As technology continues to play an ever-bigger part of the real estate industry, a Naples startup looks to revolutionize how people sell their homes.
It’s biggest selling point: eliminating the commissions of real estate agents and making it so you can just hit a button to buy a home.
The tech company is called Listella and it was founded by 26-year-old real estate agent and entrepreneur Jakub Adamowicz.
“I'm driven by social good, by social change, by social justice,” says Adamowicz. “I want to democratize a process that has been catered to wealthy individuals that, you know, have kind of their handhold on the on the game and all the real estate brokerages in the entire United States.”
While that may seem hyperbolic and idealistic to some, what the Florida Gulf Coast University Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship graduate hopes to do is not dissimilar to what’s happened in publishing and music, where technology has been used to bypass traditional gatekeepers in an effort to make the process more democratic.
In the case of Listella, the company allows homeowners to post their homes for sale themselves and avoid paying real estate agents and brokers commissions. The idea, Adamowicz says, is that the sellers can keep the money in their own pockets rather than paying them out. (On average, the company says, sellers save an average of $30,000 in fees.)
Listella isn't first to the market, at least in using to technology to democratize the home sales process. eXpRealty, for one, has a national platform with a similar claim, and iBuyers like Offerpad and Opendoor operate on models that basically eliminate the need for an agent. Real estate giant Zillow, notably, got into the iBuying model and then exited when the margins shrunk. And Naples-based Call it Closed International Realty, while different than Listella, has one aligned goal: to put more money back in the pockets of sellers.
Adamowicz says what differentiates his company from others is its services were created with an understanding of the real estate industry and how sales work — and what clients need to close deals.
In a sense, it's a traditional for sale by owner listing but for the digital age.
It works like this. Sellers who go on the website type in their addresses and the system, with the help of artificial intelligence, creates a listing description of the home. Once the listing is created, an inspector and appraiser are notified and are dispatched to the house and their reports are posted in the listing.
Adamowicz say this done for two reasons. One is to let the buyer and seller know what work may be needed on a house upfront, allowing the parties to discuss and, if needed, negotiate a solution. This, he says, eliminates surprises that happen in traditional transactions after contracts are entered into.
And by having the appraisal done upfront, the seller can better determine the asking price as well as simplify and speed up a buyer’s approval process.
When a home does sell, closings are done online (except in Iowa and Alaska) and, in some cases, local agents are used for showings or other tasks but paid for their individual services rather than a commission for selling the property.
For this, Listella charges $499 up front and $2,000 if the sale closes.
The company launched in February and today has 10 employees, including Sofia Wardell, a former FGCU classmate who helped start Listella and handles business development.
It is mostly doing business in Southwest Florida and Orlando right now, but was built scale nationally. To date, it’s sold two homes and currently has $2.8 million in listing volume, says Wardell, 26.
Listella raised $1.35 million in a pre-seed round of fundraising. It expects to do $1.2 million in revenue this year and projects $3.6 million in 2024 and $15 million by 2025.
“Our goal is high growth and scaling,” she says. “We are currently closing our second round of fundraising that will be used to reach 100 listings per month.”
And as it expands its reach, the plan is double the number of employees.
Right now, the engineering department has been built out and the focus is on hiring on the marketing and sales side. Wardell says Listella expects to “stay lean with high-performing employees” and expand its roster of contractors and vendors who work in title, mortgage, inspection, appraisal, photography and building.
For Adamowicz, the knowledge of the industry is something that came, if not naturally, close.
He first got his real estate license at 18 and learned the business from his parents, who immigrated from Poland. His mother is an accountant, but was a listing agent before, and his father owns a construction company. But they are also real estate investors.
Growing up in Chicago, New York and New Jersey, he always lived on the worst house on the block because his parents would buy it, renovate it and sell it before moving onto the next one.
“I don't think I've ever, growing up, lived in a house that was fully finished or complete,” Adamowicz says. “It always was missing studs or walls or painting or whatever.”
Then he watched them lose everything in the 2008 housing crash and then rebuild.
He eventually moved to Naples to be with his now wife and started studying at FGCU, majoring in environmental and civil engineering while working at a local gym selling memberships.
But he hit a wall at that job and left. With tuition and rent due, Adamowicz called his mother and asked for advice. Get a real estate license, she said.
He did and says that within four months he closed a deal for nearly $400,000, his first.
Adamowicz was doing well. He soon reached a point where he had to choose between studying engineering and entrepreneurship — balancing the two became too much.
The idea for Listella was born following the pandemic, after he started a couple of other online real estate businesses, including RoomDig a site that helps college students find housing.
What he saw was hole in the business model. The modern industry, he says, was founded in the early 1900s and transactions today are mostly done the same way as those early days. Part of that he saw firsthand, driving across the region every day to get papers signed or to connect with buyers and sellers.
This was happening as more and more people, especially during the pandemic, were turning online for real estate. (According to a study from the National Association of Realtors, 97% of all homebuyers use the internet in their home search.)
He combined the need for change he saw, along with the technological know-how, with a realization that commissions were holding — and hurting — some buyers, with agents setting prices too high to drive up earnings or too low to make a quick sale.
“I saw this huge disconnect between what was being done on a regular day-to-day basis for buying and selling real estate and what technology could offer,” Adamowicz says.