game changer

Tech company uses machine learning to buy homes in Houston

This Houston company has the key to a more exact searching process when it comes to finding a new home to buy. Courtesy photo

For most consumers, the home buying process includes a very specific online search. People specify their neighborhood requirements, the number of bedrooms or bathrooms, backyard size, and more — yet still, the search results in a staggering amount of homes. It's way more than anyone can reasonably look at.

That's where Martin Kay and Entera Technology, the company he founded and is CEO of, come in. Kay, a 20-year veteran of the tech sector, who's bought multiple homes as rental properties, realized the way to solve the problem of that kind of search engine overload was through machine learning. He now works with some of the largest home-buying companies in the world, helping them find properties that match the specifications they have to attract the clients they want.

"All residential real estate is a consumer product," he says. "Ultimately, the people who are going to live in that home care most about, is it a nice home with a big backyard neat good schools, is it safe? The [home buying] companies are trying to figure out what do the end consumers really care about so we can give them exactly what they need?"

To do so, Entera collects data — lots and lots of it. Kay and his team have taught their software programs what a chef's kitchen is, for example. They did so by compiling tens of thousands of photos of kitchens and telling the software, "This is a kitchen." Then, they taught it to recognize what makes a chef's kitchen — a larger size, more than one sink, high-end appliances. They used the same techniques in identifying things like millennial-friendly neighborhoods or neighborhoods that were up-and-coming on the real estate scene. They draw from listings available with the Houston Association of Realtors and beyond, a vast array of tens of thousands of homes.

Officially launched in 2017, Entera blends its data collection and analysis with on-the-ground service. After Entera's proprietary software collects what it thinks home-buying companies want, members of Entera's service team go out to look at the homes.

"We're a little bit like Netflix," he says. "They go out and get content from everyone, and they begin to watch your behavior. So, Netflix has 2,000 profiles and you probably fit five or six of those. We have almost 100 profiles and what we do is say, we're going to understand what you want, watch your behavior and instead of giving you 40,000 properties on a big map, we actually match you based on your preferences, to the five or six houses that are best for you."

While Entera has been working with larger home-buying companies — like firms that buy tens of thousands of homes every year — Kay says they have begun working with smaller entities, and he figures within the next few years, Entera will be using the same data collection and machine learning to work with individual home buyers.

Based in Houston, Entera has operations in New York and San Francisco as well. The company has 17 full-time employees, along with approximately 100 contractors in its markets. And while Kay understand a human touch is needed in business, he loves that he can use a data model to present unbiased opinions to his clients.

"[Real estate] actually affects people's lives meaningfully," Kay says. "Real estate data — where you live, what your neighborhood is, how you make that choice — …this data matters to people in a way they can tangibly touch and understand and feel. We can help people make what are big, complex choices that are often highly ambiguous. I love it because it matters. You can measure how it matters immediately."

Data-driven tech

Courtesy of Entera

Entera focuses on collecting data and analysis and pairs it with on-the-ground service. After Entera's proprietary software collects what it thinks home-buying companies want, members of Entera's service team go out to look at the homes.

A new service from Zillow helps Houston sellers get cash fast. Photo courtesy of HAR

Local car owners looking to rid themselves of their ride know the no-hassle ease that CarMax and TrueAuto offer. But what about those looking to quickly unload their home? Fortunately, a new service has made it easier for homeowners to score some fast funds from their domiciles.

Houstonians can now use a new program from real estate marketplace Zillow to sell their home. With Zillow Offers, local sellers can request a free, no-obligation cash offer. Once the seller accepts, they can pick a close date that works best for them.

The idea is to give consumers more control and certainty in the home-selling process and allows sellers the opportunity to sell their house on their own timeline, according to a statement. Zillow notes that timing the sale of a home with the purchase of a new one is a top concern for sellers and that 61 percent of sellers are buying a new home at the same time, which adds significant stress and financial complexity to the process.

Houston is the first Texas market and the seventh market nationwide where Zillow directly buys homes, prepares them for showings, and quickly lists them for resale.

Zillow Offers is currently available in Phoenix; Las Vegas; Atlanta; Denver; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Raleigh, North Carolina. Zillow Offers has also announced plans to launch in Dallas; Miami; Minneapolis; Orlando, Florida; Portland, Oregon; Nashville, Tennessee; Riverside, California by fall 2019.

"Texas is home to some of the largest and most vibrant housing markets in the country, and we're thrilled to bring Zillow Offers to Houston today," says Zillow brand president, Jeremy Wacksman, in a statement. "In just nine months, Zillow Offers has already helped thousands of homeowners sell their home in a simple and stress-free way."

While direct-sell in theory, local real estate agents are still very much part of the Zillow Offers process. The service works with local agents and brokers on every transaction and pays commission to agents when it buys and sells each home, according a Zillow release.

"What we've overwhelmingly heard from these consumers is that they love the control we give them over the entire process," Wacksman says. "Starting today, Houston-area homeowners are able to use this innovative, consumer-first service for one of the largest financial transactions of their lives."

The program also gives local brokerages and premier agents the opportunity to acquire new listings by connecting them with motivated sellers who have taken a direct action to sell their home, according to Zillow. These motivated sellers who request a Zillow Offer, but opt instead sell their house traditionally with an agent or do not receive a Zillow Offer, will still be connected with a local brokerage or agent.

In a city where certain neighborhoods are moving a blistering pace, this new program could be an easy sell for savvy homeowners.

More and more real estate companies are using technology for the homebuying and selling process. Houston-based Entera uses machine learning, for instance, in the process, and Offerpad, an ibuyer, recently announced its expansion to Houston.

-------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.