Kelda Roys not missing politics with her OpenHomes startup

Former state Rep. Kelda Roys is proving there’s a work life beyond politics.

She started a new company called OpenHomes, which automates much of the home selling process — and in the process cuts homesellers’ commission fees to real estate agents. It’s also a return to real estate for Roys, who sold her first homes at 19 to pay her tuition at New York University.

“It always seemed ridiculous and frustrating to me that people are asked to pay so much for so little value,” said Roys.

Roys launched the startup in 2013 after a “totally crushing” loss to Mark Pocan in a Madison-area Democratic congressional primary. Roys was looking for a new adventure and got her first OpenHomes customers through cold-calling people listing their homes on Craigslist.

The app now shows homes anywhere in the southern part of the state and is saving customers $6,000 on average, cutting commission fees from about 7 percent to 1 percent.

The savings, Roys said, come from eliminating many of the “middle man” tasks that real estate agents face but sellers could do themselves. That’s anywhere from scheduling showings to listing the amount of bedrooms in a house online.

Customers who work with OpenHomes respond directly to requests for showings. And the company is working on a way to allow buyers to make legally binding offers for a home if, for example, they see lots of other families interested at an open house.

“As we get more and more successful and have a track record of success, we can automate further and further down the transaction,” Roys said.

OpenHomes has five employees: two developers and three attorneys/agents. Roys, a lawyer, said having lawyers on staff ensures customers deal with someone who fully understands contracts and negotiations.

But customers might not even meet their OpenHomes agent, Roys said. Instead of setting up several in-person meetings, the agents discuss offers and counter-offers with their customers by phone or email, finally sending them contracts to sign electronically.

The developers, meanwhile, are working on tools to pull information about the neighborhood, schools and nearby attractions. They also help maintain a searchable listing of all the homes for sale through the Multiple Listing Services.

OpenHomes’ revenues have doubled since last year, but Roys said the more important measure of her company is the company’s near-perfect customer rating score.

“We are absolutely achieving our central goal of giving the customer a good experience,” Roys said. “If we were saving them money, but they’re having a bad experience, we’re failing. That’s why I think we’ve had such growth.”

The revenues, though, have been high enough that she hasn’t raised money since the $160,000 seed round she closed after finishing the gener8tor program.

That might change soon as Roys looks to prove her company works in a larger city such as Minneapolis.

She also doesn’t rule out a return to politics someday, though she says she’s “having so much fun” with her company.

“It’s almost like a palette cleanser,” Roys said. “I’m now in this world where innovation is encouraged. Risk-taking is seen as a positive.”

— By Polo Rocha,