Fast-expanding real estate brokerage EXp Realty announced on Tuesday it signed a letter of intent to acquire VirBELA, the virtual reality platform and company that has operated eXp’s cloud-based virtual world since 2016.
“One of the things I’ve always wanted to do on behalf of the company is to own a virtual world platform or business because we believe there’s a lot of things we can do in that regard,” Glenn Sanford, CEO and founder of eXp World Holdings, eXp Realty’s parent company, told Inman.
Sanford, a Realtor and former top team leader at rival real estate franchise Keller Williams, founded eXp Realty in October 2009 as the first “truly cloud-based national real estate brokerage,” as his company bio puts it — eschewing bricks and mortar offices for agents, and instead using a custom 3D, video game-like immersive world designed by VirBELA to allow agents across North America to train, meet up, communicate and share other work information. As of last summer, eXp counted over 12,000 agents in the U.S. and Canada.
The acquisition will allow eXp Realty to go beyond its current virtual world offerings and operate outside of the constraints of the typical vendor and customer relationship, according to Sanford. The CEO said, for example, they could look at making separate rooms for teams or countries — eXp currently has agents in both the United States and Canada.
“It also allows us to come up with some product offerings that we weren’t really excited about working on unless we had the ability to monetize those relationships on a long-term basis exclusively, and now we’re going to be able to think about those opportunities,” Sanford said.
Sanford added, “It should even reduce the friction of expanding the use of virtual technology because we won’t be constrained by a traditional customer-vendor relationship.”
Scott Petronis, chief product and technology officer at eXp Realty said that the move will allow eXp to build a workforce with an even more diverse set of skills.
“The goal here is that we would build up a talent pool in the organization that has an incredible depth of experience and knowledge in not only virtual world, virtual reality and future of work, but also organizational behavior and other concepts that can enable us to do things dramatically differently than anybody else,” Petronis said.
It also creates another revenue stream for eXp as VirBELA boasts a number of other clients outside the real estate world, in both education and the military. Alex Howland, VirBELA’s co-founder, declined to name specific companies.
“We have some top customers in education, we do some work with the military as well as some other larger enterprise,” Howland said.
Howland praised the cultures of both companies and eXp’s core values of integrity and transparency. He said if they didn’t mesh, the deal wouldn’t have happened.
“Those [values] are quite aligned with VirBELA’s, and our whole staff has been interacting with them and the agents for quite some time now, and I’m excited to make it official,” said Howland.
The parties declined to disclose how much eXp World Holdings — eXp Realty’s parent company — paid to acquire VirBELA, or how many employees would be coming to work at eXp World Holdings after the deal closes. Sanford said he expects the deal to close within 30 days.
The announcement comes the same day that eXp announced, at its yearly conference EXPCON, it would be acquiring ShowMeNow, an on-demand home tour app that allows prospective buyers to gain immediate access to homes.
EXp also announced Tuesday, it officially operates as one brokerage — not a franchise — in all 50 states, as well as three provinces in Canada.
“When our founder Glenn Sanford started this journey nine years ago, he thought about this milestone of operating in every U.S. state, but none of us ever imagined the pride and feeling for what we’ve accomplished and the huge opportunity we’ve brought to thousands of agents,” Mary Frances Coleman, eXp Realty’s chief operating officer said, in a release.
“We’ve more than doubled our agent count since the beginning of the year, but, thanks to the technology that we have chosen and use, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to meet, work and connect with virtually any one of our agents on any given day.”