Breanna de Vera is dot.LA's editorial intern. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California, studying journalism and English literature. She previously reported for the campus publications The Daily Trojan and Annenberg Media.
In Los Angeles, where gossip rags cover the real estate market with the same fervor they do Hollywood, a startup online brokerage is trying to eliminate the realtor from home sales. HomeLister is one of a handful of online real estate platforms that lets homeowners list their properties without the assistance of high-paid realtors.
On Tuesday, the Santa Monica-based company announced the closing of a $4.5 million seed funding round led by venture capital firms MetaProp and Homebrew. The company will use the funds to expand into new states, including three it expects to enter at the start of next year, according to chief executive Lindsay McLean.
McLean, who is also the co-founder of HomeLister, got the idea for the company when trying to sell her home in New York's Tribeca neighborhood. The real estate agent she worked with put in about eight hours of work and walked away with a six-figure check, according to McLean. She was frustrated, and wanted to create a way for buyers to list their homes themselves without losing such a big cut to a real estate agent.
"I couldn't believe that what I wanted didn't exist — just a way to sort of walk you through the process, make sure you don't miss anything important, and essentially do it yourself through software for a reasonable price. And so really, that's how the company came about," said McLean.
HomeLister was launched in 2015, as a free-to-join and list platform that provides different services to people looking to sell their homes without the aid of an agent. After paying a flat fee, HomeLister can post the listing across local multiple listing services and real estate websites, including Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com.
McLean declined to share how many homes annually have sold through HomeLister.
HomeLister is similar to Redfin, but without the real estate agent, in that it provides a variety of a la carte services to homeowners, like professional photography and assistance with paperwork and legal disclosures. All of these come at a rate, but the big appeal of HomeLister is that no one makes a profit proportional to the selling price of the house, according to McLean.
Sites like ForSaleByOwner also allow homeowners full control of their listing process, but don't provide the same level of additional services.
"We really base all of our services on how much work we're really doing for you," said McLean. "It's the same amount of work for us to sell a 1,000 square foot home as a 4,000 square foot home. And so that price is going to be the same."
The pandemic has increased interest in do-it-yourself home selling, as traditional agents are limited by in-person contact. According to McLean, homeowners end up doing a lot of the work themselves, and turn to alternatives like HomeLister to get their listing online.
But, the market is unlikely to shift entirely away from traditional real estate agents and brokers, said Eric Sussman, a UCLA professor in accounting, finance and real estate. Technologies have long tried to replace the home selling process, but the number of people who actually take this route has been low.
"[For Sale By Owner properties are] I think, by and large, a very, very insignificant part of the overall transactional market. And I don't see that changing," said Sussman.
Only 8% of homes sold in 2018 were FSBOs, according to the National Association of Realtors. Part of the reason people are hesitant to sell their house themselves is that it is a lengthy process, with high financial and legal risks, said Sussman.
"People, I think, also look at real estate agents, rightly or wrongly, as insurance," said Sussman. "It may be expensive insurance. But it's insurance, that the Is are going to get dotted, the Ts are going to get crossed. They're not going to step into any minefield. And they're going to be able to rely on someone's unique and detailed expertise."
According to McLean, homes on the platform sell at the same speed — or even faster — than they would with a real estate agent, and still save the homeowner from losing a large percent to the agent's commission.
"HomeLister has created a scalable, software-driven platform that provides the average homeseller a fair way to sell their home faster and to keep more of their own money," said Satya Patel, general partner at Homebrew, in a statement. "HomeLister has turned the home selling process from something complicated and opaque into a simple, guided process that can work for any home."
Correction: An earlier version of this post misquoted UCLA professor Eric Sussman.