Not every valley start-up has to be a pure tech play. We visited with the folks at iGenHome last week, an interesting hybrid company in downtown Palo Alto that wants to merge the online and offline real estate worlds.
The online part is a very robust real estate site that launched today with tons of homebuying information gleaned from many sources. Home listings, from the industry-standard MLS, are coupled with restaurant, coffee house, grocery store, library and school listings, so users can quickly get a sense of nearby amenities. Google maps lay out the geography.
Advanced searching lets you burrow in deeper, limiting search results to nearby restaurants or particular neighborhoods. A statistics tab lets you look at housing trend data over the past several years – average sales price in an area, the inventory level or how many days, on average, homes were on the market. The alpha version we saw was very slick and well put-together.
“We’re taking a stodgy old business and throwing IT at it,” said Francesa Freedman, VP of business development for iGen (the company name comes from “Internet generation”).
The premise is that agents are often not very adept at getting homebuyers all the info they need to make a good buying decision. And the current online house-hunting options are pretty messy, not very comprehensive and light on info.
“The real estate people know homes, and the tech people know tech, but there’s been no meeting of the minds,” said CEO Henry Shao.
Once a homebuyer has consumed all this info – over weeks or many months, perhaps – they can ask to be hooked up with an iGenHome agent. Yes, they have a brick-and-mortar real estate office that will close deals just like any other office. They’ll take of advantage of the Net to enhance the process – documents will be accessible online, for example. But the process will otherwise be the same as it would at any other office.
“The idea is this – the iGen web site gives house-hunters copius amounts of information,” Shao says. “When the buyer is ready to make a move, they contact an iGen broker.”
There’s nothing to stop an iGenHome web site user from using another firm when they’re ready to make a move. But the iGen team is hoping the site will act as a strong lead generator – that people will become attached to the brand and the service and stick with it through the whole process.
“On the front-end, it eliminates all the messiness of finding a home, all these things that you would be dependent on an agent to do,” Shao said. “We believe, based on the quality of service, that they will continue with us through the business cycle.”
For now, the company will focus on the Santa Clara and San Mateo counties market. The brick-and-mortar aspect, and the fact that a lot of the data is labor-intensive to get, means that scaling up in size will take time.
The management team has quite a few start-ups under its belt. Shao, formerly of FormFactor and Applied Materials, founded MediSpark (merged into iScribe) and Cranite Systems. VP of Marketing Mark Brandemuehl helped take FormFactor through its IPO. And Freedman was CEO of Sand Hill Economterics and Runway Systems. Co-founder Dan Lorimer has had his broker’s license since 1982.
The company has a small staff in China, including half a dozen engineers and people who help with the data collection.
The company is self-funded for now.