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The Citizen Updates: The Real Estate Disruptor

Mike Maher’s Houwzer takes on D.C. and practices philanthropy before profitability

Mike Maher’s Houwzer takes on D.C. and practices philanthropy before profitability

Have you ever watched someone at 30th Street Station pass up a taxi cab for an Uber? In truth, why wouldn’t they? Uber is cheaper, often times quicker and frankly, much more enjoyable than riding in a taxi cab––it reinvented the transportation game. Well, think of Houwzer, the Philadelphia-based start-up brokerage, as the Uber of real estate.

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Since 2015, Mike Maher, the CEO and co-founder of Houwzer, has been reinventing the real estate game with the hopes that customers will one day pass up on traditional real estate brokerages, just as that person at 30th Street waved on the dated and expensive taxi cab.

“In order to be a disruptor, you have to do three things,” Maher says. “You have to be cheaper; you have to be faster; and you have to be better.” Houwzer is each of these, but the way it does it is far more complicated than the average consumer might think:

It starts with salaried, full-time employees who specialize in working with either buyers or sellers of homes, replacing the 3 percent seller commision fee with a $995 flat rate to cover the listing; this cuts the out-of-pocket cost for customers in half (cheaper). Maher has found that, because of this innovation, Houwzer’s listings actually sell for more over faster periods of time (faster). And with a net promoter score––a measurement of a firm’s customer loyalty––of 93, Houwzer has gained the favor of thousands of clients (most real estate brokerages have net promoter scores in the 70s). Not to mention that the company emphasizes social enterprise as the only real estate brokerage B Corporation in the nation (better).

“Social service has been in our DNA since this company was just a PowerPoint,” Maher said. “We knew that real estate was such a pervasive asset, that we wanted to leverage our employee-driven model in ways that traditional brokerages couldn’t.”

The Citizen wrote about this secret formula last October, and nothing about its core values have changed since then. But Maher has built from this foundation, digging further into the real estate industry and turning it on its side, so much so that one might wonder how we got by with such an archaic model before.

Last month, Houwzer opened in its second market, in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Since October, it has also launched a branch company within Houwzer called Houwzer Title. Maher said that traditional real estate brokerages have suffered over the last 30 years as their profit margins continue to shrink. Agents within brokerages have begun to build their own brand, demanding more from brokerages. Meanwhile, brokerages have become loss-leaders for ancillary services, such as property management, mortgage, and title insurance.

Houwzer will integrate all those ancillary services in-house, thus creating an “end-to-end” focus on real estate transaction. Houwzer Title is the first step toward launching the company’s own ancillary services, with mortgage and insurance services soon to come.

And in May, Houwzer is launching a program to pay those in the DC metro market who want to sell their home $1,000 for their listing through the month of May, and waiving the $995 fee. “The way we look at it, your listing is incredibly valuable to your agent,” Maher says. “And we are willing to put our money where our mouth is––we will pay for your listing.”

The listing gets Houwzer’s foot in the door, so to speak. The hope is that the homeowner may even use Houwzer Title to handle a few ancillary services. Heck, Houwzer is even offering to waive its $995 fee if a customer sells a home using Houwzer. The company has grown so quickly in Philadelphia through word of mouth and good service at half the cost, and this is how Maher plans to establish his company in its new market.

Most companies would have stopped there, but Maher has taken Houwzer one step further: Last year, the company gave away $8,000 to charity while its employees logged over 1,300 volunteer hours––numbers that Maher hopes to double, even triple this year.

“Social service has been in our DNA since this company was just a PowerPoint,” Maher said. “We knew that real estate was such a pervasive asset, that we wanted to leverage our employee-driven model in ways that traditional brokerages couldn’t.” To Maher, this meant ensuring that Houwzer employees were active in their communities by requiring that each employee log 50 hours of community service each year.

Unlike other socially-minded enterprises in Philly—like Brian Linton’s United By Blue, which cleans waterways, or Saxbys, which supports students—Maher hasn’t quite decided what cause he wants to champion. That’s another goal for this year.

“Real estate touches so many aspects of the socio economic paradigm,” Maher says. “We have obligation to be socially responsible.”

Clarification: An earlier version of the story did not state that Houwzer’s $1,000 home listing promotion is only for the DC area launch. 

Header: Mike Maher via Facebook

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