Amazon is getting into the real estate business. Sort of.
The company is partnering with Realogy Holdings Corp. on a program that aims to offer agent referrals to would-be buyers, and Amazon swag once the deal has closed.
Those referrals will be made to preapproved agents at Realogy brokerages, including Twin Cities-based Lakes Sotheby's and Coldwell Banker Burnet.
The company is launching the program in the Twin Cities and 14 other metro areas
"When we designed TurnKey, we recognized that 'closing' on a home is really just the beginning of the homebuying journey," said Eric Chesin, senior vice president and head of strategy for Realogy.
The process starts at Amazon.com/turnkey, where prospective buyers are asked to answer four questions about who they are, what they are shopping for and where they want to buy a house. Chesin said that within minutes they will get a call from Realogy aimed at learning more about their specific needs and interest in buying.
In the Twin Cities, those would-be buyers are referred to preapproved agents at Coldwell Banker Burnet and Lakes Sotheby's. If that referral turns into a home sale, the buyer gets "Amazon Move-In Benefits," courtesy of Realogy, worth $450 to $1,500 for Amazon Home Services such as unpacking, cleaning and furniture assembly. The buyer also receives a coupon for $500 to $3,500 in smart-home products. The value of those discounts depends on the price of the home purchased. To get the maximum $5,000 benefit in services and equipment, a buyer would have to spend at least $700,000.
Turnkey comes at an increasingly competitive time for traditional real estate brokerages and consumers alike who are besieged by an array of home-selling options.
One of the most recent concepts is being promoted by tech-driven companies such as Zillow, Redfin and Opendoor who are offering "instant buying" programs.
In May, for example, Zillow launched Zillow Offers, which enables homeowners to request a free, no-obligation cash offer. After an assessment of the property by a local agent, if the homeowner and Zillow agree to a price and the deal closes, Zillow will spruce up the house and relist it with a local agent.
The Twin Cities was Zillow's 10th market and the company's first in the Midwest. That same month Seattle-based Redfin launched a "buy button" that enables buyers to bid on homes listed on its website.
Executives from traditional brokerages said that while there's room in the market for more competition, there's still no substitute for the face-to-face interactions that come with working with a local agent.
"This appears to be a lead generation strategy by Amazon to ultimately sell real estate leads back to agents ... an area of our business that is already highly competitive and not necessarily beneficial to home buyers and sellers," said Sharry Schmid, president of Edina Realty.
Amazon touts the program as a way to streamline and simplify the often time-consuming homebuying experience.
Chesin said in an interview that TurnKey agents, who must be affiliated with one of Realogy's residential real estate brands, are selected after being vetted based on a number of criteria including their customer service record and expertise in particular local markets.
Across the country, about 3,000 agents have already been trained, he said, but plans are in the works for an expansion.
"Our aim is to have full coverage in every neighborhood we cover in a broad range of markets," said Chesin.