Startup Spotlight: Alokee wants to be your virtual realtor

Startup Spotlight profiles startups founded by current Berkeley Haas students or recent alumni.


Team: Matthew Parker (co-founder and CEO), Hamed Adibnatanzi (co-founder and head of legal), Noman Shaukat (co-founder), Marcus Rossi (COO), and Mandy Kroetsch (CMO), all EMBA 23.

Photo of EMBA student Mandy Kroetsch
Mandy Kroetsch met Matt Parker in the EMBA program while she was bidding on houses.

When Mandy Kroetsch met Matthew Parker last year in the Berkeley Haas MBA for Executives Program, she was juggling classes while bidding on houses in southern California.  

“I was getting up at 4 a.m. and checking listings,” said Kroetsch, EMBA 23. “I found houses that came on the market before my agent even told me.”

Kroetsch started questioning the value of her real estate agent. Meanwhile, her challenges confirmed for Parker, a veteran Seattle real estate broker, that she probably didn’t need one.

So Parker decided to solve the problem by partnering with EMBA classmates to create startup Alokee. The company, which functions as a virtual real estate agent, empowers California home buyers to bid directly on properties.

The site is designed for people who grew up banking, paying bills, and shopping for most everything online without an intermediary, Parker said.

“Increasingly, Gen Z and other digital natives are baffled by why they have to talk to a real estate broker when they find all of the listings and tour the properties themselves and want to just make an offer,” Parker said.

“Increasingly, Gen Z and other digital natives are baffled by why they have to talk to a real estate broker.” —Matt Parker

Ease of use, money back

Launched nine months ago, the Alokee website is live in California, featuring photos of homes that have sold in San Jose and San Diego. The company plans to expand soon, and has a waiting list to beta test the site with customers in Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and Nevada. 

Alokee’s selling point is its ease of use: Create an account, provide proof of funds for a down payment, and then “make 12-to-15 decisions” on offer price, a closing date, loan payment schedule and amount, and other sales decisions. A buyer could potentially be in contract to buy a house in a matter of minutes, Parker said.  

Matt Parker in front of brown wall
Matt Parker, CEO of Alokee

A second benefit is that the buyer receives a chunk of the agent’s fee in cash back after a sale. In San Francisco, for example, where the agent commission on a home sale averages $40,000, Alokee takes a set fee of $9,000 and returns $31,000 to the buyer. “We don’t want to chase down the big commissions,” Parker said. He added that the check comes at a perfect time, as buyers typically invest the most in their houses—additions like solar panels, window replacements, energy-efficient appliances, and insulation—at the time of purchase.

An EMBA team

Parker started Alokee with classmate Hamed Adibnatanzi, a legal affairs veteran. Adibnatanzi used his law expertise to make sure that the mass of paperwork required for any real estate deal on the site was simplified for a direct buyer and met federal, state, and local requirements. 

Meanwhile, the team is still sorting out the website’s technical complexities. Noman Shaukat manages the code behind the offers that flow through the site. “It’s a technical challenge, not a legal one for us,” Parker said.

Parker also asked Marcus Rossi, a former commanding officer with the U.S. Marines, to be Alokee’s COO and invited Kroetsch, a chemical engineer by trade, to join as CMO. “I told him I’d love to help,” said Kroetsch, who worked with a branding agency to come up with the name Alokee, which combines the words Aloha and key (meaning the key to a house).

We are working through the marketing plan right now, and I am happy to be a part of this team,” she said.

Learning to scale

This is Parker’s second startup. He came to Haas after starting national home improvement repair and renovation service ZingFix. At ZingFix, he realized that there are different skills required to manage a company as it scales across state lines. “A quickly-growing startup was a new business challenge for me,” he said. “The more people that joined, the more I realized that I would need an MBA to take care of our stakeholders.”

portrait of Homa Bahrami
Senior Lecturer Homa Bahrami coached the Alokee team.

Deciding on Haas, he said the program has provided priceless support for what he’s trying to achieve, from mentorship to participating in the UC LAUNCH accelerator program and competition, in which Alokee was a finalist. “Once you get to the finals of LAUNCH you get introduced to top-tier mentors and a storytelling coach. These people understand what you are doing, and they pick apart your business model,” he said. Senior Lecturer Homa Bahrami spent time coaching the team, helping them to develop a hiring framework. “Everything she told us was correct,” Parker said. “She’s probably in the top 10 smartest people I’ve met in my life.”

He added that Distinguished Teaching Fellow Maura O’Neill’s New Venture Finance course also helped them navigate as the company works to land a seed round of funding.  

While saving homebuyers money is a goal, Parker said the company will build more gender and racial equity into the home buying process by giving buyers direct bidding power. “Homes are how people stay in power and get in power,” he said. “We want to give all people the power to win in the real estate game.”

Lisle W. Payne, MBA 67

Real estate executive, philanthropist

Headshot of Lisle W. Payne.

Lisle W. Payne, 80, beloved husband, father, mentor, coach, and businessman, passed away on October 12 at Stanford Hospital after a seven-week battle against a rare blood cancer and disorders.

After earning his MBA at Berkeley, Payne pursued a successful career in real estate, including founding the Fox Group, which he led as CEO.

He demonstrated leadership in the industry at the national, state, and local levels as a member of the board of directors for the Real Estate Securities and Syndication Institute, chair of the board of directors for the California Housing Council, and a member of the real estate investment committee to the Corporations Commission of California.

He taught for several years at Haas, and he and his wife, Roslyn, were generous donors to Berkeley and to Haas, especially to the Fisher Center for Real Estate & Urban Economics.

Together they endowed the Lisle and Roslyn Payne Chair in Real Estate and Capital Markets and were named Builders of Berkeley. He was also a trustee on the UC Berkeley Foundation.

Hot and Bothered

Insurance pricing fails to account for growing wildfire risk

Southern California houses threatened by wildfires, October 2007.

Wildfires are blazing a climate-change-driven path of destruction across California. Areas in the state scorched by wildfires increased fivefold from 1979 to 2019. The following year, the burn area more than doubled.

A team of Berkeley Haas researchers warn that despite this upward trajectory, the risks posed by wildfires are worse than we—or, at least, the insurance and mortgage markets—are willing to account for.

An analysis by Professors Nancy Wallace, the Lisle and Roslyn Payne Chair in Real Estate and Capital Markets, and Richard Stanton, the Kingsford Capital Management Chair in Business, along with two alumni suggests that financial firms whose insurance products help protect homeowners from the financial devastation of fires could soon find their own businesses financially wrecked, unless their risk models and pricing (and the government regulations overseeing both) undergo dramatic changes.

Mapping dynamic risks

Wallace and Stanton, along with Paulo Issler, MBA 98, PhD 13, director of the Haas Real Estate and Financial Markets Lab, and Carles Vergara-Alert, MFE 04, PhD 08, of Spain’s IESE Business School, teamed up with physicists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who study the fluid dynamics of fire. They linked the physicists’ sophisticated measurement models to the comprehensive Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics’ real estate and mortgage-record data. This allowed them to forecast the risks posed by wildfires to lenders and insurers in California.

Fatigued woman on her knees painting a wall of an empty room blue.
Abigail Lopez paints the bedroom of her fire- damaged home, which survived the Camp Fire, in April 2019 in Paradise, Calif. Lopez and her boyfriend have stayed in five motels since the fire, though their home was still standing. They’ve been fighting with their insurance company, trying to get the money to have their place cleaned and restored. Photo: Paul Kitagaki Jr./Sacramento Bee/TNS/Alamy Live News.

Unlike the static maps typically used by researchers, the granular, digitized measurements developed by the LBNL physicists are based on dynamic hourly data. They incorporate the locations of thousands of California wildfires between 2000 and 2015 as well as meteorological factors: wind direction and speed, humidity levels, and temperatures. The Haas team also considered a location’s slope, elevation, and vegetative density.

The researchers found that their site-specific estimates of wildfire risk were quite different from the risk maps developed by the California Department of Insurance (CDI). This difference was most pronounced in the zones marked “zero-risk” on the state’s maps, because the researchers found that there was, indeed, some level of risk in many of those places.

They also show that neighborhoods damaged by wildfires tend to return as more gentrified versions of themselves—populated by larger and more expensive homes and residents with higher wealth than those outside the burn area. That’s because the insurance industry incentivizes bigger and more expensive rebuilds.

But the system is not sustainable.

From deterministic to probabilistic

In the past three years, there’s been a 31% increase in policy cancellations, Stanton says, and in 2020 and 2021, California insurers lost nearly two years of premia. “They can’t sustain providing insurance in this state unless there’s a policy response,” he says.

The problem, the researchers argue, is that the insurers are relying on deterministic models of wildfire risk, based on where fires have happened, rather than probabilistic models that predict fires. The insurers have no choice—the CDI requires them to price based on deterministic maps. The researchers argue that the CDI policy needs to change.

California regulators also prohibit insurers from using reinsurance margins, which is insurance to cover extreme events, in the rate structure. In recent years, insurers offering financial protection from hurricanes and earthquakes have been relying on the reinsurance market. Introducing reinsurance would likely raise customers’ premia, so the researchers propose that the solution could involve subsidies for people who can’t afford the price hikes. The new structure should also shift the current incentives.

“If insurance products really reflected the risk, it would be much more costly, and homebuyers would have a decision to make,” Wallace says. “‘Do I want this home enough to pay these premia and take this risk with my life?’ Right now, the real risk isn’t priced in accurately enough for people to understand what their exposures are.”