In the last decade, swiping right and left on potential matches has dominated the American dating market. So why can’t this work for buying a home?
That’s what James Rogers asked when he co-founded Torii in 2017.
The Boston-based startup banks on the familiar dating-app interface to try to simplify the house-buying process for millennials. After filling out a preference form, Torii users connect with a specialist who walks them through the app before handing them off to a team member who checks in, sends listings, and sets them up with a lender for pre-approval. Once they’re ready to buy, an agent is assigned.
The company, with operations in Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, employs half a dozen full-time real estate agents and raised $3.2 million in funding in May. Torii said the number of homes purchased through the app so far is in the “hundreds,” though it did not disclose precise numbers. (It did say it has been involved in home sales totaling $200 million.)
According to the National Association of Realtors, millennials made up more than a third of homebuyers in the year that ended July 2020, many of whom were first-time owners. About two-thirds of that group have regrets about their purchase, a recent survey from Bankrate suggests. That’s the market Torii is “laser-focused” on, said Zach Gorman, the company’s co-founder and chief operating officer.
When Rogers started Torii, he had recently experienced a stressful home-buying process with his wife. The broker disappeared before the showing, his closing got delayed, on move-in day the electricity was shot, and the broker got his full commission for doing nothing, he said.
“I literally was lying on the floor... in front of a fireplace and I was like, ‘This could be better — I can make this better,’” said Rogers.
Compared to map-based sites like Zillow where users see the same homes again and again, on Torii, when a user swipes left, the listing disappears forever, said Rogers. The platform is slated to launch a feature next week that reorders which room pops up first based on what clients care about most.
Torii covers a portion of the client’s closing costs, which typically amount to a small percentage of the purchase price. For Dan Forward, who bought a home last year with his wife in Jamaica Plain, that meant the full $6,294 on his $677,500 home.
Forward also used other platforms, but said his Torii broker “really hustled for the house.” For the 34-year-old, who missed the dating app craze because he met his wife in college, the swiping was “quite fun.”
“It’s a very human, very present company,” he said. “And the app doesn’t mean you’re getting any less of that real personal touch.”
Torii is far from the only platform looking to streamline how younger generations approach home buying. Past competitors include Doorsteps Swipe through Realtor.com, which a spokesperson confirmed is no longer supported by the company. A more recent contender is Casa Blanca, which has a similar swiping interface to help users rent and buy real estate in New York and Denver.
But Casa Blanca isn’t defined by its swiping feature, said CEO and co-founder Hannah Bomze. The company covers up to one percent on closing costs, has 38 agents, and topped $100 million in home sales since its launch. It also focuses on data privacy and retaining user information, the “number one problem” in the industry, said Bomze.
Not all realtors are convinced swiping through homes is a perfect match.
Paul Yorkis, who sits on the board of directors at the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and operates Patriot Real Estate in Medway, said the industry is constantly innovating, but that doesn’t always equate to progress. A swiping platform may appeal to some clients while complicating it for others, he said.
“When an innovation comes about, it ought to be looked at, but it doesn’t have to be embraced,” said Yorkis, who admits to having an “old school” approach. “It doesn’t mean they don’t have a bright future.”
In the long term, the Torii team hopes to include other aspects of homeownership, such as originating loans, doing home inspections, and offering home maintenance, said Gorman.
“What we’re going after is really large, but we’ve got to start somewhere,” he said.