iBuyer competition debunked, and inside the digital closing revolution

Plus, Adam Neumann’s Hulu debut

National /
Mar.March 22, 2021 08:30 AM

Not all iBuyers are created equal

Zillow co-founder Spencer Rascoff made his thoughts on iBuying clear last week, when his SPAC struck a $3 billion deal to take Offerpad public. Yes, Offerpad will compete with Zillow, the company Rascoff left in 2019. Yes, it will also compete with Opendoor, the iBuying market leader that went public in a SPAC deal last year.

As the three jockey for market share, here are some key differences.

Opendoor: Serial entrepreneur Eric Wu’s startup was the first iBuyer on the scene in 2014, nabbing $1.5 billion from investors, including SoftBank. In addition to buying homes itself, Opendoor recently formed an in-house brokerage and rolled out a cash-backed offer program to help buyers purchase a home. It generated $2.6 billion in revenue in 2020, but lost $98 million on an EBITDA basis.
Competitive advantage: First mover and market leader
Key challenge: Driving profits through ancillary services

Offerpad: Real estate investor Brian Bair started Offerpad in 2015 with two products: Express gives homeowners an immediate offer for their house, while Flex lists the house for them on the open market (with Offerpad’s offer as a back-up). In 2020, it generated $1.1 billion in revenue with $5 million in EBITDA losses.
Competitive advantage: Focus on renovation means higher price appreciation
Key challenge: Gaining market share

Zillow: Co-founder Rich Barton returned as CEO in 2019 as Zillow pivoted to iBuying. The company has since added home tours, mortgage and title in order to become a “one-click nirvana” for buyers. Zillow’s iBuying business generated $1.7 billion in revenue in 2020, with $241.9 million in EBITDA losses.
Competitive advantage: Consumer eyeballs and history of pricing properties (Zestimate)
Key challenge: Scale and profitability

“When you tell a 30-something male he’s Jesus Christ, he’s inclined to believe you.”

— From Hulu’s trailer for its WeWork documentary 

The digital closing revolution is here

Will closings ever be in person again? It sure doesn’t feel like it.

Blend, a digital lending software startup, said this week it’s acquiring Title365 from the Mr. Cooper Group for $422 million. Blend’s president, Tim Mayopoulos, a former CEO of Fannie Mae, said the deal will help Blend scale its operation.

Based in San Francisco, Blend closed a $75 million round in August 2020, valuing the company at $1.7 billion. The round was led by Canapi Ventures with participation from Temasek, General Atlantic, 8VC, Greylock and Emergence.

Although JetClosing is not exactly a competitor, the digital closing startup raised $11 million last week and said it tapped former Amazon exec Anna Collins as CEO to take the company to the next stage. Collins takes over from Daniel Greenshields, who is leaving to pursue other opportunities.

Based in Seattle, JetClosing was spun out of Pioneer Square Labs in 2016. Its platform can handle digital closings, refinancings and title and escrow — with demand for those services surging during the pandemic. JetClosing is licensed in seven states, which it says represents a $5 billion revenue opportunity.

And ICYMI … Doma, the digital title startup formerly known as States Title, is going public in a $3 billion SPAC deal that will allow it to diversify its digital offerings. CEO Max Simkoff said the San Francisco startup plans to pursue home appraisals, warranties and other adjacent businesses.

What happened to location, location, location?

Earlier this month, a digital collage sold for $69 million. So it’s hardly surprising that NFTs (non-fungible tokens, a.k.a. cryptocurrencies) are coming to real estate.

Per Bloomberg, Republic Real Estate is launching a fund for investors looking to purchase virtual land. The idea is to develop virtual hotels and stores — which theoretically will increase the property value. The minimum investment is $25,000.

“Buying land today in virtual worlds may end up feeling a lot like buying land in Manhattan in the 1750s,” said Janine Yorio, head of Republic. “There is massive growth ahead, and now is the time to get in on the ground floor.”



Google’s planned investment in offices and data centers this year

A new SPAC skipper

Billionaire real estate investor and yacht enthusiast Andrew Farkas is sailing into the SPAC race.

Farkas, the founder of merchant bank Island Capital, is raising $250 million for ICG Hypersonic Acquisition Corp., a proptech-focused blank-check firm.

To set ICG apart in the crowded field, Farkas recruited big names in real estate and tech to the board, including Related Companies’ Jeff Blau, William P. Powder of the Estée Lauder Companies, Andreessen Horowitz’s Peter Levine, Seritage Growth Properties’ Andrea Olshan, and developer and investor Henry Silverman of Athos Capital Partners.

More than 40 real estate-focused SPACs are currently in the market. So far, a handful of startups have gone public via the SPAC route, including Opendoor, an iBuyer, and View, a smart-glass maker.

Who’s grave dancing now?

Knotel’s sale to Newmark is nearly complete — after a bankruptcy court judge approved the sale of the troubled flex office startup. There were no other qualified bids, reported Business Insider.

Knotel, which once had 200 locations, was valued at $1.3 billion in August 2019. It filed for bankruptcy in January, after losing $400 million in two years. Meanwhile, it’s faced mounting lawsuits and unpaid bills.

It’s unclear how deep Newmark will cut, but Knotel filed a notice last month that it may lay off 106 people.

When co-working is on the menu

In 2018, Maisha Burt was hitting up coffee shops to escape the monotony of working from home. One day, as she grabbed lunch at a near-empty restaurant, she had a eureka moment: Why not turn underused spaces in hotels and restaurants into co-working spaces?

She founded WorkChew, which just closed a $2.5 million seed round led by Harlem Capital with participation from angel investors Kathryn Petralia, co-founder of fintech startup Kabbage, and Chris Maguire, co-founder of Etsy.

“This model is capital light. You’re not signing leases. So you can go anywhere,” Jarrid Tingle, a managing partner at Harlem Capital, told Crunchbase News. WorkChew currently operates in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Chicago. It aims to be in 20 markets by the end of the year.

Small bytes

? Toronto’s Greensoil Proptech Ventures — backer of Procore and Dealpath — has launched a $100M fund.
? Casavo, a Milan-based iBuyer, raised €200M, including €150M in debt from Goldman Sachs.
? Refin expanded its iBuying program to the Washington, D.C., area.
? John Rice, a former exec at Walt Disney and the NBA, joined Opendoor’s board.
? Zibo, a platform for landlord financial services, raised an undisclosed amount from Camber Creek, bringing its total investment to $15M.
? Google will hire 3,000 people this year as part of a $250M expansion in NYC.
? Lone Wolf Technologies, a software company for real estate agents, launched a digital title insurance product.
? 75F, a building management system that focuses on energy efficiency, closed a $23M Series A.

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