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VOL. 11 | NO. 15 | Saturday, April 14, 2018

HelloHome Shifts Business Model To Take Firm ‘Back to Our Roots’

By TONI LEPESKA

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HelloHome. That’s the new name of a 3-year-old real estate technology platform that founder Jessica Buffington is tweaking to improve customer experience.

HelloHome founder Jessica Buffington, left, passes documents to broker Ashley Pickens in the firm’s headquarters in the ServiceMaster Innovation Center. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)

Buffington, now 30, began her career in real estate at the absolute worst time. The housing market had tanked. A recession was in full swing. Her niche became Memphis bank-owned and foreclosure properties. During the following five years, she sold millions of dollars in real estate. She became a board member of the Memphis Area Association of Realtors’ Multi-Million Dollar Club and the Women’s Council of Realtors.

And she learned something valuable that launched her next venture.

That venture, Front Door, was HelloHome’s previous name. Buffington had learned during the recession that clients disliked traditional commission fees, but returned with more business because of the reduced fees Buffington charged in order to work bank properties.

Her idea: Use an online platform to connect sellers with agents, who’d work for a flat $2,500 fee.

Melanie Blakeney, CEO of the Memphis Area Association of Realtors, said MAAR doesn’t distinguish between the business models members use; however, she referenced the National Association of Realtors. In its official publication, technology was called a “disruptor in the real estate industry,” and articles stressed the importance of its use by Realtors.

Buffington’s website, www.hellohome.co (that’s right, .co, not .com), walks sellers through creating an account. An agent contacts the seller and lists the property on the Multiple Listing Service and top real estate sites. Updates on the showings, including feedback and offers, are displayed on the dashboard of the seller’s account.

Buffington launched the startup in 2015. Partnering with agents and brokers across the country, her business scaled to 17 states and 88 cities. Success, though, spun “out of control,” she said.

“We were bringing in so many listings, the agents had their own listings … and they couldn’t take care of ours at the same time,” she said.

Buffington decided the change the name to HelloHome and adjust the business model. To go “back to our roots. We wanted agents that represented our brand.”

HelloHome, which Buffington says is the only female-founded real estate tech company in the country, hired its first in-house agents in March. New agent orientations will be held the first Thursday of each month. The number of in-house agents will triple to 30 this month.

Buffington also hired Ashley Pickens as the first principal broker. A real estate agent going on 12 years, she oversees the brokerage and HelloHome agents.

“I just love real estate,” said Pickens, 34, a graduate of Wooddale High School. “I’m a mom. I love helping families find houses for their babies … especially people who didn’t think they could buy a house. First-generation homeowners – that’s what’s kept me here.”

HelloHome’s flat fee was raised to $3,500. While other real estate service providers offer flat fees, Buffington said, they don’t offer streamlined access to other service providers. Her price includes one-time lawn care work, professional photographs of the home and access to a network of providers, such as closing attorneys, lenders, termite inspectors and home warranty inspectors.

With clients whose average sale price sits at about $350,000, HelloHome saves sellers an average of $8,200.

Julie Dial found HelloHome via an internet search. Though she and her husband had moved a lot of times because of a military job, and though they had a lot of sales experience under their belt, the couple wanted something more than just a listing site. They thought their four-bedroom home in Germantown would be an easy sell. The location was ideal, and it was a seller’s market.

“She did photographs,” Dial said of Buffington. “She did everything. She advised us on the price.”

Buffington’s services became vital as the Dials received multiple offers for their home. She helped the Dials manage showings and weigh options. They asked for $289,000. They got $305,000, and saved thousands of dollars in commission costs due to the flat-fee pricing model.

“It was well worth it,” Dial said.

Buffington’s next move is to launch a mobile phone version of the platform so customers can do all the legwork while they are on the go.

"We'll arrange a buyer to come to the property, and you're not lifting a finger. We keep you updated every step of the way via mobile app."

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 56 437 16,061
MORTGAGES 76 508 18,556
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 8 56 2,461
BUILDING PERMITS 241 876 33,390
BANKRUPTCIES 64 301 10,314
BUSINESS LICENSES 15 125 5,303
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 17 125 6,273
MARRIAGE LICENSES 19 98 3,511