When Jonathan Aizen bought his house in San Francisco a couple of years ago, he felt like he stepped “off the edge of the Internet.”
It wasn’t because he didn’t have a great agent (he did) or because he’s a technology neophyte (definitely not — he sold his last company, Dapper, to Yahoo! for $80 million in 2010).
He just couldn’t believe he was organizing his closing process with post-it notes, random emails and endless phone calls to his agent, lender and everyone else involved in the transaction.
Closing Time • in free public beta • closingti.me
It seemed impossible to Aizen that the last mile of his real estate transaction could be so poorly organized. A list-maker by nature, and a technologist at heart, he looked long and hard for someone who was making the closing process easier and more organized for buyers like him. But he couldn’t find anyone.
So he decided to build his own solution, after leaving Yahoo! in 2011. Today, he’s the CEO and co-founder of Amitree, the parent company of Closing Time, a buyer transaction management platform built specifically for consumers and their agents. Paul Knegten, his head of marketing at Dapper, is his co-founder and chief operating officer.
Think of it this way: Closing Time picks up where agent-focused transaction platforms like Cartavi, Reesio and dotloop leave off. It’s a transaction management platform built for consumers that agents and brokers can also interact with, keeping the lines of communication open.
Closing Time is a giant organizational tool that helps consumers not only understand the closing process by illustrating each step within it, but goes so far as to create detailed to-do lists based on the type of property a buyer is purchasing.
The Snowflake Factor
“Every transaction is as unique as a snowflake,” Aizen explains. “That’s why everything we do is ultimately tailored to the buyer’s specific situation. We go deep and provide relevant and specific content for a buyer’s unique transaction.”
For example, a buyer’s closing for a condominium is necessarily different than a buyer’s closing for a single family residence. Closing Time uses a simple questionnaire to assess the buyer’s needs, then creates lists that the buyer can then interact with throughout the transaction. The more information the buyer provides, the more accurate the lists and to-dos are.
The lists are surprisingly detailed and correlate to the buyer’s location and property type. Buyers can easily delete or add items to the lists — and so can their agents.
The goal is to demystify and clarify the closing process by laying out each step as it needs to happen in chronological order. But Closing Time isn’t only about paperwork. Aizen says he and Knegten purposely designed the application so that it would prompt buyers to remember to do all the things associated with buying a house that don’t have anything to do with transactional paperwork, like organizing a mover or changing your address.
Built for Agents
What’s particularly appealing is that Closing Time is built with the real estate agent in mind. Although the product is in free public beta now, Aizen says that when the company does begin to charge for its service agents will be on the hook for the monthly fee of about $20.
That’s why Aizen designed Closing Time so that agents can open an account for their buyers and populate it with as much information as possible before sending them the login information. That means agents can keep the lines of communication open with buyers throughout the closing, even if the buyer is handling areas of the transaction that the agent can’t directly affect, like financing.
“We allow agents to monitor the health and status of a transaction in a way they haven’t been able to in the past,” Aizen says. He says that the 400 agents who are Closing Time’s beta users tell him that the service is as much a marketing expense as technology cost, since it enables them to actively engage with their clients throughout the closing.
The Closing Time interface makes it easy for buyers to pose questions to their agents by simply toggling a link associated with the item in the to-do list. It’s easy to imagine that agents could use the service to organize all of their recommendations for lenders, contractors and other vendors that may ultimately service the buyer’s property.
It’s also a great tool to keep clients mindful of a transaction’s timeline, since there are always hard deadlines associated with a home purchase. Closing Time sends automatic emails to users to remind them of key dates and activities.
Future Integration with Transaction Management Platforms
Aizen recognizes that there will almost certainly be cross-over between services like Cartavi and dotloop and Closing Time. He’s in talks right now with various transaction management platforms to ensure that if an agent is using both Closing Time and one of these services that the buyer won’t be double-teamed with duplicate requests and content. He predicts a smooth integration between the two types of platforms, although no integration deals have been signed as of this writing.
At a high level, Closing Time works in all 50 states, but Aizen says that his next goal is to customize the to-do templates on a market-by-market basis. This would enable Closing Time to work in the 11 states where attorneys are involved in the transaction. For the moment, Closing Time works best in the San Francisco Bay Area, since Aizen knows the market and used it to model the service.
“It’s incredibly important to get the product right before scaling,” Aizen says — and you can certainly hear the voice of experience when he says it. “That’s why we’re actively seeking more beta users and constantly refining the product until it’s just right.”