Flat-fee real estate startup automates selling process
Reesio platform autopopulates legal documents required in CaliforniaBy Andrea V. Brambila, Tuesday, September 11, 2012.
A San Francisco-based real estate brokerage is offering to help home sellers in California by advertising their home in the local multiple listing service, and providing tools to automate transaction paperwork and tasks normally handled by agents, at no charge.
Reaslo Inc., which does business as Reesio, intends to generate revenue by charging a flat fee for access to a dashboard that allows sellers to review, accept, counter and reject offers.
Reesio officially launched its seller platform, currently available only in California, on Aug. 21. The company says the platform includes every legal document, contract and disclosure required to complete a real estate transaction in California, autopopulating the documents based on seller input.
Reesio screen shot.
The 26 or so documents are presented to the seller in the correct order and can be signed electronically right from the dashboard via an API from e-signature company DocuSign. Reesio is a licensed California brokerage and obtains the documents from the California Association of Realtors.
"We've taken those detailed, painful questions from the CAR forms and turned them into nice, easy-to-understand questions on our site. Once the CAR form has been prepopulated, then the DocuSign comes into play. It's a pop-up that appears," said co-founder and CEO Mark Thomas.
Reesio screen shot.
The platform, which Thomas envisions as a "one-stop shop," also allows sellers to create a listing and have Reesio post it to their local multiple listing service. Thus far, Reesio subscribes to the San Francisco Association of Realtors MLS (SFARMLS), which has reciprocal agreements with other Bay Area MLSs, including MetroList, MLS Listings, Bay Area Real Estate Information Services Inc. (BAREIS), and the Sutter-Yuba Association of Realtors MLS.
"We currently only subscribe to the MLSs here in the Bay Area because all of our listings so far are here. However, as soon as we get listings in other parts of the state, then we'll be subscribing to those MLSs as well," Thomas said.
SFARMLS sends the listing to Realtor.com, Thomas added, and he is listed as the broker of record.
Reesio also syndicates the listing to dozens of third-party sites such as Zillow and Trulia through listing syndicator ListHub at no charge. Also for free, Reesio will send a licensed real estate agent or broker to photograph a home, offer a broker price opinion of the property, and conduct an open house to attract buyers.
Reesio screen shot.
Offers on the property are submitted through the platform's dashboard, and the seller does not have to pay anything until he or she is ready to review offers. At that point, the seller pays Reesio $250 to review an unlimited number of offers and pays the remaining $750 when the transaction closes.
Reesio also recommends, but doesn't require, that sellers offer buyer's agents a flat fee equal to 2 or 2.5 percent of the initial listing price, "so even if the price goes up you're not paying more," Thomas said.
Thomas, 34, is a serial entrepreneuer -- this is his third startup -- and he founded Mark Thomas Realty, a real estate investment and property management company, a year ago. Tran has more than 10 years' experience as both a real estate and mortgage broker, starting out at a Century 21 brokerage and moving to Help-U-Sell before branching out on her own six years ago.
According to Thomas, Reesio was born at a dinner last November when Tran, jaded by dealing with a handful of "shady" agents and an archaic real estate process, proposed, "Let's create a product that puts me out of business."
The idea for Reesio "really stems from the pain that both Uyen and I have gone through both as a broker and as a buyer and seller," Thomas said.
Both had a feeling there was a much more streamlined and cheaper way of handling real estate transactions that also put power in the hands of the seller and buyer, Thomas said.
"The paperwork of the process is super-painful. I just bought a condo. It was very, very painful," Thomas said. He and Tran figured that "a lot of what agents do could be automated and a lot of that paperwork could be automated as well. There's no reason why we couldn't do it for a much cheaper price than what agents currently" charge in commissions, he said.
Reesio's target audience is real estate investors and the 10 percent or so of home sellers who prefer to sell by owner.
"Real estate investors understand how the process of selling works already. They want something easy and quick and to get through the process fast and ... save every penny. They're always looking to maximize returns," Thomas said.
Theoretically, Reesio users could avoid paying the company by dealing with offers outside of the platform, but Thomas said he doubts that will be a problem because that means users would have to go back to handling the transaction on their own, without Reesio's live customer support and automatic document flow.
"It's just that painful to go through all those things. If you really don't like us that much and you're willing to go back to the old way of doing things, that's fine, but we feel you'll love (our product)," Thomas said.
Users do have to sign a listing agreement with Reesio to sell their home through the platform, but Thomas said users can cancel the agreement at any time.
So far, the three sellers that have signed up for Reesio since its launch have been willing to pay to review offers, Thomas said. If in the future the company finds that sellers aren't willing to pay to simply review offers, the company might change its pay model to require the full $1,000 payment once the transaction closes, he said.
Thomas and Tran, along with chief technology officer Jonathan Mui, founded Reesio in January and since then have built up a network of just over 300 real estate agents and brokers in California who will, for a flat fee, conduct the photography, BPOs, and open houses Reesio offers at no charge.
For photography, Reesio pays agents $50 per home; for a BPO, $75; for both, $100. So far, the company has been paying $50 for hosting open houses, but is considering changing that to zero because open houses are such a good buyer lead generation tool for agents that some have been offering to host them for free, Thomas said.
Reesio vets the real estate pros in its network to make sure they are licensed and requires samples of previous work before sending one out on an assignment. Assignments are determined by ZIP code. Although Reesio eventually hopes to automate the vetting and assignment process, for now interested agents and brokers can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about joining the network. The company also eventually plans to add a system for buyers and sellers to rate the agents in the Reesio network.
"We're not trying to eliminate brokers," Thomas said. "We're simply saying that for the 'do-it-yourselfers' out there this product can allow you to do it yourself."
In fact, Reesio's main focus right now is the development of a broker product that it plans to release in the next two to three months, Thomas said.
The broker product will be similar to the consumer product, except it will allows brokers to manage the transaction process for their clients, he said. Real estate professionals will be able to set up a transaction, have clients sign a listing agreement, and invite them to the Reesio dashboard to fill out the appropriate paperwork at the appropriate time throughout the transaction process.
Unlike, say, DotLoop, a Web-based transaction management platform Reesio considers a competitor, the real estate professionals do not have to upload their own documents or dictate to their clients which document to fill out and when, Thomas said.
"We have really automated exactly what happens at every point in the process. With our product, (agents) just need to invite (their clients) into the system and it's done," Thomas said. "The agent's not having to do any of that paperwork or explaining of the paperwork process."
He likened Reesio to the consumer tax preparation product TurboTax.
"It's really a self-serve tool," Thomas said.
Buyers, sellers and agents will be able to track documents and see who has signed what at any time, and all documents will be stored in a transaction's documents folder "forever and ever," he said.
While the Reesio platform will check for blank and incorrect information, most documents will not require any particular question to be filled out to proceed with the process, he said.
Agents and brokers will be able to create and upload their own real estate forms, if they prefer. They will also be able to share offers with anyone they like, either by inviting them to the platform or through email. Reesio is also working on making documents available offline for when agents don't have Internet access.
"There's nothing that's going to be happening the way (agents) don't want it to happen," Thomas said.
Agents and brokers will also be able to create a listing on the platform, post it to their MLS and syndicate it to third-party sites through ListHub. Reesio is currently trying to tackle the best way to make sure listings are updated in real time -- likely by connecting the platform to local MLSs, perhaps through partnerships.
"It's a little bit tricky, but we are working on it," Thomas said.
An iPad tablet version of the broker product will likely be rolled out at the same time as the Web version, according to Thomas. A smartphone application is in the works and will probably be released in six to nine months, he said.
The company will be doing some testing this month to determine the eventual price of the broker product, but it will probably cost somewhere between $49 and $99 a month, Thomas added.
Thus far, Reesio has been completely "bootstrapped," meaning the founders have been contributing their own money into the operation, he said. This week, however, an entrepreneur and angel investor wrote Reesio a check for $25,000. Thomas declined to give the investor's name, but said that the company will be looking to raise about $1 million in funding total.
Reesio demonstrated their product at a technology conference, TechCrunch Disrupt, this week, and "I'm sure we'll get some interest from there as well," Thomas said.
Once the company gets funding, it plans to expand to five states it has determined have a lot of real estate investment opportunities as well as real estate agents: Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Georgia and Florida.
Thomas doesn't anticipate Reesio will delve into the lending paperwork process, which he called "a whole separate animal." Nevertheless, he said the company could potentially branch out to offer loan or home inspection referrals sometime in the future.
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