In 2003, Keith Rabois, a longtime Silicon Valley investor and executive, had an ambitious idea: He wanted to start a website that would instantly offer a fair price for your home. If you accepted the offer, the site would agree to buy your house immediately, closing the deal in a matter of days.
To Mr. Rabois, the plan seemed obvious: Homes are the most expensive possession many of us own, and yet they are also the most difficult to trade on — to sell in a hurry if you need to relocate or are otherwise looking for quick cash. But tech could solve that. By analyzing lots of sales data, a company could come up with an accurate price for most homes; then the start-up could buy houses quickly, charge people a convenience fee and sell the homes over a longer period of time.