Unison Wants to Turn Homes into (Liquid) Assets

Applying for a mortgage is (arguably) the most important decision in any customer’s life. It is also one of the most expensive decisions that’s completed through a (usually) painful process.

Unison, a 12-year-old company based in San Francisco, wants to fix both of those issues.

The company partners with home-buyers and lenders, offering to “co-invest” in a property by paying up a chunk of the down payment. Buyers are still required to provide 10% of the down payment (instead of the average of 20%). In return, the company will maintain an ownership stake in the property, so when the homeowner decides to sell the house, Unison will receive its investment back, plus 35% of the value that the property has gained.

“Homeowners have complete control over when and if they want to sell their house, or they can buy us out at any time, although many choose to keep us on,” Thomas Sponholtz, co-CEO of Unison, told Bank Innovation. “We have a vested interest in our customers, and in the property. We win and lose together.”

To make sure that everybody “wins,” Unison designed an educational program for consumers and their spouses to complete, prior to signing up. The program includes videos, quizzes, and a one-on-one conversation with a specialist to make sure “you didn’t skip the video, or just randomly answered the questions,” Sponholtz added.

But the relationship with Unison doesn’t end with the purchase or the sale of the property.

“We educate our customers constantly on how to make sound financial decisions around home improvement. Since we are an investor in the asset class, we have so much deeper understanding on how any action affects the property,” he said. “For customers that are ready to sell, we would also help connect them to our network of real estate agents, or help in staging the house — maybe some painting work or fixing up the garden. Our relationship is a commitment.”

The company is currently partnering with “eight major lenders” that offer up the service to their mortgage customers. Unison has been testing and developing the product for about three years, and has fully rolled it out in January. Since then, the company now has almost 1,000 customers, and has expanded its team to 75 employees, up from 12 last year.

Unison is now looking to add additional products and services for its customer base.

“One product we will launch this year will help customers sell a part of their home equity,” Sponholtz said. “I won’t get into too much detail, but for many people, especially Baby Boomers, majority of their worth is allocated in one asset — their homes, and that’s a bad idea. Diversifying parts of it into a liquid investment to pay off, say, a student loan, or credit card debt, will help many customers.”

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