ensure we’re providing an exceptional experience on the lending and buying side.
What’s the status of other verticals coming to mello Home?
There’s lot of research going on right now and conversations with potential partners and vendors to be able to offer more home services to our consumers. There’s several parallel paths going on right now, all in early stages, all in discussion and research mode. Just like mello Home’s come about very quickly and we’re moving very fast, you’ll see the same thing happen with some of these others.
Are you planning to ramp up marketing for agent signups?
We didn’t want to open the floodgates too quickly and not be able to handle the inquiries. We’ve learned a lot and made several changes to smooth out the onboarding process and application process.
The agents who have signed up, do they tend to be from particular geographic areas or brokerages?
The only trend is quite a few teams and the caliber of the agents. The top agents and teams are definitely dominating the inquiries.
TMS recently unveiled its new platform Happinest that has some similarities to mello Home. Is that threatening to mello Home at all? Do you consider it similar to what you’re doing?
There’s some similarities. Our truly only competition is ourselves and our ability to execute and provide a great experience for our customers. Anything that they or other companies do really doesn’t impact that. What impacts that is our ability to implement, execute and provide a great experience for people that are already in contact with us.
The things we think about are, what are things that could happen that could change the game that we’re playing? We’re pretty good at playing the game we’re playing, but if the game changes, what do we need to do to be able to pivot or shift quickly to play the new game? Those are the things that we think about.
What are your expectations of what could happen that could signficicantly change what you’re trying to do?
I look at it from the perspective of the consumer. What the consumer wants — you, I and everyone else out there — we want ease, we want speed, we want certainty, we want transparency. If we’re trying to accomplish something, we don’t want to deal with seven different sources of vendors or information. We want a single source for that. The thing we think about is, how can we provide that and what are we doing to provide that? It’s keeping an eye on who else is able to or is trying to provide the same thing and what are we doing that’s going to be different, better, faster, a better experience for that consumer.
There’s been a lot of talk from loanDepot about how its new headquarters is unusual for the financial services industry. How does it compare to what’s out there for professionals in real estate?
It’s really not typical of that. It’s very typical of technology companies and startup companies. I would say if you were to travel to most real estate companies and headquarters of real estate companies, they don’t look anything like that.
Everything that we think about and most of the things we’re doing are outside the normal box of how real estate is being done. When you have an environment that helps you continue to do that because it’s not traditional, it makes it very synergistic to have your physical environment and your intellectual environment have that consistency.
If loanDepot is now in “iPhone 2 phase,” as loanDepot founder Anthony Hsieh has said, what phase is mello Home in?
We’re certainly in startup mode and getting off the ground.
This interview has been edited and condensed.