When Homie launched in 2015, the tech company was hoping to revolutionize the real estate industry. And when it started getting traction in Utah, the company started to think bigger and began to make plans for expanding throughout the country.
Homie’s technology enables home buyers and sellers to handle much of the work themselves, with the added assistance of licensed real estate agents, attorneys and other experts. Within 18 months of launching, the company was the largest brokerage in Utah with over 200 property listings each month.
In its bid to disrupt the real estate industry on a national scale, CEO Johnny Hanna says the company realized it would be a more productive route to take it slow and learn lessons along the way. Homie’s first stop? Arizona.
Researching the market
“We researched what areas had the most similarity to Utah in terms of economic growth, education, employment—a lot of those numbers were important to us, along with the housing stock. We wanted to go to an area with newer homes that had been built, newer subdivisions, because those are the houses that go in two seconds,” he says. “You know how to price the home, it’s not a unique farm with five acres. It’s a typical suburban home and you know what your neighbors paid.”
There were several real estate regulations and legal details that differed between the Beehive State and its neighbor to the south. Because Homie recently opened up a mortgage division to help streamline the process of funding the buying and selling process, differences in funding regulations were also vital to navigate, says Hanna.
Spreading the message
In addition to regulatory differences, the marketing landscape is different in the Phoenix area than it is along the Wasatch Front.
“Here in Utah, we have a single highway, so billboards work well for us here. But Phoenix is a much bigger city, and not everyone drives on the same highway, so we had to advertise and market on radio, tv, social media, in addition to billboards,” Hanna says.
Social marketing proved particularly fruitful; between the posts Homie was sponsoring and the segments of television interviews posted on those stations’ pages, Hanna says there was an enthusiastic response with people tagging their friends who were trying to buy or sell homes.
The rollout into Arizona was easier in many ways from Homie’s original launch chiefly because the company has a larger budget—and venture capital funding—to help market the company, says Hanna, rather than the limitations being a bootstrapped startup gave them in Utah. Hanna says the company has also learned how to better communicate its message and goals to customers than it perhaps has in the past.
Bringing change—and calming fears
“I think we’re doing better at communicating that we’re not anti-agent, because we are agents,” says Hanna. “We just know tech is here to stay and we are trying to adapt to it. We’re acknowledging people are finding homes online and all they need us for is the paperwork.”
He notes that the legwork real estate agents had to do in decades past has in large part been supplanted by online resources that allow buyers to find ideal homes on their own. “The theme of how we’re educating people has improved and in saying we don’t like 6 percent commissions. We don’t like commissions in general. It splits incentives. We don’t like that agents have to split their commissions with their broker.”
That message hasn’t been universally received, even in Arizona—Hanna tells of one comment on an interview segment posted on social media from a real estate agent vowing not to watch that station again—but Hanna says those types of disagreements are an uncomfortable part of evolution.
“There are so many problems with the industry; we’re just here to make things better. Agents will evolve, or they’ll move on. We’re advertising that we’re a new-age agent. We’re not the agent of yesteryear. I think that’s made agents feel less attacked. But fear exists because we’re lowering the fees, but the truth is we’re selling homes in a matter of days and weeks, and there’s just no reason to pay 6 percent on a $300,000 home—that’s $18,000. There’s no reason to give away $18,000 for a few weeks of work. We’re eliminating unneeded expense,” he says. “I think our existence is offensive to many agents, but I think to the good agents that realize change is inevitable, they get it, and they apply to work for us. We have several agents who have applied to work for us in Phoenix.”
Working out the kinks
Hanna says the company plans to expand to another five or 10 states as a next step before rolling out nationwide. Already, he says, Homie is getting requests to move into various other states. But before that can happen, he says, there are still kinks to be worked out in Arizona.
“We want to make sure clients have a wonderful experience. What we’ve learned here in Utah, we know how to do that, we want to consistently do that and in Arizona, too—but we have to have scalable technology to go nationwide,” he says, noting there are still manual processes the company is working on automating. “There’s a lot more handholding directly for our clients, so they’re still getting a great service, but it’s not just manual on the backend. … We’re still in the learning process.”