Movoto Real Estate Chief Executive Officer Imtiyaz Haque addresses his employees and guests earlier this month at an open house for the business. Photo by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
Movoto Real Estate didn’t start as a brick-and-mortar business but rather as an online portal, linking homebuyers and sellers with real estate agents in the Bay Area, and later across the country.
But last year, operators of the San Mateo-based e-business took the unusual action of going the more traditional route of real estate brokerages — opening its first and only brick-and-mortar office in Fresno and hiring its own agents to help customers buy and sell homes in the Fresno and Clovis areas.
That experiment was a resounding success, said CEO Imtiyaz Haque.
And that success has sparked further change at Movoto, which by the end of the year plans to build upon its experiment by opening offices in six more California cities, though Haque wouldn’t disclose where they’ll be located.
“Fresno was an experiment, and that gave us the proof point that this was going to work,” he added. “Our goal is to take what we are learning from Fresno and accelerate the growing of our business in California.”
After that, the company — which contracts with real estate brokerages in all 50 states to do home selling and buying — could start opening its own offices in other states, Haque said.
It’s a flip on how the business started in 2004 — initially under the name “iGen Homes” — when founder and original CEO Henry Shaw launched the website.
Shaw, of Redwood City, had been a product manager and entrepreneur who “dabbled in real estate,” buying and selling properties for himself and a brokering real estate deals for friends, Haque said.
“For most people, it was so difficult to find details about a home,” so Shaw developed a website where people could look up information on homes, and the site additionally offered a way to connect with a real estate agent, he said.
“Instead of building his own brokerage, he could partner with other brokerages — the good agents in other brokerages — and share the leads,” while also receiving a portion of the commissions on each sale, Haque said.
Initially, he worked with brokers in the Bay Area and expanded across California and then in other states, which is how Movoto — a play on “move to” — mostly operates today.
By the time Shaw sold the business to Japan’s Recruit Holding Co. in 2013, it had contracted with brokers in 30 states, and it has since expanded to all 50, Haque said.
As for the venture into a traditional real estate office in Fresno, that stemmed from the lack of control working with “partner agents” and concerns about customer service, he said.
“So we started a brokerage model so we could have more control over the quality of service and the process used and the tools used, so we could provide a better experience to customers,” Haque said, adding that Fresno was selected in part because of the high number of buyer and seller leads generated here through the Movoto website.
In addition, he noted, “Fresno is in the heartland of California, so there are a lot of smaller towns where we can grow our business — where we can locate offices.”
Movoto ended up buying a couple of real estate brokerages here and used their staffs to create its own office last year with 10 agents and an area manager.
A little more than a half year later, the Fresno office has 38 agents and three support workers.
“Now we are in the position that many agents want to join,” Haque said. “We got kind of the A team.”