Can this app find you that perfect home?

The San Diego Union Tribune

By: Jonathan Horn   |   September 26, 2014

Prospective homebuyers aren’t always grabbed by price and location when thumbing through the mobile real-estate listings.

For one person, a picture of a luxurious bathroom could be key in generating more interest in a property. Someone else could be motivated by an expansive kitchen with granite counter tops. Sometimes, something as small as a rustic-looking library filled with books is enough to move a person to take a tour.

Now, a new iPhone app currently dedicated to San Diego County gives people the ability to search for homes based on features and lifestyle.

The free app, called Fypio, for Find Your Place, organizes the properties advertised on the Multiple Listing Service by creature comforts, all the way down to grand entrances and spiral staircases. It also gives those browsing available properties a flavor of the lifestyle in the area, including demographics such as household income, school information, crime rates, and air quality.

“It’s that kind of personalization of finding out what’s important to you, what’s important to your family, what’s important in your life, what’s your style and taste and then sending you listings based on all those different things,” said app co-founder Michael Koh, a Santaluz resident.

Koh, 41, a real estate investor who made his money in the apartment business in Argentina, said he wants the app to cater to people who aren’t just serious buyers. While Zillow and Trulia’s websites and mobile apps attract upwards of 100 million unique users per month, Koh noted that there were only 5 million homes sold across the country in 2013. That means there are millions of people who are interested in real estate, but not ready to buy.

Grand ambitions

It’s a niche that Koh sees Fypio fitting into, as a Match.com for real estate with an added social media aspect — when you look at a property, you can see what people in the area are posting on sites like Instagram.

“Most people looking on these real estate websites and apps are not transaction-ready buyers,” he said. “It would be cool to engage these people top of the funnel: the designers, validators, voyeurs, socializers, and let’s learn about them. Let’s kind of become the Amazon of real estate.”

Instead of opening to a map that shows prices and location, which is what happens with Trulia and Zillow apps, Fypio opens to a scroll-down list of brightly colored pictures from the MLS, broken down by categories you might not think of: dreamy bedroom havens, bathing redefined, spicy colorful kitchens, fun backyard playgrounds or even great rooms to cheer on the Chargers this weekend. Click on any of those categories and properties with those features are listed, with more hard data from the MLS listing another screen away.

Expansion planned

Koh and Toronto-based software developer John Kvasnic made Fypio available for iPhone users on June 22. They founded the company in October 2013 with $1 million of seed money. Fypio, which plans to expand nationwide, will be available next across Southern California, as well as in Dallas and Washington, D.C.

Koh said the focus is still on improving the app, although he sees ways to get a return on the investment.

“We figure out what’s important to each person then we act like a FedEx delivery man,” Koh said.

“We can then potentially send properties to people based on why they like it. The listing realtors, they’re coming to me and saying, ‘Mike, assume you have 500 properties in San Diego in a good school district with a view. That’s what people are looking for. Can we pay you a monthly fee to show up first?’ ”

Updates to come

It remains to be seen whether the app will be embraced by those in the market. The app is currently available to download, but an update with more features is scheduled to be released in the next couple of weeks. Koh said about 700 people have downloaded Fypio.

Denny Oh, a Realtor with Pacific Sotheby’s who specializes in downtown San Diego properties, said that when it comes to searching for homes, most of his clients are more concerned with square footage and if their views would be protected. That’s because when they look downtown they already know about the lifestyle.

Oh said he sees Fypio catering more to people who are relocating and to those who want to find out about nearby school districts, grocery stores and movie theaters.

“I don’t see a lot of the lifestyle application, maybe in different parts of the city or different parts of the country it’s more applicable,” he said.

Miro Copic, a marketing lecturer at San Diego State University, said Fypio will have challenges competing with the strong brands like Zillow and Trulia, and any lifestyle updates that those sites make could keep people from moving to a new app.

For instance last year, Zillow released Zillow Digs, an app with Instagram-like features that gives people home-improvement and redecorating ideas. Copic said, however, that Fypio could be a tool for people who have money, and therefore create an opportunity for design firms to advertise to them on the app.

“This is great for high-end residential people,” Copic said. “If you’re a middle-income buyer and looking for $250,000 and $350,000 homes and see a beautiful kitchen, how is that going to be actionable to you? That’s going to be the challenge.”

Koh, however, stresses the app is for everyone, not just those looking to buy.

“Everybody loves real estate, people use it for different reasons,” he said. “Very few people are transaction ready.”

Diversity in properties

Fypio has nine employees who work out of an office in Toronto. However, Koh said they chose to launch the app in San Diego County’s housing market because of its wide range of properties — and not because he lives in the county.

“San Diego is very diverse, you can go anywhere from Lemon Grove with $200,000 houses all the way up to Rancho Santa Fe with $20 million houses,” he said. “There’s huge ethnic diversity, there’s huge white collar, huge blue collar, all different industries, all types of houses, all types of neighborhoods, all types of ages even. It’s important to get a big mix of properties.”