By Joe Gose
A Fremont startup has embraced crowdsourcing to improve the home buying experience in the Bay Area.
The company, Inzopa, launched its beta operation in early February and wants to match consumers with the best real estate agents and lenders that meet their specific needs, and then use secure portals to keep the parties connected in real-time throughout the home buying process.
To do so, the firm is using crowdsourcing to amass transaction data that include where the sales took place and principals involved in the transaction–the real estate agent, mortgage brokers and lenders–and to verify that information.
Charanjeet Ajmani, founder and CEO of Inzopa (center), said his goal was to build a social network for homebuyers akin to LinkedIn for business professionals or Yelp for consumers seeking the best restaurants or other businesses, and to provide a customer service experience comparable to Amazon.com.
“The kind of reputation that Yelp carries for restaurants is the kind of reputation that we want to carry for real estate professionals,” Ajmani said.
The platform weighs a consumer’s past home buying experience–or lack thereof–employment status, and desired areas, for example, and then matches the characteristics with agents and mortgage brokers who have conducted similar transactions for homes in those neighborhoods. The data also include feedback about the professionals.
The platform is free for consumers, he said, while agents and mortgage brokers pay a fee after they begin realizing value.
“We’re not letting professionals provide whatever data they want,” Ajmani said. “We take that data and crosscheck it from different sources to make sure that the transactions are relevant.”
So far Inzopa has collected information on nearly $2 billion in deals in the Bay Area, he said, and the company aims to eventually expand into other major cities throughout the country. Inzopa has signed up agents and mortgage brokers with Sotheby’s International, Prudential Real Estate, Guaranteed Mortgage and others.
Among other abilities, the platform allows agents negotiating a sale to access a buyer’s latest financial picture via a secure portal instantaneously, said Carl Medford, principal of the Medford Team with Prudential. That’s important in today’s hot real estate market, he added, where sellers want to verify a buyer’s ability to close up front. Otherwise, sellers will move on to a different buyer.
“For us, that’s a game changer because we’re all about getting financial information in the real estate transaction, and we need to get it fast,” said Medford, who focuses on the East Bay. “If we’re writing offers over a few months, it’s helpful because financial information changes, and we have to submit financial information with our offers.”
It also gives lenders the ability to get updated information without having the buyers continuously emailing information, he said.
Elise Groves, a mortgage broker with First Priority Financial in the North Bay, said she began working with Inzopa a few months ago when Ajmani saw her reviews on Yelp. As someone who embraced social media to market her business–the number of responses that Yelp generated “stunned” her–she sees the platform as a natural fit, especially because her target market largely comprises of millennials.
“I know that consumers are going online to vet any recommendation that they get, and I want to be found,” said Groves, who completed 72 transactions valued at $24 million last year. “I look at [Inzopa] as one more avenue.”
From the financing side, Inzopa executives are focused on finding seed capital from angel investors as well as venture capital funds, Ajmani said. From an operations standpoint, its big push to drive consumers to the platform remains some weeks off, he added. Instead, the company is concentrating on building its base of real estate agents, mortgage brokers and lenders and tweaking the online user experience to make it as friendly as possible.
“We are making significant changes almost every other day as we learn more about consumer needs,” Ajmani said. “We want to execute them as quickly as possible.”