PropTech: Qualia Q&A

Seattle, Qualia, Zillow, Rocket Mortgage, commercial real estate tech, San Francisco, cloud-based platform, transactions, regulation

By Jack Stubbs

In a real estate market increasingly synonymous with the term “commercial real estate tech,” companies are continually looking to integrate technology into their real estate platforms. Qualia, a mobile software platform founded in San Francisco in 2015, is a company seeking to transform the real estate transaction closing process for its clients.

We recently spoke to Nate Baker, CEO and co-founder of Qualia, about what the platform seeks to do, how it implements technology into the ever-evolving real estate transaction process, and where the platform hopes to go moving forward in a real estate market that continues to be driven by innovations in CRE tech.

Nate Baker, CEO and co-founder

Can you tell me a bit about Qualia (the company’s founding and original conceptualization, etc.)?

Qualia builds software to help buy and sell real estate. Specifically, we focus on the closing process, which has been largely untouched by technology over the past 20 years. As anyone who has bought or sold a home knows, the closing process is chaotic, frustrating and confusing.

Buyers, sellers, lenders and real estate agents are siloed and are generally left in the dark during these transactions. Borrowers are confused, lenders and realtors are frustrated, and the overall experience is difficult, because so little investment has been made to improve it.

Qualia is the system of record for the closing. We are the full operating platform for the title company and redefine the real estate closing experience by connecting everyone in the transaction in one secure, mobile, cloud-based platform.

To what degree is Qualia replacing older, more outdated methods of data generation and document preparation? How does Qualia streamline the transaction process? To what degree is Qualia addressing an issue in the market (e.g. a “broken” workflow)?

Qualia improves communication and coordination between every transaction participant (consumer, lender, title agent, realtor) by connecting them all on one shared platform to work together and track progress in real time. This new degree of coordination and real-time communication dramatically increases understanding, visibility and efficiency in the closing experience that’s simply not possible when working in siloed workspaces.

How has the real estate industry evolved over time? How does Qualia aim to contribute to the continuing evolution of the industry?

You see [changes] that are incremental, like companies that help do a better job with researching properties. But most of the innovation has been on the side of transactions, like Zillow and Rocket Mortgage. But over the last 40 years, people haven’t been thinking about how to make the closing process better. Because the transactions rely on so many people being on the same page, it’s difficult unless everyone is acting in unison—[but] a lot of the attempts in the past have been focused on one small piece of the puzzle.

Though certain aspects of the industry have evolved, the closing process has not—coordination remains a challenge, with heavy reliance on old school systems, scattered emails, physical mail and fax machines. Just as concerning is that, with all of the insecure communications and outdated software, not only is the process slow, complex and error-prone, but sensitive data about buyers and sellers is also often left exposed to security breaches.

The Qualia team includes real estate industry veterans, top software engineers and usability experts who came together to build technology that could inspire the real estate industry to put the customer first and make transactions more efficient for everyone.

Where does Qualia predominantly operate geographically? What can you tell me about the recent Nov. 7th announcement? What does it mean for the platform’s expansion?

Qualia operates everywhere in the United States. We are quite proud of the work it took to bring us to this point. After becoming intimately familiar with every state’s closing requirements, rules and documentation, now title agents anywhere in the US can operate a closing on Qualia. It’s hard work getting the technology, team and place to do this.

Qualia serves a wide variety of businesses and industries, including title agents, lenders, real estate brokerages and consumers. Given the platform’s wide range of clients, how does Qualia’s team ensure that the platform is able to cater to such a varying list of clients?

We believe that serving all of these businesses and industries actually makes us best at being able to cater to such a wide range of clients. The closing process until now has been far too focused on siloing everyone in the real estate closing process, making coordination almost an impossibility. By connecting everyone in the transaction on one secure platform, we’re able to build relationships between everyone on the transaction and ensure efficiency in the process that wouldn’t be possible if these people weren’t connected.

This is an industry that is still making a transition to being online, with online-based products…when you think about all of the innovation that has come from products over the last 20 years to web-based solutions, that transition is still happening. In my mind, the title software products of the past have been handicapping the process and preventing everything from moving online.

In an era where technological advancement is occurring continually in every business sector, products and platforms must also continually evolve. What are some of the challenges involved in improving and refining the software behind the platform?

At the end of the day, we’re building tools to help drive step-change improvements to business processes in a highly regulated industry. We work closely within that regulatory framework that controls how millions of people can interact. One of the most important things for us wasn’t just having top engineers and user experience experts as part of our team, but also having industry experts deeply embedded in the team so we can conscientiously build technology with those regulations as a cornerstone of what we do.

This is an important question to consider, especially when thinking about how to invest in different software platforms in various industries. Firstly, it’s a lot of work has to be invested over a long period of time—it’s a huge amount of work on the compliance side and the regulatory side. There is a huge amount of investment in the real estate industry in general…but there’s less investment in the technology side, particularly around closing [transactions]. There are areas of the market that are more and less saturated. In terms of challenges, a lot of it has to do with changing rules and regulations that you need to comply with over time.

This creates difficulties for new entries coming into [the market]. Going forward, in terms of maintaining a competitive advantage, it’s important to continue to double down on technology. Previously, these problems—for the buyer, the lender, the seller—weren’t able to be solved, because the underlying tools weren’t there.

Successful products are those that are intuitive and easy to use. How user-friendly is Qualia? Is there a steep learning curve involved in learning how to use the platform? How applicable is Qualia across different devices, and does the platform scale effectively?

The size and experience of the companies on Qualia vary widely because we built our technology intentionally: with the ability to scale one traditionally only finds in enterprise software, but to also have the intuitive user experience one would expect from a consumer app.

Unlike older on-premises settlement software that often requires months of intensive implementation and onboarding programs, our users simply login and are able to start opening orders almost immediately after purchase.

One of our user experience challenges is actually addressing habits that are developed by using software that’s not user-friendly. Many of our features, including auto-populating data throughout a file, the ability to have multiple users work a single file, and our built-in accounting suite, have taken some getting used to by some. Not because the software is difficult to learn—rather, our users search for the older, more cumbersome ways to accomplish these tasks. Our team winds up spending more time uncovering new uses of the product for our users than on actual training.

What are some of the challenges in ensuring that the software functions in a wide variety of contexts? Can you elaborate on some of the specific day-to-day tasks that Qualia allows industry professionals to streamline?

The biggest challenge is really just knowing what those contexts are. A closing is extremely complicated: it includes a variety of tasks and requires people operating cohesively to complete. Our team spends hours both on the phone and on-site to thoroughly research the use cases we aim to improve.

Some examples that have come out of those countless sessions include how we’ve streamlined our users’ ability to communicate with clients, enter mass amounts of repetitive information, and perform tedious accounting tasks that, when done manually, expose the file to a high likelihood of human error. In addition, the custom task workflow features have made it simple for teams to get trained on each title agency’s preferred workflow.

We’ve heard directly from our community that Qualia’s connected platform and shared workspace has dramatically reduced the time their staff is spending responding to questions. We also hear from our customers that they’ve reduced errors, decreased their time working each file, and sped up their closing process because of these features.

Can you expand upon this human element in the closing process? How is the human element reconciled with technology throughout the process?

This is one of the most important questions in real estate right now, and it’ll continue to play a critical role in the transaction [process]. We’re building tools to help people do their job better and compete for business more easily. The title company, the realtor, the loan officer—these are the people who will continue to be at the center of the transaction. I think the appropriate strategy is to build tools that help people within the process. The key thing that we’re doing is simplifying the closing process for everyone involved; we distill these components down for all of the parties involved in these transactions.

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