Think piece articles that do little more than groan about Seattle housing costs are about as tired as out-of-towners commenting on the rain. We all live here. We all get it.
So while commentators grumble and Amazon rumbles with city hall over the head tax, a swath of local startups are bringing innovation to the real estate industry from all angles. Here are eight of our favorites — and they’re all growing.
What they do: When selling a house, owners are usually attracted to cash offers, wherein a buyer can pay up front. FlyHomes acts a broker, and recently received a flurry of media attention as it closed a $17M Series A to juice its own cash offer fund. The fund is used to buy property on a buyer’s behalf, then hold it until they can sort out financing.
How it’s changing real estate: The system is biased toward wealthy businesses and individuals who can afford to front large sums of money, locking out potential buyers who need a mortgage. While Seattle is awash with wealthy buyers and cash offers, FlyHomes hopes its model will help to open the real estate market to everyone else.
What they do: JetClosing’s team of tech heads and real estate veterans are simplifying the closure of real estate deals, digitizing the entire process and moving it to the cloud. In addition to digital documents, they provide dedicated closing coordinators to shepherd buyers and sellers through the entire process.
How it’s changing real estate: Closing a home sale traditionally involves mountains of paperwork and a bonus case of signature-induced carpal tunnel syndrome. JetClosing aims to digitize signatures wherever possible — and eliminate the paper.
What they do: FLIPT combines AI and big data to help real estate agents win listings from home sellers at earlier stages in the selling decision.
How it’s changing real estate: FLIPT’s artificial intelligence sifts through social and housing data to identify homeowners going through life-changing events (empty nesters, retirees, etc.) who could potentially be looking to sell their house. The technology then creates targeted, personalized ads on mobile apps — reaching them long before the competition.
What they do: Faira works with real estate buyers and sellers, aiming to improve transparency as a home changes hands. They provide a technology platform, transparency reports and marketing services to all parties — so no nasty surprises after buyers have made their down payment. The service is free for sellers, while buyers are charged 0.5 percent of the final sale price. The company is betting that access to independent inspections, disclosures about possible issues and a title report on the listing will give buyers enough confidence to justify the fee.
How it’s changing real estate: Buying and selling homes is a confusing and costly business, and Faira claims to save the average seller around $20,000 in various fees.
What they do: Knock Rentals provides an online communication and booking platform which facilitates communication between real estate agents and home seekers. Their dashboard provides real estate agents with analytics, prompting them to follow up with potential buyers and serving up lists of prospects who might be going stale or people who’ve booked a tour at a listed property. Agents can also call or message their prospects through the platform.
How it’s changing real estate: The industry’s average response time to listing inquiries is a sloth-like 40 hours, and the interactions themselves generally involve a convoluted back-and-forth across phone calls, emails and text messages. By bringing all those interactions onto one platform, Knock hopes to simplify the process.
What they do: Blokable has garnered a fair bit of media attention for its small, portable housing units, which measure between 18 and 34 feet long. The units are built at a facility in Vancouver, Washington — the company’s software, manufacturing and product teams work in Seattle — and are then shipped to their new owners. They come fully integrated with smart home technology to control plumbing, heating and electricity, and can be stacked five-high. Best of all, they start at just $58,000 per unit.
How it’s changing real estate: In a city plagued with issues of affordability and homelessness, it’s not hard to see the applications for cheap, portable and dignified low-cost housing in Seattle. Founder Aaron Holm said he’s convinced that the world needs a “beautifully designed, safe and software enabled building that can be ordered and delivered rather than built on site.”
Location: Based in Vancouver, WA with teams in Seattle.
What they do: CityBldr uses artificial intelligence to gather disparate sources of city data and decide the best use for pieces of land. The company functions as a real estate broker, connecting developers with owners of underused properties, and takes a fee off the transaction.
How it’s changing real estate: A year ago, GeekWire reported on seven landowners whose Shoreline properties sat near a planned light rail stop. They’d recently been rezoned from single-family to multi-use residential properties, which, together, would create enough space for a large housing development. CityBldr identified the opportunity and contacted the landowners, informing them that their properties would fetch far higher prices if they all sold up together.
What they do: Frustrated and adrift in Craigslistland, founder Paul Burke (pictured above with his team and favorite work snack) took the Tinder “swipe left-swipe right” model and applied it to roommate hunting. Targeted at recent college grads, Renthoop helps home seekers briefly vet potential roommates before they swipe and begin chatting.
How it’s changing real estate: The traditional roommate vetting method (i.e., wait until after you’ve signed the lease to discover your new roommate’s psychoses) was ripe for disruption. Renthoop hopes to eliminate some of the guesswork.
What they do: Loftium hopes to open the housing market to younger, less-affluent folks. The startup will grant up to $50,000 toward a down payment on a home, so long as the client is willing to continuously list a spare room on Airbnb for 12 to 36 months. Loftium keeps most of the Airbnb income to pay itself back, but will furnish the room, take professional photos and create a listing on the client’s behalf.
How it’s changing real estate: The goal is to create a path to home ownership for those who don’t have $80,000 for a down payment. Loftium says it assumes the risk, and will not chase clients up if the Airbnb listing isn’t booked — “as long as you’re a good host.”