By Meghan Hall
The housing market saw an explosion of activity this past year, and both buyers and realtors are looking for ways to streamline the process of searching for–and buying–a home. In the age of tech and social media, one company has modeled its approach after a well known dating app. Torii, which calls itself “Tinder for Real Estate,” has put together a new model using machine learning and AI to help potential buyers find their home. The Registry spoke with Zach Gorman, Torii’s co-founder and CEO, about how tech like Torii is shaking up the market, and how it will change the way homes are sold.
There are a lot of apps coming to market that allow prospective owners to search for homes. What prompted the thinking behind Torii’s design and layout as a “Tinder for Real Estate.” How does this format solve pain points within the residential industry? Has Torii found this methodology to be effective? Why or why not?
Our product design decisions are informed by research and data about our users. We’re constantly experimenting with layouts that leverage new and engaging interfaces. Zillow’s map-based search hasn’t meaningfully improved since it was launched over 15 years ago and is really inefficient when it comes to helping users find the right home. We started with a Tinder-like swiper for our home search because we wanted something that was familiar for Millennials, while also allowing us to learn about someone’s tastes while they swiped left and right. That was the basis on which we built our Home Recommendation AI engine, which learns/suggests new properties based on what you like or dislike. Today, our interface feels more akin to TikTok than Tinder. It’s a much more immersive UX that gives us deeper insights into a user’s preferences, allowing us to serve up even more precise home matches. In a real estate market as crazy as this one, our technology is helping buyers uncover listings they may have never come across otherwise.
Can Torii talk about the steps it took to design the platform? What is your favorite feature/function of the technology and why?
Ordering listing photos and filtering by room condition/quality are two recent additions to our home search that I’m particularly fond of. We use machine learning to allow you to select the order that you see specific rooms on each property and filter based on the quality and condition of those rooms. For example, let’s say you love to host – it’s reasonable to assume that the kitchen is going to be one of your “make or break” rooms in the house. Our search will make sure that you’re seeing only homes with exceptional kitchens and that you see them first on every listing. We intend to continue to develop and deepen the personalization of our home search in ways that have never been done before.
What percentage of swipes results in closings? Does Torii’s usage translate to more views? More tours?
Absolutely – everything about our app experience is designed to help users find and buy the right home faster. Our Home Recommendation AI learns as you search, ensuring that each home you view is increasingly precise. Additionally, since we’ve seamlessly integrated the entire purchase process into the app (offer submission, buying timeline, team communication, document storage, etc.) the amount of users who decide to purchase their home with Torii is many times higher than through Zillow. Part of what makes our app experience so unique is that not only is the tech helping you every step of the way, but so is our amazing team. Whether you have questions about a specific listing, or you want to set up a showing, or you’re just curious about the buying process and want to learn more – all you have to do is tap a button and you’re instantly connected with one of the expert real estate agents on our team. We understand that technology can solve a lot, but home buying will always be a very human experience as well, which is why when you work with us, you get a dedicated Torii real estate agent as well as an entire team (lender, mover, inspector, attorney, success manager, etc.) to help you every step of the way. This high-tech meets high-touch approach helps build up our buyers’ confidence and knowledge of the process while ensuring that they are taking all the necessary steps to become as competitive as possible. This results in far fewer missed/lost offers and more getting into the home you love.
In May of this year, Torii completed a $3.2 million seed round. How is the company using these funds to foster its growth?
We actually turned down millions more in oversubscription in that round, because our model is working well and we spent most of 2020 profitable amidst one of the most competitive and volatile real estate markets in history. We’re now using these funds to perfect the buying experience for our clients, continue building out our technology/platform, and to open up new markets. We get asked by our users every day when we’ll open up in their city, and this round is just the start of that expansion.
Torii is already in Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. What markets is Torii looking to target next? What about these markets makes launching Torii there attractive?
We’re actually live in New Hampshire now as well! In the next 12 months, we’ll be evaluating three to six new markets to expand into. We’re closely tracking up-and-coming cities where Millennials are moving, like Austin, Denver, Atlanta, Miami, etc.
What is your perspective on the national residential industry? How do you expect the industry to evolve as technology usage grows?
We’re going to see a lot of the stubborn traditional real estate models be phased out. In my opinion, the entire industry is asleep at the wheel and has taken little to no steps to cater to the needs of the next generation of home buyers. On the search side of things, Zillow isn’t even aligned with its supposed customer base (home buyers and sellers) because it’s actually just a lead generation platform for real estate agents and more recently has even been competing against its users by using their data to outbid them on the same homes they’re looking at. The same is true on the buying/selling side – the entire process is unnecessarily fragmented, the technology is archaic, and the service is grossly hit-or-miss. I expect to see a move toward the consolidation and centralization of services (something you get when you work with Torii) and significant movement into the web3 space. The fact that title/deed is still done via physical documents and mail couriers is laughable.