(The Nobul desktop app. Image via Nobul)
The year is 2003. Beyoncé and Jay-Z stay mum on romance rumours. iPhones don’t exist. And you’re on the landline with your real estate agent.
A lot has changed since then, but the process for finding a good real estate agent hasn't. Until now.
Meet Nobul: A live marketplace and platform to connect homeowners with agents.
The company allows users to evaluate and compare agents based on their fees, services (Want a window cleaning on closing?) and the verified reviews of former clients.
It's like Expedia for real estate agents.
“It’s a kind of consumer choice that has never existed before,” says Nobul CEO Regan McGee. “We’re just giving people what they want.”
McGee hopes it can be a game changer for the real estate industry, a sector he says is starved for innovation — one that might consider a virtual tour on a mobile phone cutting edge real estate technology or “PropTech.”
“And people think that changes the process? It doesn’t change anything. It’s not even innovative. It’s not even really keeping up with the times,” he says.
“The way the industry functions today is the same way that it functioned 120 years ago. And I don’t know too many other industries you could say that about.”
He blames entrenched interests for the lack of innovation, but says consumers are showing their desire for change.
“People have been demanding (transparency) for decades,” McGee says, pointing to anti-trust lawsuits in the U.S. and competition bureau court cases in Canada as a sign of consumers’ thirst for change.
The demand is clear in Nobul’s numbers, too. In the three months since it went live, McGee says about $300-million worth in transactions have been initiated monthly and the number of transactions initiated is growing by about 100 per cent a month.
Buyers and sellers don’t pay any fees to use the service and don’t see any ads, per se (though there are promoted posts from agents). Agents pay Nobul a referral fee on closing.
(The Nobul mobile app. Image via Nobul)
So is it more of a tech company or a real estate company?
“We’re both,” McGee says. “What we really are is an innovative business company … in the same way that a lot of people think of Uber, Amazon, Airbnb: they’re not tech companies; they’re innovative ways of doing business that are facilitated by tech.”
The tech, including a recently-introduced blockchain integration into the contract management process, is central to the company’s business model.
So are tech mantras, like scalability.
“If we wanted to open up, say in California, we need one person and data feeds and then we can be of benefit to the entire state of California,” he says.
Nobul can be a benefit to good real estate agents, too. Though not ones who are better at selling themselves than anything else, McGee says.
“The challenge is the only people who generally really know who the great agents are and the not-so-great agents are the other agents, who would never use them anyway.”
To review an agent on Nobul, one must be a verified user who has transacted a property with that agent.
“When you look at Zillow every agent has 2,000 five-star reviews because they’ve given themselves 2,000 five-star reviews. There’s zero accountability, there’s zero transparency.”
It’s part of the problem with other so-called leaders in the real estate sector. Nobul is not a brokerage with its own roster of agents. It’s not a review site. It’s not a lead generator.
Those are all fine business, he says, but they don’t solve any of the problems the public has been demanding to be solved.
A brokerage providing a website and an app is not reinventing the wheel.
“We’re fundamentally different from those tech-enabled brokerages,” McGee says, pointing to companies like Red Pin and Compass. “Their agents are on our platform."
For now, Nobul is facilitating a better agent-to-client relationship. But McGee would like to take on other aspects of the real estate transaction.
The company is “building an end-to-end marketplace. So, everything. Everything. We’re building a hub, an entire ecosystem. Everything’s coming on our platform.”
Is it scary at all to be a game changer in such an entrenched industry?
“What did the buggy whip makers think of Henry Ford?” he asks.
“When you’re disrupting over a trillion dollars a year in fee payments, the stakes are pretty high and people take it very seriously.”
Though McGee says it can be a bit “uncomfortable” and he has to be mindful, many of the major players are seeing the value in the platform. And while he declined to name them, he says a number of big brokerage owners and big agents have invested in the company and are “actively helping.”
“They can clearly see that this is the future," says McGee.
“Fortunately nobody has said, 'That doesn’t make sense.' The biggest question I get is: How has nobody done this before?"