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30 Innovative Brands of the Year 2021

An Interview with Drew Uher, HomeLight Founder and CEO: Bringing Greater Transparency, Speed, and Certainty to the Real Estate Transaction Process

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“We’re creating a world where the end-to-end real estate experience is simple, certain, and satisfying for everyone.”

Today, we’re excited to sit down with Drew Uher, Founder and CEO of HomeLight, a real estate technology company that’s changing how people buy and sell their homes.

Few industries in our world are immune to disruption and innovation. Real estate, however, is one niche that’s historically been resistant to change. The last decade of innovation in real estate has primarily focused on how people search for and find home listings, but very little has been done to actually help people buy the home of their dreams — that is, until now.

HomeLight powers the best real estate agents in the United States, building tools and technology to help their clients wherever they are in the real estate transaction process, whether that’s finding a top agent, securing a competitive mortgage, or ensuring an on-time, easy close.

HomeLight was founded in 2012 and is headquartered in San Francisco, CA, with offices in Seattle, WA, Scottsdale, AZ, and New York.

Drew Uher, HomeLight’s Founder and CEO, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Q. Explain your services in brief.

I founded HomeLight to change how people buy and sell their homes. We build technology and financial tools that put more power in agents’ and consumers’ hands every step along the real estate journey, whether they’re at the very beginning of the process looking for the best real estate agent for their needs, all the way through closing and escrow.

Owning a home is a meaningful milestone. For many of us, our homes are a symbol of stability — of family, success, and belonging. This has become even more apparent in 2020, a year that has made many people rethink just how important our homes are to us and our families, and even how they serve us in our everyday lives.

At the same time, buying or selling a home is one of the single largest transactions many of us will make in our lifetimes. Anyone who’s gone through the process of buying or selling a home knows that it can be incredibly stressful, complex, and uncertain. I experienced this firsthand when my wife and I were buying our first home together. We hit roadblocks every step of the way, from finding the right agent for our needs, to eventually almost losing the home of our dreams when the lender failed to file certain paperwork on time.

I knew there had to be a better way – and that technology could help improve not only the clients’ experience, but also help supercharge the agent’s entire business, as well. That’s where the idea for HomeLight was born.

I’m proud of how far we’ve come: HomeLight works with hundreds of thousands of clients per year, facilitating billions of dollars of real estate on our platform.

Q. How has COVID-19 impacted your business?

For our team, our greatest challenge this year — and greatest accomplishment — was our ability to stay resilient and innovative in the face of great uncertainty. Together, we were able to weather the storm of the pandemic, keep growing, and continue to help top agents’ businesses grow faster than ever before, especially in the wake of COVID-19’s impact on the real estate market.

In January, we launched three new products for HomeLight, including HomeLight Elite, Cash Offer, and Trade-In — all of which redefine how top real estate agents and their clients buy and sell homes. Since their launch, they’ve taken off extraordinarily well. But most importantly, they’ve proven to be absolutely instrumental during COVID-19.

The pandemic has shrunk our worlds to the four walls around us, forcing many of us to take stock of our homes and understand how they are — or aren’t — serving us. People have scrambled to buy or sell in particularly competitive markets, or because COVID-19 has sped up their timelines, whether that’s because of new jobs, moving out of urban areas, taking care of family members, or otherwise.

One of our main focuses this year was staying deeply connected with our top agents and clients, even as the world distanced all around us. As COVID-19’s impact on the world and our industry unfolded, we knew we needed to find even more ways to help clients buy and sell safely during the pandemic.

As a result, the entire HomeLight team rallied to launch the HomeLight Move Safe program, which identifies the tools, technology, and best practices agents are using to help keep clients safe during COVID-19. A few weeks after launch, we’d already certified over 10,000 top real estate agents nationwide. Now, HomeLight Move Safe is the most extensive COVID safety certification of its kind in the industry.

During COVID-19, we’ve seen vacant homes sell faster, for more money, and far more safely than occupied homes. Take one of our customers, Nancy — a retiree in the San Francisco Bay Area who was hoping to move closer to her family right when the pandemic hit.

When the perfect house hit the market three doors down from her daughter’s family outside of Sacramento, Nancy made an offer — only to lose out to an all-cash buyer.

Nancy’s contingent offer was simply too risky for the sellers, even after the original all-cash offer fell through. At the same time, it wasn’t safe for Nancy to host open houses and sell her home the traditional way. It also wasn’t financially feasible for her to vacate her home without a bridge loan.

Enter HomeLight Trade-In, which helped Nancy receive an above-asking offer for her home after only two days on the market. Nancy was able to purchase her dream home down the block from her family with an all-cash offer. She’s now happily helping to watch her grandchildren as the entire family works and learns from home.

We’re incredibly proud of our progress in spite of the pandemic, but above all, we’re honored to play a role in stories like these — and help agents and their clients safely buy and sell homes during this turbulent year. It wouldn’t have been possible without the smart, scrappy, and passionate work from the entire HomeLight team.

Q. Documentation processes are complex in a real estate purchase for buyers to understand. How do you make the operations more feasible and transparent?

You’re totally right. As I mentioned, my wife and I went through this ourselves: we almost lost the home of our dreams because someone dropped the ball as we were filing paperwork. And we’re not alone — over 5 million people who buy a home in any given year have gone through the same experience.

That’s why we’re so passionate about making real estate simple, certain, and satisfying for everyone. It’s personal for us. It’s personal to those of us on the HomeLight team who’ve experienced letdowns in their own journey to homeownership. It’s personal to the 75% of non-homeowners who see homeownership as part of the American Dream and a bedrock of stability for them, their families, and their future.

There’s opportunity to improve this process at every turn, but the truth is there’s no silver bullet. That’s why HomeLight is building a suite of tools and technology to better meet a real estate consumer’s every need, from getting a mortgage, to hiring an agent, to the final closing stages, all under one roof.

Together, we’re pioneering the transaction experience of the future — one that looks very different from what many people have gone through in the past.

Q. How do you help the buyers identify the right property for them?

For many of us, forging a connection with a trusted real estate agent is the first step we take in the journey of buying a home. At HomeLight, we firmly believe that connection is integral to the entire process. Agents provide that human touch — that fundamental understanding of exactly what buyers are looking for in a home, how they feel viscerally when they step through the front door. We never want to replace that.

For us, success requires understanding the individual’s personal situation, wants, and needs. We use artificial intelligence and machine learning to gather this type of information from the client and then match them with the top agent partner based on their needs and the agent’s experience and speciality. Our approach is the best of both worlds: it keeps top agents firmly in the center of the transaction process as a trusted partner, while empowering them with innovative technology to deliver the best possible experience to their clients.

Q. What are the various technologies leveraged by you in your lead generation efforts?

Much of the technology that we’re the most excited by is actually what happens after a client and agent connect. Take HomeLight Trade-In, for example: we’ve built an entirely new loan origination system designed for homebuyers looking to unlock the liquidity of their current home, with a fully integrated platform that reimagines how they access and apply for banking and loans.

HomeLight Trade-In delivers a closing process free of banking errors or paperwork that typically delays transactions, while unlocking the liquidity for clients to put an offer on the home of their dreams. On average, Trade-In homes sell for 5% above asking price, close 8.5 times faster, and deliver 4% higher profits than the traditional method of listing the home on the market.

Take one of our customers, the Tilford family, who were looking to make a cross-country move during the pandemic — along with their five kids, five dogs, five cats, and a few horses. Obviously, it was quite the undertaking.

Since steadily rising prices throughout the Sacramento area made it difficult for the Tilfords to realize their dream of farm living locally, they agreed to look further afield, ultimately choosing Tennessee. But they were overwhelmed about where to go from there. How would they sell their existing house — mid-remodel and filled with pets and children — while also trying to buy property over 2,000 miles away?

With our Trade-In technology and guidance from their real estate agent, Kelli Griggs — a top agent powered by HomeLight — we were able to take the Tilfords’ home off of their hands, freeing them up to move across the country and make a contingency-free offer on their dream farm.

Once the Tilfords were settled in Tennessee, our team and the Griggs team went to work on preparing their house in California for listing on the market. The family had started remodeling efforts before they left, which paid off. The first day on the market yielded four offers, including the one that was ultimately accepted. What’s more, the sales price was $50,000 higher than expected, which meant the Tilfords enjoyed a nice profit to start their new life in the country.

All told, the process took just over 30 days from start to finish, thanks to Kelli’s expertise and the family’s cross-country move. Today, the Tilfords and their beloved pets are happily stretching their legs across 15 acres of land, and they happily call HomeLight the “easy button” of real estate.

That’s our ultimate goal, and it’s the technology we’re most excited about today. For us, there’s absolutely nothing better than delivering that type of experience to families like the Tilfords all across the country.

Q. How do potential buyers and sellers of properties approach you?

There are two ways buyers and sellers can work with us. Many people come to HomeLight to find the top agents in their area, especially those in competitive markets like the San Francisco Bay Area. We use machine learning and artificial intelligence every day to introduce clients to the best agent who’s right for them and we introduce a client to a top agent every 90 seconds on average.

What we believe is the most interesting method, though, is working with one of HomeLight’s top agents located across the United States.

There are unique benefits that come from working with an agent whose business is powered by HomeLight. They’re part of our deep referral network, can use a variety of our unique tools and technologies to help power the transaction process, and have exclusive access to our financing tools like HomeLight Trade-In and HomeLight Cash Offer. Many of these agents are advertising on their own websites that their business is powered by HomeLight, showcasing the variety of benefits their clients will enjoy as a result of our partnership.

Q. Trust is a complicated dynamic to maintain. And transparency is what people look for in the real estate business. How do you manage this with your customers?

You’re right. We think about trust as being consistent over time, but we also think it’s imperative to have a layer of transparency, as well. We’ve found that consistently delivering results for clients and the nation’s best real estate agents — and doing so in a way that’s fair and unbiased — has earned us the trust of not only our clients, but also our real estate agent partners. That’s simply not something a lot of other real estate technology companies can say. It’s a point of pride for us as a team and company. In our eyes, when you’re helping people with one of the single largest transactions they may make in a lifetime, trust and transparency are simply non-negotiable.

As we look towards the future, trust and transparency will continue to be at the forefront of our minds and drive how we build products like HomeLight Listing Management to fundamentally change how people buy and sell real estate.

Q. Do you have any new services ready to be launched?

Our vision is a world where buying or selling a home is simple, certain, and satisfying for everyone, and we believe our technology can make that vision a reality for people everywhere. This has been a banner year for HomeLight. We’ve already launched four products that go a long way toward driving that innovation around buying and selling homes for the entire industry.

In many ways, though, we feel like we’re just getting started. We’re excited to continue to build the products and tools to help top agents deliver on that vision for their clients.

Q. What are your trajectories for the next five years?

The next ten years in real estate will redefine how we buy and sell our homes — and HomeLight will be

at the forefront of that reinvention. We’ll be focused on building the best tools and technology to drive better outcomes for both top agents and their clients every step of the way.

The Leader at the Helm of HomeLight

Drew Uher, Founder, serves as the CEO of HomeLight. He has been named one of the 100 Most Influential Leaders in Real Estate by Inman News and was recognized as a Tech Trendsetter in 2019 by HousingWire. Under his leadership, HomeLight has been recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in North America by Deloitte two years in a row and a best place to work by both Inc. Magazine and the San Francisco Business Times. Drew has been the key driver for raising capital to fuel HomeLight’s rapid growth, securing over $120 million in funding for the company since its inception.

 Before founding HomeLight, Drew co-founded Gameyola, a distribution and monetization platform for casual Flash games. He is a Venture Partner at 1984 Ventures, focusing on seed and early-stage startups. Drew holds a Master of Business Administration from Stanford Business School and a Bachelor Degree in Management Information Systems from Texas A&M University.

“Our goal is to transform how real estate is transacted and ultimately make the process simpler, more certain, and satisfying for people everywhere.”