Katie Finnegan has felt the pain of moving. Acutely.
The new chief executive of Realogy’s iBuyer program has moved three times in the past three years, selling and buying homes in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. And although she said “rock-star agents” handled the sales, she described the experience as “stressful.”
The iBuyer she now helms, she promises, will offer something different.
“What if the biggest transaction of your life was actually enjoyable and easy — and you felt like someone had your back the whole time?” she says on her website. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to create for our customers and agents.”
Realogy on Tuesday announced Finnegan as the first chief executive of its iBuyer program, RealSure, a joint venture between the brokerage giant and Home Partners of America. The role is her first in the real estate industry.
Finnegan comes to RealSure from Rite Aid, where she was chief customer and eCommerce officer for less than two years. Prior to that, she had a brief stint as a senior adviser for Boston Consulting Group.
But Finnegan is probably best known as a founder of Hukkster, the shopping startup that allowed users to track when products went on sale.
Hukkster raised $4.5 million over its two-year life and generated a lot of buzz in part because the Winklevoss twins backed it. But the startup ended up in Chapter 7 bankruptcy after the twins blocked Jet.com’s offer to buy the company, which was nearly out of cash, for $1.5 million. (The Winklevosses wanted more of the sales proceeds than creditors were prepared to give, BuzzFeed reported.) Jet ultimately scooped up the company’s assets in 2014 for a mere $65,000.
After Jet’s purchase, Finnegan joined the firm, overseeing M&A and strategic investments and reporting to founder Marc Lore. On her LinkedIn page, Finnegan says she raised over $800 million in equity in her first year. When Walmart acquired Jet.com in 2016 for $3.3 billion, Finnegan was named one of the 20 executives in the deal’s list of employees critical to the business’ operation.
She led Walmart’s eCommerce incubator, Store No. 8, until leaving in 2019.
Realogy tapped Finnegan to spearhead the development and marketing of RealSure services to consumers and to make online home purchases easy without destroying the role of agents.
“RealSure is much more than a one-and-done transaction, and we value the relationships agents provide that are the center of the home buying and selling experience,” Finnegan said in a statement. She did not consent to an interview.
Beyond her lack of real estate experience, Finnegan faces a bigger obstacle: competition.
Zillow, Opendoor, Offerpad and others have poured cash into iBuying, and even brokerages, notably Compass, are racing to develop technology that makes homebuying with agents faster and more enjoyable.
There is also no guarantee that any will succeed; the business is still finding its feet. Many iBuyers halted operations in the initial months of the pandemic, and Zillow recently said it would stop accepting new business, citing capacity issues.
In Finnegan’s statement, the real estate rookie said she will lean on RealSure’s board, investors and Realogy’s leadership for specialized real estate expertise, and expressed excitement at jumping into a new field.
“I wanted to find an industry where my empathy for the customer journey can add value, at scale,” she said. “What better industry than real estate? Not only is it a huge market, but it is also one of the largest financial transactions of a family’s life.”
Realogy and Home Partners of America founded RealSure in 2019 and last quarter, the brokerage giant’s chief executive singled it out as a promising source of new growth. RealSure was operating in 21 markets by the end of June, up from 13 in the first quarter.