Letting people’s dogs poop in your yard for cash? There’s an app for that, as the Bay Area housing crisis spawns new tech

Father Chip Larrimore had a housing dilemma.

For the past decade, the reverend at Sausalito’s Christ Episcopal Church has lived with his husband in a home provided by his congregation. But in a market as competitive as the North Bay, the couple knew that they needed a retirement plan of their own.

It was late last year when Larrimore heard about a San Francisco startup, Aalto, that would let them test the Bay Area market with no up-front Realtor contracts or crowded open houses. Instead, the couple discreetly listed a small rental property they owned in Mill Valley on Aalto’s website, set their own sale price, then chose when they wanted to close the deal, giving them time to buy another place to eventually retire.

It didn’t take long for the messages to pour in from prequalified Bay Area buyers hoping to hack the cutthroat COVID housing market.

“It was sort of like dating on Match or something,” Larrimore said. “It weeded out so much.”

Aalto, which was launched by a Bay Area native last year after his own high-pressure home search, is part of a wave of tech companies that have sprung from the housing crisis in California and other competitive markets. Venture capitalists call them residential “PropTech” companies — yes, a combination of “property” and “technology” — which is already a nearly $21 billion industry, analyst according to a 2021 report bys at Prime Indexes.

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