Feature: Get ready for the Uber of real estate in Richmond

However, local realtors warn of the dangers of going it alone, auction-style

When Marilouise Muller went real estate hunting a few years ago, the experience was an effort in frustration.

Multiple offers. Homes sold long before the first open house. Subject-free purchase deals.

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For most Richmond home buyers, this will sound familiar. It’s just par for the course when shopping for a home in this region’s red-hot real estate market.

 “I put offers on three places that finally sold for way over asking, no subjects,” she said. “I kept losing… even though I was taking the advice of my (real estate) agent.”

But Muller got more than miffed. She was inspired.

A process improvement consultant by trade (the City of Richmond is a client of her company Propel Solutions) with a keen interest in all things real estate, Muller started thinking there has to be a better way to buy and sell homes. She analyzed her experience and came to the conclusion that, had she been armed with additional information, she would have likely had a more successful outcome.

“There were several properties where if I had been told what the other offers on the table were, I could have offered more,” Muller said.

She believes the closed-door deal making involved with offers to purchase is part of what’s wrong with traditional real estate transactions.

“Buyers and sellers are not even present when offers are put on the table,” Muller noted.

And then there’s the issue of selective information.

“Ninety per cent of prospective home buyers begin their search online. But current online platforms for real estate are spending a lot of money and effort keeping information such as sold histories, that rightfully belongs to property owners, a secret.”

So Muller created Suuty.com — a new online service that allows home buyers and sellers to shop in a for-sale-by-owner marketplace.

Suuty provides homeowners with a platform to list their own properties, streamline home showings and receive multiple offers from potential buyers in an auction-style format.

It works like this: You want to sell your home. You take your own photos, gather your property information, decide on the price and then list it for bidding. The property goes “live” for the duration of the bidding process, which you determine by factors such as the local market conditions, or your time frame (do you need to sell quickly or are you in no rush?).

Home buyers, meanwhile, will be able to message homeowners directly, search properties using their custom criteria, sign up for a viewing, have access to offers being made on properties, submit a bid and sign the legal documents required for a seller to accept their offer. (Transactions need to be finalized with a mortgage provider and notary).

Muller said she wants to give more power to the consumer through transparency and technology, making the comparison to Airbnb and Uber.

In fact, Suuty.com markets itself as part of the Internet revolution, proclaiming “Suuty is Real Estate 2.0.”

An online video asks: “It’s 2017. We can order a ride without a taxi and book a room without a hotel. Isn’t it time we were able to buy and sell a home straight from the source?”

One of the key components of Suuty, Muller said, is the elimination of the middleman, aka realtors — and their commissions.

Licensed realtors in B.C. typically charge seven per cent on the first $100,000 of a home sale and between 2.5 and 3.5 per cent on the balance. The commission is paid by the seller and is normally split between the seller’s and buyer’s agent.

Suuty.com “closes a deal just like a realtor with no outside help,” the website states, also suggesting the $16,000 you would save in commissions on a $400,000 home could buy “a pretty nice watch” instead.


The value of professionalism

Not everyone is keen on the concept.

Jill Oudil, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV), said you can’t underestimate the value of a licensed, professional realtor.

“I can’t stress enough that in most cases, (real estate) is the biggest purchase of your life,” Oudil said.

She pointed out that realtors are trained to price properly, have errors and omissions insurance, and adhere to a code of ethics.

If something goes wrong with a property sale or purchase in an online marketplace, there is no process, no recourse, no one to go to for assistance, Oudil said, summing up: It’s really buyer and seller beware.

She also said that realtors know their communities in-depth and have access to information — zoning, building codes, neighbouring property histories — that people scrolling through websites wouldn’t have.

As far as Muller is concerned, that simply proves her point that buyers and sellers need better access to all property information. Suuty won’t feature past sold prices in time for its initial launch on Aug. 1, but will provide other features, including the homes’ average price per square foot.

The issue is a contentious one in Ontario, where Canada’s largest real estate board is embroiled in an ongoing battle with the Ottawa Competition Bureau over online access to housing market data, such as past selling prices for properties, and realtor commissions.

Realtors can and do disclose this information to their clients, but the Toronto Real Estate Board is arguing that sharing such data online raises privacy concerns.

Oudil said in her 25 years working as a realtor, the sharing of sold information publicly just hasn’t been done in B.C., but added realtors readily share the information with those interested in a particular property.

Keith Liedtke, a 12-year real estate veteran with Richmond’s Re/Max Westcoast, said if he were selling his home, he’d use a realtor.

“Realtors are licensed, educated, trained professionals who know their communities… They love their communities,” Liedtke said. “There’s pride of profession there.”

He also pointed out that now more than ever, real estate is a worldwide market.

“If you’re listing on websites like Zillow or Craigslist, you’re not on MLS (Multiple Listing Service),” Liedtke said, meaning you’re not going global.


Information-gathering tool

 Muller acknowledges that Suuty isn’t for everyone, emphasizing it’s meant to be another information-gathering tool for consumers.

Suuty junior marketer and Richmond resident Serene Chen said the service is currently completely free to users. The site has no advertising and includes articles for users such as “How to Value Your Home” and “How Can I Prequalify for a Mortgage?”

Suuty may introduce revenue streams in the future, Chen said, such as charging a fee for feature listings, or moving a particular property to the top of the page.

“But for now it’s ‘proof of concept’ to show people it can work,” Chen said.

Muller wants to eventually make the site even more personal.

After all, in the age of online interaction, genuine human contact is what finally landed her the property she now calls home.

“I wrote a personal letter to the seller,” she said, “and that sealed the deal.”

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