If you have ever taken a cab in New York City, chances are you have seen advertisements for Bid on the City, a real estate service that lets you bid on high-end commercial and residential properties in New York City. If the owner accepts your bid on a property, which is typically worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, you get to purchase it.
REchirp.com works with a similar concept: Interested buyers or renters go to the website, browse the listings and make a bid or a “chirp.” If your chirp is accepted by the owner, you get to start negotiations.
REchirp creators Marc Blum and Andrew Green came up with the idea after years of living in New York and moving from apartment to apartment.
“It was always a tedious process to find an apartment—dealing with brokers, Craigslist, the New York Times. And we thought there should be an easier process of finding real estate in the city,” said Blum, who has a background in both online and traditional advertising.
The childhood buddies were raised on the Upper East Side and currently live at Normandie Court, on East 95th Street, with their families. Figuring that people bid to get the best rates on insurance, hotel and car prices, the duo guessed that people would probably also be willing to bid to buy or rent an apartment. Combining Blum’s background in advertising with Green’s previous work in technology and consulting, they came up with the idea for the real estate website. After working on the start-up for almost two years, REchirp went live a few months ago. The site, now Green and Blum’s primary endeavor, has four full-time employees and is run out of an Eighth Avenue office.
“The biggest differentiator of www.rechirp.com is that when a user searches for a property, they do not search by price,” Blum said. “The idea behind the site is that when a user sees a property they are interested in, they submit a ‘chirp,’ which is a dollar amount they would be willing to pay for that apartment.”
The creators hope that users can submit chirps anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent below the listed price. This would give the broker an incentive to work with the bidder and start negotiations at the chirp amount.
Unlike Bid on the City, the bids at REchirp are non-binding, and people can make as many bids as they want on different apartments. Thirty days after the property is listed, the site holds an auction—the first of which took place this month—in which buyers have to make a winning bid in half an hour. The bidding increments increase from $50,000 to $250,000 and the site gives the winning bidder 48 hours to make a down payment in escrow. Bid on the City also positions itself more as a high-end marketing firm for properties, rather than an auction house, and it is geared toward foreign buyers.
REchirp, meanwhile, hopes to cater exclusively to New Yorkers.
“I think the true distinction between us and them is that our chirps are not binding,” Blum said. “Moreover, we have thousands of listings that a home seeker can submit a chirp on, while there are never more than just a handful at a time with Bid on the City.”
So far, REchirp has almost 4,000 listings, mostly from Manhattan, and Green and Blum hope to add properties from across the city as the business grows. They are already working with nine brokerage firms.
Real estate brokers, meanwhile, are eyeing the new service with some skepticism.
“If people are putting bids without any financial commitment,” said real estate broker Joel Maskovitz, “they are not locked in. If thousands of people bid for fun, I am not going to pay to download false leads,” he said.
Brokers, he argued, already work to negotiate the best prices for owners.
“It would be bad for me to talk to anyone who is bidding low,” he said.
Michelle Araujo, a broker who works with NYC Vertical, pointed out that for the minimal fee of listing one property on Craigslist, she often gets hundreds of queries, many of which turn into customers or good leads. Without an in-depth knowledge of the city real estate market, she added, most bidders would be shooting in the dark on a site like REchirp.
Blum and Green, meanwhile, agree that their users have to have a certain sophistication to use the website. They say the service has been designed by New Yorkers for New Yorkers, and caters to savvier renters. They declined to specify exactly how many deals have been made through the site so far, but said that REchirp has helped a few home-seekers find an apartment of their liking.
“Our goal is not to replace Craigslist, New York Times or anyone,” Blum said. “Anyone who is online will go to a bunch of sites [while apartment hunting]. We are hoping REchirp is one of them.”
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