SQFT and the end-to-end digital real estate transaction dream

The role of the real estate agent is changing. That’s clear.

Read the hybrid broker special report I helped produce while at Inman. Part of what spurred the report was an increasing prevalence of savvy real estate brokers and agents building business models around the recognition that the digital era has made agents' work, especially on the listing side, so much easier.

James Simpson, former agent at Los Angeles-based Teles Properties, is one. In early 2015, he launched SQFT. Licensed as a brokerage, the Boulder, Colorado-based startup developed a tech platform brokerages throughout the U.S. could leverage to serve sellers who wanted a limited-service agency offering.

The offering is compelling, but, as anyone knows who’s tried to navigate the variegated brokerage and MLS politics, operating a brokerage at national scale is a thorny proposition.

So SQFT is pivoting, squaring its sights on an end-to-end -- lead-gen to close -- tech platform brokerages (especially discount) can license to serve a high volume of buyers and sellers with limited human (broker or agent) involvement. 

The firm is betting big on the future, one other firms are hunting as well (see below). The official pivot comes this fall, Simpson told me.

SQFT founder and CEO James Simpson talks about his startup's upcoming pivot in Boulder, Colorado, June 27, 2016.

Right now, his team is heads down building a product that consumers will trust, he added. This addresses consumers’ inclination to reach out to a human, probably real estate tech’s most expensive, fickle and, in some cases, most valuable element.

The tech will be available to all brokers and agents and to both buyers and sellers.

That’s the dream, isn’t it? A tech platform that makes buying and selling a more seamless experience for consumers -- and brokers and agents. What this means for the traditional commission structure and value remains unclear.

Check out what Opendoor, the amazingly well-funded Silicon Valley-based startup, is doing here. It has a sophisticated and remarkably accurate pricing algorithm that tracks market trajectory, and pricing, on an extremely hyperlocal level, Opendoor’s co-founder and head of growth JD Ross told me.

Since the firm buys and sells homes itself, it also allows consumers to set “buy” and “sell” dates -- even the ability to “trade in” one home and purchase another if both through Opendoor, ON THE SAME DAY OF THEIR CHOOSING. The sale is done through one seamless platform, especially if consumers go through Opendoor’s preferred lender. See some powerful testimonials here.

Of course, Zillow Group is going here, too, with its massive lead-gen structure and emerging transaction management play in dotloop, the digital transaction management software it purchased last year for $108 million.

(See also Preclose, which is bringing digital collaboration to the traditionally offline contract-to-close steps of a transaction. It was one of three finalists this year at Realogy’s FWD Innovation Summit. See Preclose's FWD presentation on Inman's recorded, navigable stream of the event).

Bottomline, end-to-end digital transaction platforms that streamline the buying and selling process for everyone involved -- buyers, sellers, agents, lenders -- is coming.

A convergence that will be welcomed by all.

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