Location: San Francisco, CA | Launched: 2010 | Number of agents: 250
It’s not surprising that the co-founder of one of the rising stars of San Francisco Bay Area real estate has a master’s degree in computer engineering with a focus on AI.
Mark Choey, who co-founded Climb Real Estate in 2010 with business partner Chris Lim, once led a Silicon Valley startup and invested in real estate on the side. Choey got his real estate license and studied the industry for opportunities.
“[Chris and I] saw SoMa (South of Market)/South Beach as the next frontier for real estate in San Francisco,” Choey said. The neighborhood’s mass of newly constructed, luxury condos became Climb’s sales focus.
The SoMa and South Beach neighborhoods make up half the size of San Francisco’s District 9, which is the collective name for the cluster of communities that sit along the city’s southeastern edge (Dogpatch/Mission Bay, Portrero Hill and Bernal Heights make up the remainder). In a city dominated by single-family housing, SoMa/South Beach was a burgeoning pocket of newly constructed, high-rise condos. By 2015, real estate sales in District 9 had surpassed the rest of the city’s. Climb–holding most of the listings in the district–had a dominant share of those numbers.
But you can’t live in a condo forever; at least, not in San Francisco. With most new construction offering no more than two bedrooms, the turnover of first-time buyers moving out to start families has fed Climb’s second phase of growth. “We put so many seeds in SoMa/South Beach and Mission Bay, and now they’re germinating as our clients go outside of the city,” Choey said.
Now in its eighth year, Climb has six offices (and one traveling Airstream trailer) across the Bay Area. Each space has a local touch. “We want the individual flavor of [the community] to speak,” said Choey. For its newest office in Walnut Creek, Calif., the brokerage commissioned a local artist to create a mural on the building exterior.
When it launched in 2010, Climb was one of the first brokerages to operate solely via the cloud. Since then, Climb has been among the first brokerages to implement 3D imaging, AI chatbots and other tools aimed at helping their agents cultivate relationships and referrals.
Keeping with the nimble spirit of the brand, Choey launched Climb Labs in 2016 as an official incubator for new tech. “You first pilot an idea under Climb Labs, and the pilot can be as large as one agent to the entire brokerage,” said Choey. The pilot group of agents then provides feedback to the vendor, and in many cases, vendors will change or adjust their products to better serve Climb’s agents. “The idea is to be a friendly place for vendors to try out their new ideas with us and give them a voice,” he said.
In some cases, Climb Labs has worked for years with vendors to fine-tune products before launching to the rest of the brokerage. And that’s the easy part of the process – getting agents to actually use new products presents an entirely new challenge. “Sometimes people love something. But, a lot of the time, what’s amazing to me isn’t going to be amazing to Joe Agent,” Choey said.
In 2016, Climb joined the ranks of Realogy/NRT and now has more than 250 agents. “We’re becoming a mid-size brokerage, dealing with the challenges of scaling and culture,” Choey said. Staying true to the brand’s core culture is the brokerage’s biggest initiative.
Choey is optimistic that Climb will maintain its boutique feel as it continues to grow. “We have a millennial attitude toward things,” he said. “We’re nimble, we’re open, we’re ourselves, and being yourself – making that your strength – is always going to make you more successful than being someone else.”