Fall Real Estate 2004

Publication Date: Friday, October 1, 2004

Another way to buy or sell
Companies use ClickHome to offer no-cost employee benefit

by Erin Pursell

Helen Wong doesn't like to think of herself as a guinea pig.

But, while participating in an employee association at Palo Alto's Veterans Administration Hospital, she was asked to evaluate a potential new employee benefit: discounts on mortgages through ClickHome.

"(We wanted to) see if ClickHome's service was something we wanted to offer as a benefit," Wong said, adding that she was skeptical at first because the savings sounded unrealistic.

She ended up buying and selling a home using significantly discounted brokerage services, which were made available to her and thousands of other Bay Area employees as part of a new employee-benefit option.

After the program was presented as a benefit option in Fall 2002, Wong was what she called a "test case," becoming the first employee of the hospital to take advantage of the new benefit option.

"It's very easy to access. I sold my property within five days," she said.
With Bay Area housing in high demand, including discounted brokerage services in employee-benefit packages assists employees in achieving their dreams of home ownership.

Santa Clara-based ClickHome has taken advantage of this demand, providing a 50 percent brokerage fee discount as part of a benefit package that participating companies can offer their employees. ClickHome gets the opportunity to directly market to employees, who can then choose to take advantage of the discounted fees.

While the service has been available for several years, it was officially announced this May, essentially bringing savings to employees by reducing points by 35-50 percent on any loan, purchase or refinance. This means that ClickHome's agents operate with a 1.5 percent charge or 3 percent commission, as compared with 6 percent, which is standard within the industry.

As Wong said, that point and a half can make a big difference, and helped lead her to recommend the service to other employees and companies.

"It's a great benefit to offer employees, especially with the housing cost so high in the Bay Area," Wong said, adding "It's a personal service and they are there with you every step of the way."

As a full-service mortgage brokerage, ClickHome provides all services related to buying and selling real estate, so the discount can be applied towards services including the purchase, sale or refinance of a home.

"There's no fee to enroll, and participating employees can save thousands, tens of thousands on the purchase, sale, finance or refinance of a home," said Rick Smith, chief operating officer and co-founder of ClickHome.

"It's like one-stop shopping," he said.

"It's nice because their agents really know the market for this area," Wong said.

"Rick (Smith) has a great knowledge of the neighborhoods, and the history of certain properties as well and how they have changed over time."

"I recommend it to anyone I know who's buying a home," said Susan Dunn, another VA Hospital employee who used the benefit option about a year ago to buy a townhouse.

"It was a very positive experience," Dunn said. "I got good service, I saved money and got a discount on fees I'd normally be paying."

Ultra Clean Technologies of Menlo Park is one of ClickHome's oldest clients, and one of the first Bay Area companies to include the service in its employee benefits package.

"It's an example of a no-cost benefit we felt would be of value to our employees," said Nancy Nelson, human relations director for UCT, adding,

"When you see something that is low- or no-cost that you can offer to your employees, that is very attractive."

Company representatives say that the service also helps in recruiting employees from out of state.

"I think it (use of the service) shows that we are in tune with the financial needs of our employees, especially in the Bay Area and dealing with a high cost of living," Nelson said.

While UCT is still in the early stages of using ClickHome's benefit service, Nelson said she thinks employee interest will continue to grow.

"It's hard to say exactly how many of our employees have used it," she said, "but looking around I see a lot of ClickHome coffee mugs on desks and I know a number of employees have signed up to get their newsletter."

ClickHome's newest local client is Stanford, which officially announced the new benefit to employees through an internal newsletter on Sept. 22.

"It's a good opportunity to assist employees in finding housing," said Lee Lyon, human resources director for the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), with about 1,500 employees.

"In the boom years we had some difficulty recruiting people to the Bay Area, so we started looking for ways to make the transition go more smoothly," he said, adding that implementing ClickHomes new program is one solution.

"We provide housing assistance to some of our senior faculty and management, but not to regular employees," Lyon said, "so ClickHome's product is one that will benefit all employees."

It is hard to speculate just how many of Stanford's thousands of employees will take advantage of the benefit, according to Lyon. Those most likely to participate will be people Stanford recruits who move to the area, and current staff who don't yet own homes, he added.

Lyon said he anticipates a positive experience with the new benefit option, adding that it could be useful to many other companies as well.

"It's real money right there, and employees don't have to negotiate to get the benefit of our arrangement with ClickHome," he said.

Having already made the service part of its benefit options for California employees, companies like UCT hope to offer the service to employees in other states as ClickHome expands nationwide over the next two years.

ClickHome recently opened offices in Pleasanton and Carmel as part of its Bay Area expansion, with more on the way in coming months.

Editorial intern Erin Pursell can be contacted at epursell@paweekly.com.