Fivewalls, a website service that matches experienced real estate salespeople with clients, has launched in the Greater Toronto Area and plans to expand across Canada.
The site uses an algorithm to match buyers or sellers with agents in a given neighbourhood. Clients are provided with such information as the agents’ number of transactions, years of experience, a brief bio and video by the agent, client reviews and non-identifying photos of properties they’ve sold.
Participating agents must have five years of experience or come highly recommended by their broker of record and have several positive reviews from clients, says Paul Hayman, founder of Fivewalls realty brokerage.
The site provides consumers with “one place where you can see all of (agents’) skill sets,” Hayman says, “Nobody’s offering that full package at no cost to the consumer.”
Hayman formed Fivewalls in partnership with Lee Piccoli, founder and chief executive of Guelph-based Fusion Homes.
Fivewalls is free for consumers. There is no charge for agents to register but the service takes 25 per cent of the agent’s commission after a sale, which Hayman says is the standard referral rate.
Aside from providing lead generation, Fivewalls provides agents with modern digital profiles at no cost, Hayman says. (The company can shoot a video at a discounted cost of about $250, including editing.) “In a significant way, we’re replacing many of the marketing pieces (agents) would do to get their name and picture out.”
Fivewalls had a beta launch last year in Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Guelph and London before launching in the GTA.
Hayman admits the service has some similarities to the early days of Zoocasa, the Rogers-owned brokerage that launched in 2009 and was sold by Rogers in 2015.
About 300 sales reps are now part of Fivewalls, including 150 in the GTA. Hayman would like to see another 100 sales reps in the Toronto area by the end of the year. About 90 per cent of agents come from broker referrals, he says.
Sales reps from major brokerages including Re/Max, Royal LePage and Sutton Group have joined the company.
Hayman says Fivewalls was launched after conducting research that found average homeowners buy 4.4 homes in their lifetimes. That infrequency of home buying and selling means the average consumer’s knowledge base of the process is relatively limited.
In addition, he cites U.S. research from Zillow last year that 30 per cent of millennials and Gen Xers select their agent online.
To help build the Fivewalls concept, Hayman put together a board of advisors comprised of real estate agents and brokers.
Fivewalls verifies data about sales reps’ experience and their reviews from previous clients. Staffers meet with every sales rep before they create a profile.
Meeting individually with each agent is “a slow and expensive process, but we think it’s really important,” Hayman says. Among other things, “We have to verify years of experience, transactions, ensure they have a legitimate license, no criminal record, an updated photo (and) go through (Fivewalls’) code of conduct. That boarding process itself weeds out a number of agents.”
Hayman says the fifth wall of a house is trust, which explains the Fivewalls name. “That’s why we invest so much in verifying that agent and verifying those reviews and getting the right data to provide for the right needs of the consumer,” he says. “The most important thing is that the homeowner has an agent they can trust.”
London, Ont.-based Hayman began his career in 1985 with TFC (The Franchise Company), a subsidiary of publicly traded FirstService Corp. He held a variety of positions there for 26 years, including president of TFC Contractor Networks, CEO of Pillar to Post and president of CertaPro Painters Canada.
Hayman was also the founder and CEO of TenantAccess, a U.S. property management company. He later chaired a U.S. think-tank called the Single Family Residential Rental Think Tank that studied the effect of foreclosures on single family homes on residential communities after the 2008 housing crash. He was also entrepreneur-in-residence at Western University’s Ivey Business School.
Fivewalls’ requirement that participating agents have five or more years of experience or come via broker referral “means the person is committed to their career,” Hayman says. “A lot of agents drop out in the first two years.”
Fivewalls keeps track of participating agents’ performance and can warn or remove agents who are underperforming. For example, “If an agent doesn’t get back to a customer within 24 or 48 hours we’re going to let them know that’s not very good customer service, especially in today’s (market).”
Hayman says Fivewalls is “still working our way to break even,” something he foresees in a few years.
The concept could be used for other professions that have a certain amount of regulation and education requirements.
Hayman would like to expand Fivewalls across Canada but has no timeline. “Once we have been able to do a fantastic job in the GTA, then we will spread our wings.
“We want to make a difference in Canada and we want to lay down a good footprint. But we’ll do that at the right pace.”