Online real estate site Zoocasa has relaunched under new ownership, with plans to add in-house services and wider search functionalities.
Previously owned by Rogers Communications Inc., the site was shut down last month, with Rogers citing lack of fit with the company's overall plans.
A group of real estate and technology investors has swooped in to save the site, which will be headed by Lauren Haw, a Toronto-based broker with Keller Williams Referred Realty and sales director at scholarhood.ca, a site that helps families find homes in desirable school districts.
Zoocasa originally launched in 2008 with startup funding from Rogers, aiming to be a site where real estate agents would pay to advertise their services to buyers. It then expanded into its referral service, which vetted real estate agents and let prospective buyers and sellers search for a real estate agent using detailed criteria, such as by language or type of property.
It modelled itself after U.S. websites such as Trulia or Zillow, which attract customers by offering data on house sales and detailed demographic information about neighbourhoods and prices.
Ms. Haw did not disclose the purchase price or the identities of the other investors. However, she said the buyers had been exploring a purchase for some time.
"There's been a lot of industry chatter and we were excited about the traffic the site was getting. This was not a spontaneous decision," she said in an interview Thursday.
While Ms. Haw said the site will retain the same search technology and tools that users are familiar with, there will be several big changes.
"Our mission is to give home buyers access to the best possible real estate tools and information while providing a premium level of in-house customer service," she said.
This will be achieved in part by hiring a group of in-house agents to work with clients and ridding the referral service Zoocasa was known for altogether.
"[Zoocasa] sold leads to agents who registered on the site and collected referrals, but we think it's better for us to have control over the entire experience," said Ms. Haw. "The only agents serving clients who visit the site now will be those on our team who have the training and experience."
This in turn means Zoocasa will no longer offer rebates for buyers and sellers on the commissions they paid to agents they found on the site.
"We won't be offering rebates to clients to work with Zoocasa agents. It's hard to offer a discount on a premium service and nearly impossible to hire great agents at a discounted rate," insisted Ms. Haw.
The site plans to hire the in-house agents on an as-needed-basis, beginning in the Greater Toronto Area. The agents will be "experts within their regions and experienced at serving both buyers and sellers," and earn a negotiated commission on the sales they make, as is the practice in the industry.
Along with maintaining services such as its home appraisal tool Zoopraisal and the exisiting mobile app, the site will also look to add new functionalities such as tighter search parameters, more frequent data updates and a school neighbourhood search ability imported from scholarhood.ca.
"Scholarhood has been very successful and we will be keeping it up while allowing Zoocasa to provide the same information," said Ms. Haw. For now, she sees the two sites as operating in parallel with no plans to fold one into the other.
Keller Williams Realty will be providing the administrative and back-end support for the site. While newly hired agents will come from any number of brokerages, they will be technically considered Keller Williams agents once on the Zoocasa team, Ms. Haw said.