The Future of the Real Estate Industry

How one real estate pro’s unique background led to the founding of Homegirl, a full-service solution to the multifaceted home buying process.

For someone whose real estate career began at age 19 as a summer job to appease her mom’s demands, Erin Dana Lichy has made the most of the family business. Lichy’s entrepreneurial spirit has taken her down several different paths, all of which have converged to form her latest business venture that is turning the real estate industry on its head.

Homegirl is a first-of-its-kind service that acts as part real estate agent and part facilitator, connecting clients with contractors, landlords, interior designers, architects and sales teams to cost-effectively streamline every step of the home buying process. Lichy’s millennial-focused, female-dominant business is shaking up old conventions in response to a glaring industry need: a one-stop, customer-centric shop for all things home buying.

Lichy’s mother worked as a real estate broker in New York City for decades. Lichy obtained her own license while in college, working for her mom during her summers home from school and after graduation. By age 23, she had sold four commercial developments.

“I realized then I loved new development, so I went back to school for a master’s in sustainable development,” she said. “During graduate school, I took a detour and started a fashion brand. I wanted a challenge, and creating a startup business in a different industry seemed more creative to me.”

Even while building her company, Lichy said, she still knew she wanted her real estate career. She satisfied her interest in the subject matter by flipping her own homes. Her first was on the Upper West Side, a flip that netted her 150 percent ROI. She took those funds, invested in a place in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn and did the same thing again.

“It was a perfect storm that led to me starting Homegirl,” Lichy said. “I sold the fashion business a year ago, got back into real estate and joined a big company. As I started working with clients, I began to see their renovations consistently weren’t maximizing profitability. In the fashion industry, all I did was market research and trend forecasting. I could see there was none happening in real estate.”

Then, Lichy said, a lightbulb went on. Her clients didn't have a person telling them that it's not just about what they want, it’s about what the market needs.

“Developers get this great insight on the market, but individual clients don't,” she pointed out. “My ‘aha’ moment was that this needs to change, and I have the skill set to change it. Not only do people need to think about market needs, but they also need to be informed enough to make the most money they possibly can. When you have an agent with a design background that's doing your renovation, you have a major leg up. They know what needs to happen to maximize profitability for resale.”

As the landscape of the real estate industry continues to be altered by the emergence of sites like Trulia and Zillow, Homegirl has carved out a specific niche to respond to the digitization of the industry, yet remain crucially personal.

“These platforms have shifted the traditional representation of buyer and seller, affecting the way people engage with agents as a result,” Lichy said. “People are now a lot more knowledgeable about the market, so agents have to be better and smarter about what they're presenting clients. The job has shifted from simply finding a space to acting as a specialty expert.”

Homegirl’s ability to act as that specialty expert is the key to disrupting the market, Lichy explained. The service ensures a project is exactly what clients want now as well as what the future market will still find desirable and profitable when they choose to sell, bringing simplicity to a typically frustrating, expensive and confusing process. Her business is built on transparency, something the real estate industry could use more of. She prides herself on being technology-forward and saving clients money and time by creating a single point of contact for each and every need.

As far as why she thinks Homegirl will have staying power as the industry continues to evolve, Lichy pointed to the power of being a first-of-its-kind service and how that bolsters the strength of branding.

“Very few people with the unique talents the women on my team have,” she said. “It took my specific history to recognize that this need existed in the industry, and we’re primed to become leaders and experts offering a streamlined and transparent service that clients can choose to engage all or just a single part of. It's rare to see agents go from selling units to servicing renovations, though it’s such a symbiotic relationship. We’re in the really early stages of it, but that's where I see markets moving.”