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Tinder for homebuying: Wahi app lets couples home hunt together

Partners can share details about housing, communicate, seek guidance while buying or selling

The Wahi app aims to let couples navigate homebuying and home-selling by unifying the steps in one service. (Courtesy Wahi)

Couples can swipe right on their ideal home thanks to an app by Toronto-based real estate tech firm Wahi that lets partners get on the same page throughout their homebuying experience.

A couple can browse home listings on Wahi together, share the housing that caught their eye, get fundamental information about the listing, arrange tours and access professional assistance to buy or sell properties.

Wahi president and CEO Benjy Katchen told RENX Homes the idea for Wahi was formed when he saw data that suggested increasing numbers of consumers expect smartphone services, and want more choice and flexibility for the homebuying experience.

Yet under two per cent of Canadian consumers transact with a digital-first real estate provider, compared to 25 to 30 per cent in the U.S. There was an innovation gap for digital experiences in Canada compared to peer markets.

“Why isn’t there an experience in Canada or anywhere that is as simple as to use as Tinder, where you can swipe left or right for what you like, and then it works like Netflix where you get a reel that says ‘Hey, these are the movies I want to watch,’ but for your house, the most important purchase you want to buy?”

A second reason is that approximately three-fourths of home purchases are done by couples. It can be “clunky” to keep all related parties in the loop, so Wahi also looks to make that process clear and easy.

Home hunting as a couple

Wahi showcases listings as a brokerage and provides information such as price estimates, size, the number of bedrooms, school scores from the Fraser Institute, and commuting data. The listings are aided by machine learning and AI, which gathers home price estimates and details about the housing from photographs using image recognition.

Originally intended to let individuals house hunt, Wahi has since reshaped itself into a service also tailored for couples.

See your dream home? Press the like button and that choice will be instantly relayed to the user’s partner for approval. Couples can text each other about their decisions, find free time in their schedules to arrange a showing, and talk to a realtor together to discuss their choice.

The aim is to simplify a complicated process into one app, rather than have emails, phone calls, schedules and listings data scattered across various places and platforms.

Once a couple finalizes their choice, Wahi can connect them to professionals to guide through the buying or selling process. If a realtor is needed, Wahi employs data science to recommend a realtor that matches their needs.

Realtors can advise couples through Zoom. If done digitally, customers can visit the property with Wahi’s network of co-brokers. Using Wahi’s digital realtor service can also give the customer up to one per cent cashback upon closing.

Wahi's revenue is earned from commissions made by its realty team or by acting as a co-broker.

Wahi currently operates in Ontario, Alberta (save for Edmonton), Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. With just over 100,000 users, the goal is ultimately to operate in every province, Katchen said.

The company’s emphasis on breaking new digital ground in Canada is par for the course with Katchen, an entrepreneur who has a history in digital finance. Wahi is his “fifth-or-so career reincarnation,” he said.

Katchen’s fifth career reincarnation

Katchen started his career in investment banking at RBC Dominion Securities (now RBC Capital Markets), then worked as a consultant for Bain & Company, a senior director of sales at Amicus Bank, and various executive roles at Home Trust Company.

Over the past two decades, he worked mainly with digital brands in retail consumer banking, looking to “challenge the status quo in the banking industry.”

At Home Trust, he launched Oaken Financial, a digital bank focused on senior clients that grew to $5 billion in deposits. There, Katchen said he discovered his passion for consumers, all things digital and innovative, and entrepreneurship.

“Having been in the banking business for 20 years, I would say that the degree of digital adoption and change that’s happened in that sector versus the real estate sector in Canada is pretty dramatic,” he said.  

When he met investors interested in supporting innovation in the Canadian real estate space at a private equity event, he came onboard, leading to Wahi’s creation in 2021.

As AI turns heads for its economic potential and disruptive capabilities, Katchen said the technology is an “enormous opportunity” for Wahi. AI combined with cloud computing and mobile apps can help consumers find what they are looking for faster and easier than ever, he said.

But he also argues that despite its prodigious capabilities, AI should not totally replace the human touch in real estate.

“You still want to have an amazing human help you and navigate through the complicated journey of buying a house . . . AI is not going to substitute for that excellent human, at least for a very long time.”

Editor's note: Wahi initially said it operates in Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia. The company has clarified it also operates in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

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