A company called Uber Real Estate announced the launch of its services earlier this week in a press release. It boasts a familiar-sounding name and a promise that is likely to appeal to property buyers and sellers: up to 50 percent reduced transaction costs. Its founder, real estate broker Brent Ritz, tells Inman he advises the governor of California and enjoys high-profile associations at The White House and Hollywood.
But the startup is neither affiliated with its better-known $75 billion ride-sharing counterpart Uber (a spokesperson told Inman the company has no affiliations with Ritz or Uber Real Estate), nor does it appear to have much to show for itself yet, other than vague promises, a website, and its name — names, plural actually: Ritz is also registered to do business as Waze Real Estate, Tesla Real Estate, Waymo Real Estate, Lyft Real Estate and others.
“I’m not particularly telegraphing what we’re doing, other than that we’re displacing the space and everybody else is going to copy us going forward,” Ritz told Inman on Wednesday during a 30-minute interview that frequently veered off course into tangents on national intelligence and the way Uber, the ride-sharing company, does business.
Uber Real Estate says in its press release that it will reduce transaction costs for customers by up to 50 percent through a “unique on-demand model,” and that it is developing a new app. Its website says homebuyers can receive up to $10,000 cash back in non-recurring closing costs and that sellers can list their properties for 1 to 2 percent (commissions in the U.S. are usually closer to 5.5 percent). The website offers sign-up fields for prospective real estate agents and clients. Ritz declined to elaborate how his business model will work.
Currently, the company offers a website with an MLS feed. A cursory inspection of the site’s listings show properties represented by other brokerages. Its top featured listing contains no price or address information, just photos and a description. It also appears to have been pulled from the multiple listing service and is an exclusive listing provided by Juanjuan Huang, a Compass agent.
In response to this, Ritz said Uber Real Estate won’t post exclusive listings until he sees “how we’re going to integrate with other companies and who’s really going to step forward.”
Yet in a Facebook comment, Washington state Realtor Rich Jacobson said he registered with Uber Real Estate to “become an agent,” only to hear crickets, so far.
In its press release, Uber Real Estate said it boasts a stable of brokers and broker attorneys with 10-30 years of experience. Associates at the company will have equity participation based on performance metrics and will be part owners of their firm.
But Ritz declined to provide Inman with the number of employees at Uber Real Estate. A search of the company’s license shows its office location is a co-working space in Menlo Park.
One thing is certain: the company aggressively protects its name, with a trademark notice that appears at the top of the company’s “About” page on its website, above a description of the services that Uber Real Estate offers.
“Any and all connotations of the word, ‘Uber,’ TM – and any reference to Real Estate what-so-ever are the property and Trademark(s) of Uber Real Estate,” the site reads. “Trademark Infringement is now pursued to the full extent of Federal Law at minimum damages of $10,000,000 and applicable attorneys fess[sic], per occurrence.”
“A lot of companies have tried to take our trademark to promote their own stuff,” Ritz told Inman.
Arian Abdulkader, the chief executive and co-founder of the real estate startup Nexme, inadvertently crossed Ritz earlier this month when, in an article on Inman, the company was described as “Uber for Real Estate.”
In an interview for this story, Abdulkader confirmed that Ritz threatened legal action after the story was published before ultimately backing off. Inman also received a full retraction and cease-and-desist notice from Ritz earlier this month.
Abdulkader said, it appears, to him, that Uber Real Estate is more like a traditional brokerage firm with the Uber name.
“It’s just a traditional brokerage firm, he just took the term Uber for Real Estate and he’s trying to make money off that,” said Abdulkader.
The United States government keeps record of all current trademarks, and there is one for Uber, as it relates to real estate services, currently owned by Uberre, Inc. – the registered name of Uber Real Estate. The same Menlo Park, California address from the company’s license, is listed.
The trademark was first filed by James Whatley, the broker/owner of Uber Realty in Florida. Inman reached Whatley, who revealed that he traded the trademark to Ritz, in exchange for a small percentage of ownership in the Uber Real Estate startup. He hasn’t seen any profit from the company yet and couldn’t speak specifically to what Ritz was building, or what Uber Real Estate is – nor did he seem to have much interest.
“I was like, okay, this is like a lottery ticket,” said Whatley. “The guy seemed like he was going to be aggressive enough, and said all the right things, and I said ‘yeah, I’ll give it a shot.’”
“I don’t want to know anything about what he’s doing, I don’t really care,” added Whatley. “To me, I bought a lottery ticket. If something comes from it great.”
Ritz characterized the deal as a “merger and acquisition between two firms.”
Ritz also has a personal website that touts Uber Real Estate’s services – and often refers to it as the Uber of Real Estate. It also features a collage of celebrities and former presidents as well as the claim that “The Uber For Real Estate has a vast audience in over 1,200 cities around the world.”
The claim further continues that world leaders, executive branch officials, high-ranking elected officials and A-list celebrities, among others, receive its correspondence.
Ritz said he’s spoken to Google, Uber and Japanese technology giant SoftBank. He also said he advises California Governor Jerry Brown and speaks with Uber’s founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick regularly, and claimed Uber’s business intelligence is spying on him.
“They have people from the National Security Agency working on their staff as well as people from the Central Intelligence Agency,” Ritz said.
According to Ritz, the term “Uber” shows up four times as much as the word “bible,” in search results – meaning the trademark is of value. It’s not clear if the entire value of the business is with the trademark, with no tangible product or scarce details from which to judge.
Ritz however, says his duty is not only to his shareholders, but to society.
“The real estate space needs to be displaced, it’s going to happen whether I do it or not,” Ritz said. “It’s happening. The reality is, if you go to a real estate broker and you’re selling your most important asset or buying your most important asset you sort of want to get that same expertise [as an attorney or certified public accountant], not somebody who just fell off the turnip truck and got 45 hours of licensing.”
Ritz has been licensed as a real estate salesperson since 1990, and a broker since 1992, according to public records.
Andrea Brambila contributed to this report.