Door — Another Stab at Shrinking the Real Estate Commission

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I have to say, I think I am going to really like Alex Doubet, chief executive officer of the real estate company Door. First of all, soft spot for Ivy Leaguers, and Doubet went to Harvard. Secondly, he said this to the Dallas Morning News:

“When you see all the nicely printed collateral from the brokers around town, the pictures and the big-hair poses, that’s all nice, but it doesn’t do anything to sell your house,” Doubet says. “It’s somewhat akin to saying, ‘I’m going to sell your house by running an ad during the Super Bowl.’ You want to get in front of people who are actually going to buy your house, not just spray and pray everywhere.”

Spray and pray! Those big-hair ads are branding ads, but I have said for years the best things agents can do is get the HOUSE out in front of buyers, not their big hair and designer clothes. Those glossy ads are expensive — fun, an ego trip, especially when someone does your make-up or you arrive at the photo shoot in a limo with champagne bucket– but what does it really do to sell the home?

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Doubet is trying to be a disruptor, build a better mouse trap in real estate. So are about 5,000 people in Silicon Valley. We have written here about Open Door, the company that buys your home outright — they are hugely funded and crawling all over DFW media with radio buys. I need to do a follow-up interview to see how they are doing.

The concept of a reduced commission brokerage (or no commission) is NOT new — Redfin actually started out the same way: David Eraker, the original founder of Redfin, really put real estate search online for consumers. Eraker was a Seattle-based geek (who had dropped out of med school) who was frustrated he could not find a condo on line and thought the irrationality of broker commissions that remained fixed … regardless of housing supplies or competition among agents well, sucked. So in 2002, working with a Yalie partner who had a degree in electrical engineering,  the dynamic duo went live with a site that displayed homes for sale on a digital map in Seattle.

Redfin’s initial philosophy was a bit different from the Redfin of today. Redfin hoped to eliminate the agent or minimize his/her role in the home purchase, much like the Expedia model. That is not the Redfin model of today.

And what do you think Zillow, started by the founders of Expedia.com, wanted to achieve?

At first they thought they could hold online auctions for homes as a way to disrupt the status quo. Rich Barton, who founded (and sold) Expedia, soon saw that real estate agents were not anything like travel agents:

 “It was obvious to us, regardless of how relatively frustrated consumers were with the whole process, how important the agent relationship was to customers. No robots were going to eliminate the agent,” Barton says.

Every business brain on the planet is trying to figure out how to push agents to the side and shrink those huge commission checks so they can cash in on the savings. At the IPO price, Zillow’s market capitalization was about $540 million when it went public in July 2011.

Compare Door to Uber? I think buying the most expensive investment of your life is a little different from a taxi ride.

But so far, in 2016, agents are still here to kick around. Let’s ask Champions School of Real Estate how many new schools they are opening this year.

A couple things about this story, which was a terrific profile by veteran journalist Cheryl Hall:

Six months ago, Doubet launched Door LLC, a full-service brokerage that charges a flat $5,000 commission for either side of a home sale, compared with the 6 percent typically charged by Realtors to sell a house.

Doubet’s idea came to him after his mother sold her two-story converted duplex in University Park for $857,000 in the conventional commission way. She didn’t get so much as a thank-you note, much less a bottle of wine, from the two Realtors who pocketed a combined $51,400.

There are other folks out there doing flat commission sales. But, like Hall writes, it’s still only 3% of the market. And it’s common knowledge in real estate that you can ask an agent to reduce their commission. If 5.26% is the national average commission, as Hall found, there are vast differences in markets. Commissions tend to be higher in places like California where entire neighborhoods now consist of million dollar plus homes.

I don’t know Mrs. Doubet’s former address, so we could check the quality of her photos in the listing. Good agents spend a whole lot of time prepping homes for sale — detail cleaning, decluttering, and staging. Then they hire a professional photographer (or they SHOULD, and we are all over this, really being bitchy about it, we want to raise the bar) for magazine-quality photos. MAGAZINE QUALITY. Then they pay for ads for the listing (direct mail and print :(more on that, later), hold countless open houses with things like $500 worth of NorthPark gold because you can no longer just do Sam’s wine and cheese, you have to entice other agents in so they can spread the word. You’ve got to rise above the noise. I know a gal in Fort Worth who is having Pat Green over to promo a house next week. It’s become a production — one of these days we may even have Jan Strimple-orchestrated fashion shows. Wouldn’t surprise me. Rolls Royces, Lamborginis, even a lowly Porsche — that’s how you bring ’em in. That is exactly why we are doing CandysDirt.com Staff Meetings — we create pre, during and post buzz and create an excitement about the house.

So I would ask this young buck, Alex, what do you do to promote the house for your flat fee? Are you covering the marketing expenses? Because there is nothing wrong with a flat fee — let’s just compare apples to apples.

The ads: agents tell me direct mail still works. I don’t see it, but maybe I’m too digitalized. My mail gets opened over the recycle bin and I don’t open anything I don’t recognize or want. My bills are almost all received and paid on line.

Print ads: I think you know where I stand on these.

Social media: BINGO!

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Cheryl reached out to Jim Fite of Century 21 Judge Fite, who must be on The Dallas Morning News speed dial:

Jim Fite, president and CEO of Century 21 Judge Fite Co., says his agents earn every penny of their commissions.

“A strong, knowledgeable and experienced Realtor can save or earn their clients many thousands of dollars,” says Fite. “Real estate is not like buying a commodity like a car or groceries. Each property is unique and may require different skills than the property around the corner.”

See, I don’t think some people are buying that anymore. Like Alex’s friends Brandon and Kate Marks, Door’s first millennial buyers.

The Markses were disappointed because they had a lazy agent — hate to spill the beans, but there are a LOT of lazy agents.

“She was just trying to sell us any home instead of trying to help us find value,” says Brandon, who does business development for Hodges Capital in Uptown.

So Alex said “‘Dude, why don’t you use us?’ We’ll provide the exact same experience at $5,000. And you’ll save a ton of money.’”

Dude, Bingo! This is where I definitely see disruption coming down the pike: in the home finding process. Did Alex negotiate the price down in a heated market?

The couple was able to make the deal work because the seller came down from the asking price, thanks to the reduced buyer’s commission, Marks says.

That’s called throwing in some of the commission.

But what Fite said, the usual pablum, isn’t really why you need a Realtor. You need a Realtor for their vast connections. Their golden rolodexes. You can find the inventory on Realtor.com. You need an agent to know of a listing before it becomes a listing, especially in this inventory-starved market. Their knowledge of neighborhoods, if you are moving into the city. You need them to help you choose which home will hold appreciation. You need someone calm and collected to negotiate the del.

Can buyers do this themselves? Absolutely, and the wealth managers/hedge fun financial guys/gals are smart and know the game. But often they are too busy paying attention to clients’ money, so they want a Realtor who will pay attention to their’s.

…At a Seattle technology conference, an audience member asked Spencer Rascoff, Zillow’s CEO, if sales commissions were ever going to decline. “There are other startups that are trying to break down those agent commissions, and I think most of them will fail,” he said. Rascoff said later in an interview that “consumers don’t really care about commissions. They say they care, and they talk a big game in the off-season. But when push comes to shove and it comes time to sell their home, the transaction is so infrequent and so highly emotional and expensive—and consumers are so prone to error—that they turn to a professional.”

Finally, no commissions for Door agents? Meet Junior Desinor. Alex is taking a flat salary of $60,000 and his agents will earn $50,000, which “the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says is the going rate for an established residential agent.” 

The NAR says it’s more like $40,990 median. Many make less than $30,000 annually

And I hope Alex majored in math: How can you pay yourself $60K, your employees $50K, and just charge $5000 per transaction? No office, no desk fees, no ads: I get it.

All criticism aside, I love this guy and am dying to meet him and track his success. Change is coming, dear readers, and it might as well come from Dallas.

Forget Uber: Alex Doubet may be the next Spencer Rascoff, a fellow Harvard grad!

 

4 Comment

  • In many statistical events like this, the Pareto Principal rules: 80% of the business is created by 20% of the
    participants.

    I have no clue as to the actual breakdown in the DFW residential RE trade, but the 80/20 rule is incredibly
    pervasive.

    There are a limited number of participants who have a clue as how to consistently deliver customer satisfaction.

  • You are the best! I read every word you write! And I believe in branding. Interesting times indeed!

  • Thank you, Neal.

  • Well put. I too read every word and printed it out.