When Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian started looking for a new place about two years ago, he didn’t opt for a traditional broker or go through a big online service like Redfin. Instead, he looked to a small homebuying startup he helped guide through the Y Combinator accelerator.
Through the startup, Open Listings, Ohanian was able to find a house he loved, an Edwardian-style place with a small backyard, a rarity among San Francisco’s scant housing stock. Best of all, he was able to complete the process on his terms, with agents coming in as needed to close the deal.
“The software does the work of looking for new clients and getting new leads for (the agents),” Ohanian said. “They have effectively these cyborgs that work and help clients like me buy homes a lot faster and easier, using a beautiful site and then passing the savings onto the customer.”
And now, Open Listings is expanding its service to Seattle.
Palo Alto, Calif.-based Open Listings bills itself as an “all-in-one homebuying platform,” that brings every aspect of the process online, from searching listings to closing, while eliminating the need to work with a traditional real estate agent throughout.
In that way, it’s taking aim at Seattle-based Redfin, touting commission refunds for buyers that it says are double that of the newly public tech-powered online brokerage.
Seattle is Open Listings’ first market outside of California. Right now, it is just in Seattle and the surrounding cities, but Open Listings hopes to expand to the entire state of Washington in the next three to six months. Open Listings co-founder and CEO Judd Schoenholtz told GeekWire that Seattle is the most similar housing market to the Bay Area: an extremely competitive area full of well-paid, tech-savvy buyers battling for few available homes.
What makes Open Listings stand out, Schoenholtz, is how it handles the buyer-agent dynamic. Schoenholtz said most real estate services aim to connect buyers with agents, while his startup attempts to digitize that process. The company gets its listings through the local multiple listings service, and has several partner agents here already.
A buyer on Open Listings only has to interact with an agent at two points — house showings and negotiating and closing the deal. The idea is to give buyers who want to be able to handle the bulk of the process a way to do that and save money.
“The hole in the market we see is that there is a set of buyers who really want to control the process, and they want to drive how it works,” Schoenholtz said. “So giving that audience knowledge, tools and support so they can buy a home.”
The founders all come from outside the real estate world. Schoenholtz last worked at digital agency Huge, where he designed and built products for some of the biggest companies in the world, like Google, Comcast, Target, Ikea and more. CTO Alex Farrill was last the chief data scientist at data analytics company Run, which was acquired by Publicis. And Chief Product Officer Peter Sugihara was a software development engineer at Amazon, working on Amazon Music.
Like many entrepreneurs, Schoenholtz got the idea for his startup after going through a process he found frustrating. Schoenholtz bought a home, and he said he did a lot of the work on his own. When he saw the agent’s commission on the sale, he knew he needed to do something to disrupt that situation.
“I used somebody, but I drove the entire process myself,” Schoenholtz said of his homebuying experience. At the end of day, he was paid 10s of thousands of dollars for very little work. It felt like Something needed to exist where buyers could actually control it themselves.”