These Local Apps Want to Change the Way We Buy Homes

The home-buying process has been the same for ages. Could technology developed right here in Massachusetts shake up an impossible market?

home tech

Photo via Getty Images/ Jarmo Piironen

The way we travel, socialize, and even date has all been changed by apps over the past few decades. But one of the biggest industries of all remains in the past: real estate. For all the ways tech has infiltrated our lives, it hasn’t helped reinvent the home-buying wheel. As bidding wars continue to lead to buyer heartbreak locally, though, some Massachusetts innovators are trying to find ways to make the process easier.

Tim Quirk and his partners cofounded FinalOffer in Hingham after talking to the real estate community and finding people were missing out on homes because they didn’t know what the seller wanted in an offer.  In April, they soft-launched their app, which allows sellers and their agents to list a home on the platform with offer terms (including price and contingencies). An offer window is set, and then buyers are invited to make offers that the seller can accept, reject, or counter through the app. All offers made are visible, and once the seller selects one, the terms of it are displayed on the listing.

FinalOffer not only allows sellers to set their desired terms, so buyers know exactly what they expect when putting together a proposal, but also provides a degree of clarity for anyone wondering why they didn’t get a house after putting in a great offer. “We’re in a day and age where people…want more certainty in transactions, and this is most likely the largest transaction people will ever make,” he says. “There’s a real opportunity to bring more transparency to the industry that’d ideally solve a lot of challenges we run into when buying and selling a house.”

Over in Burlington, meanwhile, Chris Mackey and Dan Liliedahl are working to fight the state’s low home inventory with their new app, BlueBid Homes. Launched last month, it’s designed to help buyers find off-market homes by matching them with owners who claim their property on the app and indicate they’d be open to selling for the right price. Mackey says he hopes the app will ease the housing-supply issues the state faces, which has had “a huge impact on buyers. By giving homeowners the opportunity to start thinking about selling…it’s going to result in more inventory across the country, not just Massachusetts.”

But can these apps, which connect buyer and seller, really improve the house-hunting process, especially in a white-hot market like Greater Boston’s? Even these starry-eyed startups admit: They alone are not the solution to the problem. “We still believe having an agent is important,” says Saad Munir, a Realtor himself and the director of sales with Torii, a Massachusetts-founded app that uses AI to help users search for a home. “I don’t think anything is going to replace that. This complements that in a way.”

Real estate agents, for their part, tend to agree. This isn’t surprising—no one is going to say their job can be replaced by a machine. But they do make some good points. While technology gets information into buyers’ hands more easily, that data doesn’t always paint a full picture. Like you hire an accountant versed in tax law, a real estate agent can offer more personalized intel that apps cannot, including what towns you should look in or what changes could be made to a potential home that could make it worth an offer. “One thing Realtors do…is walk a seller through a house and help them curate what the house will look like, help them curate their furniture,” says BJ Ray, a licensed broker with the Boston Home Team. “That’ll make a big difference. Someone’s perception of a home is meaningful. Is an app going to walk someone through a home and say, ‘Hey, let’s rearrange this room?’”

So, for desperate house hunters wondering if they can hack the system to get the home of their dreams, the answer is unfortunately no. There isn’t an app out there that can magically make housing stock appear or ease the woes of the market. But, there are ones out there that, along with a good Realtor, can make the process less stressful. “There’s going to be things that work really well and then there’s going to be things that won’t catch on,” says Nicole Rideout, chief strategy officer with Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty. “I do think there’s a need for more efficiency, and I think that’s what apps provide.”