SAN JOSE, Calif. – Are you ready to buy your next home with a single mouse click?
You can't just yet, but several new ventures are lining up to make what's probably the biggest transaction of your life – the purchase or sale of a home – a one-stop online shopping experience.
"The onlines are coming," said Carole Rodini of Bamboo Consulting, a Silicon Valley real estate consultancy. "They will start with the sale, then it will spread throughout everything connected to real estate."
You can already do a lot online – search listings, check out the neighborhood and the schools and contact an agent at many websites. The next step seems logical to Kal Raman, CEO of Homesearch.com, an auction site for selling foreclosed homes that's retooling itself for traditional home sales.
"Imagine a place where, with one click you can buy or sell your home and save on the total costs," Raman said.
Backed by Nationstar Mortgage, Homesearch is building an online "concierge service" that will handle every stage of a deal, from loan approvals to purchase or sale, and display your progress on an online dashboard. Within five years, the goal is to make buying a house as simple as buying something from Amazon.
Homesearch will make money by squeezing inefficiencies out of the home purchase experience, not by making real estate agents obsolete, Raman said. The company will have in-house agents, but will work with outside agents too.
"We don't want to compete with them. We'll provide them decent tools, so they don't need to spend the money on marketing, they don't have to worry about finding title, or drive around getting a notary," Raman said.
If you want to sell your home and cut out the middleman, San Francisco-based Opendoor says it will buy your home in as few as three days.
"It's your largest asset, but that doesn't mean that parts of the transaction can't be done online," said Eric Wu, co-founder and CEO of Opendoor, which is currently only available for houses in Phoenix. The startup is backed by Silicon Valley's Khosla Ventures and several angel investors.
On Opendoor's website, you can type in your address and instantly receive an offer. The company gives you an offer that's slightly less than what it thinks the home is worth and makes money when it resells the home. You don't pay a commission to an agent unless you decide you want to work with one rather than Opendoor's staff.
"Some homeowners want to interact with a human, and we have that," Wu said, "but consumers are getting far more comfortable with transactions online."
Owners.com is a do-it-yourself site based in San Francisco that was acquired recently by Hubzu, a company based in Luxembourg and Atlanta that specializes in auctions of foreclosed properties. If you want to list and sell your home on your own, you can list it on the Owners.com website; potential buyers can click a button to contact you directly.
Forsalebyowner.com, owned by the Tribune Co., also specializes in online home listings.
Last year, Google invested $50 million in Auction.com, an Irvine company that started as an online auction site where investors could buy foreclosed homes. Now, it has set its sights on the traditional buyer and seller.
"The long-term vision is to be a place where everybody can go to buy and sell real estate with confidence," said Rick Sharga, vice president of Auction.com. The company is still working out how agents' commissions will be paid.
"We're not at the point yet when we can flip a switch and say 'Let's open the door for the traditional purchase,'" he said, but the company's technology group is working on it.
Is all this the beginning of the real estate agent's obsolescence?
Not likely, real estate agents say.
A National Association of Realtors survey last fall found that an overwhelming majority of homebuyers prefer having an agent. "They want someone you can trust in the process," said Jessica Lautz, the association's director of survey research and communications.
"Homes are unique," said Steve Mohensi, an area real estate agent and tech early adopter. Mohensi is a tech-savvy agent who advertises on Facebook and uses drones to take videos of homes he's listing. "I don't think we will ever get to a point where people are going to buy their home online without personal interaction, a personal visit, and working with agents to go through the process," he said.
And Chris Trapani, founder and CEO of a real estate company, recalled that the last time anyone took a run at online home sales was in 1999, at the peak of the bubble when a Silicon Valley startup named eHomes promised to take home sales to the Web.
"I was thinking that by 2000 we're going to be out of the business, but here we are 15 years later," he said.
ONE MOUSE CLICK AWAY
Here are some of the existing and planned sites that offer a way to buy and sell houses online, with, they say, a minimum of fuss and bother. Some say they'll make life easier for agents, too. Others say "no agents necessary."Auction.com: A site that auctions off foreclosed homes, Auction.com is expanding into traditional sales.
Homesearch.com: This foreclosure auction site is developing a website that will manage your transaction. It will have extensive listings and a dashboard that shows progress from pre-qualifying for a loan to closing the deal.
Opendoor.com: Buys your home in as few as three days after you type in your address and accept their offer.
Owners.com: A site where you can list your home and deal directly with buyers, saving on "unnecessary commissions and fees."
Forsalebyowner.com: Sell your home directly to the buyer, no middlemen required.
Sindeo: A site where you can get a pre-approval for a mortgage on your mobile phone and close a home purchase online.
Lenda: Another mortgage site that will complete your mortgage application online and close in 22 days.
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