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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Johnny Hanna, CEO and co-founder of Homie, shows solar lights that come with Homie real estate signs at the company's headquarters in Draper on Wednesday, June 7, 2017.

DRAPER — Is it worth it?

That's the essential question Johnny Hanna, Mike Trionfo, Matt Thorne and Mike Peregrina set out to address when they founded Homie, a Utah company that's working to redefine not only what it should cost consumers to buy or sell a home, but how hard (or easy) it should be to navigate what for most people is the largest financial transaction they'll ever encounter.

"The home we live in is the single biggest investment most of us will ever make," said Hanna, who is also Homie's CEO. "Our goal at Homie is to make this as enjoyable and efficient and affordable as possible."

The company, which officially launched in June 2016, has systemized and automated — where practical— the entire process, whether you're a buyer or seller. By signing up, buyers get a guide that breaks the whole process down into steps, an assigned real estate attorney for assistance with contracts and other paperwork, connections to mortgage, title and other service providers, home value reports to help dial-in offers, a tool for creating and submitting offers and a mobile app for managing everything from your phone. And the cost for this is nothing.

If you're a seller, Homie asks for $199 up front, then lists your home (including having the property professionally photographed), sends you a yard sign, gets you data to assist in price-setting, builds online ads, automates the home tour process as well as offer pipeline, assigns you a real estate attorney for negotiations and closing and, after you've closed, asks for $699 to finish the deal, which is refundable if the contract is voided afterward.

Elizabeth Baier and her husband used Homie for both sides of the transaction divide in March, for a home they were buying in Lehi and a home they we're selling in Provo.

"When we bought our house in Provo, we just didn't have that great an experience, and it didn't seem like the way to go for us again," Baier said. "We both look at houses all the time online, because it's of interest to us … and when we found the house in Lehi, it was listed by the owner, which made it easy."

Baier said she and her husband learned about Homie through a billboard they saw near I-15 and decided to give it a shot. She said they were particularly happy to learn that Homie's system allows for a lot of flexibility.

"We didn't want a lot of commotion with our sale, didn't want to put up a yard sign and that was no problem," Baier said. "We also wanted to keep our personal phone numbers and other information private, which was easily accommodated."

Baier said the process was straightforward, and for the things they were the most concerned about, like the contracts and paperwork, their assigned real estate lawyer was there when they needed him.

"That person felt like our personal lawyer," Baier said. "He was really easy to communicate with … and almost all of the stuff we needed him for happened over a weekend and he was available the whole time."

Within three days, Baier and her husband had received multiple offers on their home and, she said, they closed on their new home purchase and previous home sale within days of each other, which is exactly what they were hoping for.

Troy Peterson has been in real estate for 23 years and is the current president of the Salt Lake Board of Realtors. When he frist got into the business, it was a completely pen-and-paper process, with agents working literally from a book of listings. Now, there are many new tools that make access to real estate information much easier for agents and buyers and sellers, but, he said, the work that agents do still remains an important and essential part of the process.

"A good agent is looking out for their client," Peterson said. "Yes, there's a lot of information out there, but there is a lot to interpret and keep track of, and for nonprofessionals, it's easy to get way off track."

Peterson said he had not personally worked with Homie but had heard that "some people had tried to save money with them and it worked out OK, for others it didn't work out very well."

Hanna, for his part, said that Homie's objective has never been to eliminate agents, but to utilize new tools to the advantage of both buyers and sellers.

"We're not anti-agent, we're pro-technology," Hanna said. "There are still agents involved in many of our transactions … but there's already about 50 percent of our buyers coming without agents."

However, Hanna believes the real estate fees associated with buying and selling have not tracked appropriately with the tools and technology that have made the job easier.

"Agents do a lot of work and they're working hard," Hanna said. "But, in this market a $400,000 home that sells in three days … I don't know that anyone is earning that 6 percent, $24,000, in three days.

"I mean, come on."

For Hanna, this is not the first time he's stepped into the real estate realm with the intent of disrupting and remaking what some may consider stale business practices. Back in 2003, while still a student at BYU-Idaho, Hanna joined a couple of friends that were students at BYU. They had come up with a new take on tracking and collecting rent for managers of large apartment complexes. That idea grew into a hugely successful, multiservice business called Property Solutions (later to become Entrata), that Hanna left in 2015, but not before it had started bringing in over $100 million a year in revenues.

Hanna said his latest business endeavor has moved over $207 million in real estate through 1,200 transactions in the past year and saved its customers more than $7.7 million in agent commissions, which works out to about $10,000 in savings per transaction. For now, the company is only doing business in Utah, which has one of the hottest housing markets in the country, and a state that has set home sales volume records in each of the last two years. But Homie is looking to both grow its footprint and offerings, already adding mortgage services to the menu just last month. Again, the model is about streamlining processes and reducing fees.

"The historical mortgage market is one that's really lacked transparency," Hanna said. "Most people don't realize about 4 points (percentage points) of your mortgage is fees … we've cut that in half and will also save customers money on closing costs."

For Baier and her husband, the $8,000 they said they saved on real estate fees was immediately helpful.

"For us, we wanted to make some improvements to our new place, so that money allowed us to increase our budget," Baier said. "It really made a difference."

While Homie was targeted in a series of I-15 billboards a few months ago, Hanna is both unfazed by the ire of his competition and happy to be blowing up the old model in a way that puts money in the pockets of customers like the Baiers. And, he enjoys doing it all under a company moniker that's sure to stick.

"I don't know if anyone can tell the difference between an agent from Century 21, Remax or Berkshire Hathaway," Hanna said. "These brands are so old and boring, I feel like we could have kept charging 6 percent and just brought new technology to bear on the process and we could have crushed it.

"But, what we are really doing is disrupting the industry in a way that creates a direct and measurable benefit for every customer … and they'll remember that it was Homie that made it happen."