Housing market inventory is low right now. Historically low. According to the National Association of Realtors’ existing home sales report in August, inventory was down 13.4% compared to a year prior. Low inventory means fewer choices for homebuyers, but for years enterprising real estate agents have worked around tight market conditions by searching for off-market homes that fit their clients’ specifications. DropOffer, a new home searching platform that launched Friday, aims to streamline this process.
The new platform is the brainchild of co-founders Greg Burns and Kimani Clark. Burns is a luxury real estate agent in Maui, Hawaii and Clark is a patent and intellectual property attorney in the Washington D.C. area.
Their goal, as Burns and Clark put it, is to “turn the off-market on” through their app, which aggregates data from public records about houses across the country, making information on lot size, square footage and number of bedrooms and bathrooms readily available to real estate licensees. Agents and brokers can then search the database for houses that fit their client’s specifications. Once they find some suitable options, they can then send the houses to their clients to look over. If the client likes the home and agrees with the offer price suggested by their agent, they can then click the “DropOffer button” and send an offer to the home’s owner to review and consider.
“I realized that there’s always a limited supply of homes and I realized when I was an agent, that one way to stay relevant with my clients was to increase that inventory supply and provide them things that they didn’t necessarily know of,” said Burns. “As an agent I would go through extensive efforts to increase the inventory for my clients. The amount of time it took was really arduous and I just knew that like there had to be a better way. There’s a lot of data and technology that is already out there, and I knew that if I could consolidate this data then we would have something that an agent can really use to create that inventory for their clients.”
By consolidating the data into one place, a task that Burns said used to take hours, if not days, now takes a matter of minutes.
“My current process starts by narrowing down the area — typically it’s a neighborhood,” Becca Summers a Provo, Utah-based Keller Williams agent said. “We then send postcards and letters just letting the homeowners in that neighborhood know that we have a buyer interested in their specific area. It can be a fairly drawn out process”
Summers also uses Remine, an online platform that allows agents to search through detailed property data on all of the U.S. housing stock, to help sift through all of the potential homes in her client’s target neighborhood.
Historically, investors looking for distressed properties to flip and celebrities looking to keep a low profile when relocating, have been known for hunting for off-market properties. Summers typically ends up searching for off-market properties when clients have very specific needs in a certain neighborhood, however this spring, when the housing market in Provo took off, she worked with many clients to pursue off market options in order to stay out of fierce bidding wars.
While Clark acknowledges that these are the typical circumstances for searching for off-market properties, he stresses that DropOffer is for any buyer and any property under any circumstances.
“You can send an offer to any off-market property,” Clark said. “So even if you just like it, it doesn’t have to be a distressed property or a luxury home, you can make an offer.”
Once a homebuyer submits an offer for an off-market home via DropOffer, a personalized postcard with a photo of the home and a QR code link to the offer details will be mailed to the homeowner. If this tactic doesn’t work, the postcard will be followed up by a similarly personalized email and a targeted online advertisement.
“Every single house has a number where the owner would actually move,” Burns said. “We like to say that the answer is always no unless you ask.”
Agents who have had success helping their clients purchase off market properties, like Summers, have achieved their greatest triumphs by infusing these offers with a personal touch.
“The best response I get is when I’m physically there, but I’ve actually helped clients purchase and close on transactions through postcards and letters,” Summers said. “A lot of people see it as spam mail, but you only need one house, so if you mail 50 people there’s still a chance. I have also had a lot of success with handwritten letters. Our mailboxes really have turned into a junk mail folder of sorts, so anything you can do to help your mail stand out makes a huge difference.”
While the lack of personal touch was somewhat of a concern for Burns and Clark, they were more interested in the opportunity to use DropOffer to make the purchase of off-market homes more equitable.
“You have to be very careful with these days with these ‘love letters,’” Burns said. “Oregon has actually made them illegal. It’s a very serious thing when it comes to fair housing laws. If you start presenting letters that are, maybe revealing too much about a potential buyer, then you aren’t allowing the numbers do the talking.”
“At the end of the day, it’s the dollars that really count to the seller,” Clark added. “With the Oregon law, the issue is that even if well-intentioned, the ‘love letter’ process opens up the possibility of discrimination.”
For many homeowners, getting a postcard or a targeted web add while scrolling through social media with a photo of their home on it, could feel a little unnerving. Maybe even creepy.
“Creepy is a buzzword and I love to hear it because what it really means is we’re pushing envelope and we’re being innovative,” Burns said. “You have to remember that what was creepy once before is commonplace now — like getting into a stranger’s car at midnight, now we call that Uber.”
While the tactics Summers has utilized are not always as direct as those used by DropOffer, she has yet to come across a homeowner who is angry or finds it strange that someone wants to buy their specific home.
However, if a homeowner does feel annoyed by the number of offers coming in on their home, they can always have their home removed from the DropOffer database. Burns and Clark currently feel that their platform it better suited to the mid-to-upper-end of the market, but they believe DropOffer will be beneficial to agents, homeowners and homebuyers regardless of their budget or property condition.
So far, the startup has raised nearly $700,000 from a variety of undisclosed “seasoned real estate and technology investors” and they are currently considering investors for their $3 million “pre-seed” fundraising round. At the moment, DropOffer collects revenue by charging agents and brokers a monthly subscription fee for access to the app.
“In time as we roll out more services and we are properly licensed we will collect a referral fee from our agents when deals are successfully completed,” they said.
For Clark and Burns, the launch of DropOffer is just the beginning for what they hope to create.
“To further legitimize offers made through the app, our intention is to partner with one of the top lenders out there and have a pre-qualification API built into our app,” Burns said. “We’re definitely not that sign at the end of the off-ramp that says, ‘We buy ugly houses.’ We’re not an iBuyer, we have actual homebuyers making offers on your property.”