“There’s a huge opportunity in the local discovery space. But it’s a complex problem that technology can’t solve by itself. In order to truly connect with the world around us, we need to make sense of both the online and offline components of local discovery.” That was Ori Allon, co-founder and chairman of Urban Compass, the new apartment-finding startup that merges real estate expertise with technology. Flanked by his partner, Robert Reffkin, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Allon unveiled the beta version of Urban Compass to a rapt crowd last week.
It’s no easy task, attempting to assuage the apartment-finding process for New Yorkers, but Allon, who many consider a tech luminary—he sold his first company to Google (Orion) and his second to Twitter (Julpan)—and Reffkin, a former Goldman Sachs insider, may have figured it out.
By combining their prowess, in tech and in finance, the two noticed a huge opportunity in the local discovery space. Allon and Reffkin believed that on-the-ground knowledge could provide some of the most meaningful local insight. Thus Urban Compass was born.
“A lot of businesses have moved online, but many industries still haven’t fully leveraged technology to create a transparent, efficient and seamless process for their customers,” Reffkin told me. “Right now, we’re focusing on helping people find a home in New York City. But we believe that finding a new home is more than just moving into a new space—it’s about becoming a part of a neighborhood, joining a community of people and local businesses. Your home is at the center of your connections to your neighborhood.”
Reffkin, who serves as CEO, refers to the Urban Compass model as an “end-to-end solution,” one that takes a user “from search to securing a home.” On Urban Compass, eager apartment seekers can search listings, schedule viewings and apply for a home—all online.
“We’re constantly updating the information on our site to ensure what you see online is what you see in person,” he said.
Urban Compass is also staffed with real estate experts, what the company refers to as “Neighborhood Specialists.” New York brokers are notorious for requiring astronomical fees, so Urban Compass decided to cut the typical broker fee in half to 7.5 percent for deals that don’t involve another broker, and 12.5 percent for those that do. It’s an untested model, but one Allon and Reffkin believe will work.
Although still in beta, the company has launched neighborhood guides for Chelsea, the East Village, Murray Hill, SoHo, the Financial District, and the West Village, among others, with plans to expand to the city's many divergent enclaves—Harlem, Dumbo, Chinatown, Inwood, Williamsburg, and beyond.
As for what’s next? “From there, we’re building the Urban Compass Network to help people engage with their local community once they move in,” Allon told me. “We envision rentals being the jumping off point, the first step, for other neighborhood-focused services. We’ve designed the system with large scale in mind.”