Venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and technophiles are often riffing about the new “Uber for X” or the “Netflix for Y.” The latest match: Bumble for…real estate?
Anyone who has looked for an apartment in a major metropolitan area, namely New York City or San Francisco, over the past few years knows a particularly acute feeling of frustration—to the point where you’ll try just about anything (legal) to make finding a decent place to live easier and faster. And a new startup is hoping to alleviate all that by bringing in a process so familiar to many mobile users that “swipe right” and “swipe left” are part of the common parlance.
Helmed by licensed real estate broker Hannah Bomze, Casa Blanca introduces dating app–like swipe technology, combining machine learning with real-life insight from some of New York City’s most experienced real estate agents.
“I’ve been working in the real estate industry since I was 18 years old and can truly say that I’ve seen it all. I’ve experienced the extreme competition, the disproportionate commissions, the agent poaching, and listing stealing firsthand, and I wanted to change it,” says Bomze. “For a process that should be centered around the excitement of buying a home, there was so much negativity surrounding it.”
Citing a Zillow study that 87% of people search for homes online, Bomze is mystified that brokerages are still using outdated websites and technology.
“We saw that space as an opportunity to both propel the industry into the future and restructure the old ways,” she says. “For us, Casa Blanca is more than just a fresh approach to the real estate industry. The name, itself, has a history and sense of familiarity to it. Casa Blanca is the feeling that our clients get when they walk into their new homes for the first time: a blank slate, a new start, somewhere to live their lives and create memories.”
On the visuals side, the app uses a clean aesthetic and an engaging interface to simplify the home search. To use Casa Blanca, prospective buyers and renters download the mobile app and answer a set of questions around their lifestyles—from green space to architecture styles and pet ownership—to find a dream residence, whether it be an apartment, condo, co-op, or townhouse. (But no commercial spaces—at least not yet.) Designed to go beyond square footage and budget, the search engine also factors in familial status, day-to-day lifestyle necessities, and neighborhood must-haves to serve each user with the homes that best fit his or her life.
“From current house hunters to future buyers, the app is tailored to each person’s unique preferences,” Bomze says. “With 91% of homebuying decisions made by women and single women buying homes at twice the rate of single men, we knew that customization would be key when building the app.”
Users are able to do multiple related tasks within the app, from scheduling viewings to chatting with an in-house agent. “We’ve integrated the entire home search into a centralized hub to give homeowners the support and tools they need to find their dream home,” Bomze says.
And Casa Blanca says it cuts out the middleman broker in the traditional homebuying process. “From the start we set out to prove that our commission model would work better than the antiquated industry standards in place, that people would respond to a non-legacy brokerage name, and that our agent culture would succeed,” Bomze notes.
The company launched the app in New York City 18 months ago with 15 agents under the name “Let’s Real Estate” and so far has managed 100% agent retention to date. While in beta, Casa Blanca has made more than $100 million in sales, and is projected to reach $250 million in 2021. Bomze also cites Samuel Ben-Avraham, an early investor in WeWork, apparel retailer Kith, as well as multiple other companies, as a partner and investor in Casa Blanca.
“We aren’t a typical brokerage, so we don’t operate like one,” Bomze says. “Under companies like Compass and Douglas Elliman, agents act as their own CEO—hiring assistants and drawing in leads on their own and ultimately competing with colleagues. We operate as a cohesive team, supporting each other and matching agents with clients based on relationship and expertise. We reinforce this with our fair commission structure—giving up to 1% back to the buyer at closing for them to, in turn, invest more in their new life at home.”
Currently, the app is available for use in New York City alone, but Casa Blanca has plans to expand nationwide eventually.
“Ultimately we want people to be using the app to find their new home,” Bomze says. “The unique search engine we’ve built—tailoring questions to each user and using their answers to sort through every listing in New York City—is designed to streamline the house-hunting process and bring them the listings they want to see faster.”
More must-read lifestyle coverage from Fortune:
- How I Built This host Guy Raz on insights from some of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs
- The best things I bought in September to make working and living at home easier
- Why an Olympic gold medalist and former NFL player cofounded a subscription coffee brand
- A Q&A with the provocative mind behind watchmaker H. Moser
- Book recommendations from Fortune’s 40 Under 40 in media and entertainment