During the seven years Brett Doshan worked with home buyers and sellers in the Twin Cities, he'd often get calls from people interested in markets where he lacked expertise. Instead of him taking them on as clients, he'd refer them to an agent who had deeper experience in that market.

Such referrals led to a 30 percent cut of the commission if the sale closed. On top of being lucrative, Doshan said he enjoyed playing matchmaker with agents and clients. So a year ago, he quit selling real estate and teamed up with two investors to launch a company that would specialize in pairing clients with brokers. "This business seems to run so much better when a buyer or seller gets hooked up with the right Realtor," he said.

This month, Doshan opened Wayzata-based HomeVisor, which offers services in all 50 states. For buyers and sellers, there's no risk. The services are free and there is no obligation to sign up with the agent Doshan thinks will be compatible. If a sale happens, Doshan gets a 30 percent cut of the commission.

Here's how it works: Those seeking a referral can visit www.homevisor.com and sign up by using the company's free online form. The company will then call the client within 24 hours to discuss his or her real estate needs, and from there, find an appropriate Realtor.

Chris Galler, chief executive of the Minnesota Association of Realtors, said HomeVisor is a unique business model because there are few real estate companies that specialize only in referrals.

However, the referrals business itself isn't exactly revolutionary. Referrals happen regularly in corporate relocations. And large brokerages like Coldwell Banker Burnet and Edina Realty have departments solely dedicated to corporate relocations.

"It will be interesting to see if this quasi-dating site will work," he said.

Galler said Doshan is replicating a practice that often occurs when an agent who sells primarily residential real estate has a client with commercial needs, or perhaps is dealing with a deceased family member in another market area.

"Relocation companies are specifically in the business of handling moves and selecting agents," Galler said.

For Doshan, today's difficult market created a perfect opportunity to launch his venture. With houses becoming more difficult to unload, finding an agent with expertise in specific markets has never been more important, he said.

"It's pretty tough for a Realtor to pass up any business," Doshan said. "A lot of times it's not a problem, but I feel that the buyer/seller deserves another option."

Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376