Uber for House Hunting and Other Start-ups Changing the Philly Real Estate Game

Tech is turning buyers into the agents themselves.

real estate apps

Real estate apps and start-ups are changing the Philly real estate game. Illustration by Hannah Agosta.

When real estate investors Steve D’Agostino and Josh Evans lost out on a South Jersey property because they couldn’t get an agent to show up quickly enough, they were disappointed. But also inspired: The budding entrepreneurs teamed with broker Jonathan Katz and a software developer last year to launch Jove, an app that’s basically Uber for house hunters.

The idea behind Jove is simple but revolutionary: A buyer can request to see a property immediately; the technology finds the nearest agent (any agent) to let the prospective buyer in. (It took us less than five minutes to find an available real estate agent to show us a mansion on Washington Square.)

The ASAP-appeal to buyers is clear, but why would an agent drop everything for someone who isn’t a client? The answer represents the crux of a major industry shift that’s afoot: Since more buyers are using websites like Zillow and Trulia to do the legwork themselves, the role of the buyer’s agent is changing dramatically — in fact, buyers often don’t have them anymore. And Jove is betting on that — so the agent who can open that door first might score a new client and a three percent commission.

Houwzer, a local brokerage company founded by Philadelphian Mike Maher, is also flipping the agent script for those in the market, but by doing away with the seller’s agent’s commission. When sellers list with Houwzer, they’re charged a flat $2,500 fee. With that, clients get a full-service agent who earns a salary instead of commissions, so the seller keeps that commission money. Plus, in theory, sellers have a partner who will get them the best deal, not just a quick close. (When a deal on Houwzer goes through, the seller actually gets the $2,500 fee back; Houwzer agents hope sellers will use them to find a new home.)

Port Richmond-based broker Todd Hovanec — owner of Direct Buyer Assist brokerage — is trying something similar: The clients do all of the work (showings, negotiations), and DBA agents only step in for the paperwork, giving buyers half the buyer’s agent’s commission back as a rebate for their efforts.

So if buying or selling a house now feels different than it did just five years ago, that’s why: Tech has turned buyers into agents themselves.

Published as “The Revolution Starts Here” in the February 2019 issue of Philadelphia magazine.