Unreserve [noun]: frankness; openness; a lack of reservation.
Founder and CEO Ryan O’Connor has taken that concept and turned it into a reality for real estate by launching the first-ever transparent online auction site in Canada. Real estate by auction, it’s an incredible concept and it’s one of 2021’s fastest-growing startups, all based in the Nation’s Capital.
The model – an online platform that hosts fully transparent auctions for homes in real-time. All buyers need to do is register on Unreserved.com (mortgage pre-approval required), and they can bid on homes from any computer or mobile device. The platform is a first of its kind in the real estate market and hopes to counter the largely problematic blind bidding system that has left many buyers frustrated and fatigued.
It’s the brainchild of tech entrepreneur Ryan O’Connor. O’Connor has been able to force change in other industries starting with Eblock, an online automotive auction site that allows car dealers across Canada and the United States to buy and sell used car inventory. In 2020, Eblock was named Fastest Growing Automotive Company by The Globe and Mail.
“I know first-hand how defeating the home buying and selling process can be”, recalls Ryan. “I’ve got an amazing team rallied around this idea. We are bringing transparency, excitement, and a level of trust back to the real estate market. This is a process that can’t be circumvented by anyone.”
Since launching in Ottawa, Ryan has attracted some of the city’s top talent. It’s a testament to not only Ryan’s abilities, but the quality of the company he is creating. His team now includes the former CEO of Royal Lepage, Simon Dean, now Unreserved’s Chairman of The Board, Matthew Hoar, the former CFO of Flow Water, now President of Unreserved, Toronto advertising executive, Daanish Siddiqui, now SVP Marketing, and former director of strategy at Ciena, Montana McTiernan, stepping in as COO.
In an already established industry, change is always a challenge. Uber and Airbnb had their fair share of backlash. Ultimately, this is free market economics. Matt elaborated on some of the hard to swallow facts surrounding the current landscape. “It’s not agents that don’t want the change, it’s the governing real estate boards who act more like unions rather than ambassadors of the consumers that they are supposed to be representing. Agents are pushing them for change. Transparent bidding goes directly against what the boards have laid out for their agents. The rules are very strict, and agents are stuck with blind bidding and bully offers.”
First Of Its Kind Features, For Both Buyers and Sellers
Trust and transparency are not just words for O’Connor; they are the pillars of which the platform is built on. Unreserved pre-inspects every home, and that report, along with the market comparables, are available for anyone to view. The transparency flows through the entire buying process as anyone can watch the auction in real time on the company’s website. Buyers can schedule a private showing, attend an open house, and get their own inspection in advance if they wish. For Ryan, it’s black and white “The industry would have zero complaints if this process were implemented. So we’re doing it.”
Sellers are winning too. Unreserved makes money by charging a 1% auction fee on each successful transaction.
One of the crown jewels of the Unreserved model is the “Price Guarantee”. It’s an industry first, providing sellers with all the benefits of an auction while simultaneously eliminating any risk. Traditionally, your first offer is your best offer, with an auction model, it’s reversed, your last offer is what you are ultimately putting forward as your best offer. Sellers also set their auction date and watch their house transact online. Ryan says, “Nobody in this space is giving price guarantees. With all the data we have at our fingertips it’s pretty simple to give real assurances for sellers.” In the unlikely event that the auction does not surpass the guaranteed price, Unreserved will pay you the difference between the sale price and the price guarantee. “This has been a real game changer for sellers as it gives them peace of mind in the auction, and the flexibility to go ahead and buy their next home knowing their current home is 100% going to transact” says Ryan.
When Sellers see the 1% fee and the Price Guarantee, the live auction becomes the icing on the cake. The numbers don’t lie and Unreserved’s true success will be based on a marketplace that allows both the buyers and sellers to win. Right now it’s a sellers market and bidding wars are inevitable – the fairness that Unreserved brings is something all buyers appreciate.
Zach Neilson, VP of Strategic Partnerships, is confident that sellers will see the value they receive by selling with Unreserved. “We always want to go above and beyond. An upfront guarantee, staging, decor, painting, small renovations and an unrivaled investment in advertising ensures that when your home is seen, it looks it’s best. Our goal is to position each listing for success.”
Ottawa As Homebase
Being part of a forward thinking, innovative company is what has attracted many professionals to work for Unreserved. Rachel Langois, a former realtor and Unreserved’s VP of Sales, says that her own experiences on the frontlines of buying and selling have underlined the need for a new system. For her, Unreserved is the answer. “I was a realtor for 10 years, and in that time I saw everything I needed to see to convince me that there had to be a better way for the industry to operate”
The Ottawa market has proven Rachel right. The team receives over 1000 calls per week. “Our inbox is a little out of control,” says Rachel. “But in the best possible way.”
The Canada-wide expansion is slated for early 2022; first Toronto, then Vancouver. But right now, the focus is Ottawa. With the support of the city behind them, they have been able to use Ottawa to refine the platform and experience. Ryan can’t thank the city enough, “We are grateful for the people of Ottawa who are rallying behind us to make this happen.”
How is this being received by real estate agents?
Rachel: We are in direct competition because every agent in this city is competing for listings. We are recognized as a threat for sure. With that said, there are a lot of progressive agents in this city. The launch of Unreserved would have not been possible without them. They have embraced the transparent buying experience just like I have. Of course, some agents are still agents trying to maintain the status quo… we’ve seen the use of some scare tactics to push their buyers away from the platform. Agents will say that you don’t know who you’re bidding against. To that I say, this only works if everyone is transparent, and we are in it for the long haul.
We sat down with Matt, Zach, Rachel and Montana to discuss some of the commonly asked questions about the platform..
What if it’s a buyer’s market? How does that impact your business?
Zach: An auction platform is built for all market conditions. Establishing a home’s true value is the challenge the market is facing because there are so many hands in the pot. I have experience operating a real estate auction company in Vancouver during a down market, and it was a success! I witnessed first-hand that it doesn’t matter if it’s a buyer’s market or a seller’s market. When there’s urgency of an imminent transaction… it actually helps establish a home’s true value.
What kind of support can buyers expect?
Zach: Everything but the kitchen sink! Just joking, we include that too. We built this business from a buyer’s perspective and some of this stuff has just never been done before. Anyone who views a home on Unreserved will have access to a comprehensive report with the home’s market comparables and home inspection. For the person that buys the home, we include a 1-year home warranty.
That’s a huge advantage for sellers and buyers because it means people want to buy on Unreserved, you wouldn’t get that warranty if you bought through the traditional model. We want to make the buying process fun again! Ultimately, we are providing transparency, which is long overdue.
Zach: An upfront guarantee in a business where guarantees don’t exist. I think we spoke about it in a lot of detail, but I can’t stress enough, we will guarantee you a price on your home. It will be fair and aggressive, and we will pay you the difference if your home doesn’t reach that number in the auction. Garnering the most interest for your home is easier if things look good, so we have a full staging team that descends on your home when you list with us. Décor is big and we bring that too. It truly is the royal treatment. We’ll go in and paint and perform small renovations if necessary. When your house is ready for its close up, we bring through our photo and video team who are doing some of the coolest work I’ve seen in the space. Our goal is to position each listing for success.
Why should I sell my house with Unreserved vs the traditional home selling process where my house is listed on MLS and accessible to more buyers?
Rachel: We are able to post our listings on MLS through mere postings. The exposure we are getting for our properties is unparalleled. Nobody has the marketing budget that we have, and we are making sure that we are averaging between 40 and 50 showings per property. It validates that consumers are gravitating towards this model. We are getting more showing than agents are. I’d like to say it was hard to give up my license, but it wasn’t. There’s a better, more efficient way to sell homes, and this is it.