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Startup lets you ‘shop without an agent’ … but uses agents

By February 27, 2015 One Comment

Well, well, if it isn’t another real estate tech startup that wants to help consumers buy homes without “real estate agents.”

At least, that’s what the company’s branding might lead you to believe at first glance.

Offering on-demand showings and a next-generation online platform and listing search tool, Open Listings says it lets buyers find and make offers on properties without the help of an agent.  “Shop without an agent,” the startup’s website says. “We’ve got your back.”

The company is premised on the idea that real estate agents’ s commissions don’t properly reflect their diminishing role in the home-buying process, co-founder Judd Schoenholtz told TechCrunch.

“With technology today, you can find the house you want and know the price is good. But what you can’t do is buy the house without an agent,” Schoenholtz told the tech news website. “You’re doing 80 percent of the work, but you’re required to have an agent present,”

Yet upon closer inspection Open Listings begins to look an awful lot like a discount broker, albeit a high-tech one. 

While the startup seems to carefully avoid using the word “real estate agent” on its website, it has to let the term slip a couple times: namely, when it explains how the on-demand showings work.

“Contact us if you’d like to tour a home and one of our licensed agents will schedule it on your behalf,” the website reads.

To to be fair, Open Listings is also ready to contact a listing agent on a buyer’s behalf to schedule a private showing, if you don’t want to work with one of its agents and “you find a home online that doesn’t have an upcoming open house, or if you’re unable to attend an open house.”

Much like a flat-fee broker, the company also rebates buyer’s agent commissions to users, minus a flat-fee of $5,000 that it keeps for itself. Open Listings also says it offers expert support to help answer buyers’ questions during the search process.

Another differentiator: Taking a page out of Redfin’s book, the startup doesn’t appear to pay its agents traditional commissions, promising you can “shop at your own pace without pressure from commissioned salespeople.”

Despite bearing some of the trappings of a discount broker, the company’s slick technology appears to set it apart from much of the pack.

Open Listings’ search tool supports natural language search, allowing people to filter listings by typing in specifications such as “big kitchen with granite countertops, three bedrooms and a backyard.” Users get personalized listing feeds from a website, app and email updates, and promises to find “100 percent of new properties the moment they’re listed on the MLS.”

Buyers can also use the company’s platform to “craft the perfect offer online, in less than a minute,” and then sign it electronically. Open Listings then collects a buyer’s proof of funds and pre-approval documentation (if the offer includes a mortgage) and helps buyer “navigate the submission and negotiation process.”

“We enable you to have as much or as little direct involvement with the seller as you like,” the company says.

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