Chris and Christy Sears, founders of Dwellevate

Back when house prices were rising steadily, sellers could usually expect to cover an agent’s commission with the profit made on the home’s sale. But in today’s down market, with homeowners often selling a house for less than what they paid for it, that commission often comes out of the seller’s own pocket.

Now two Chicago real-estate agents have launched an online company that can help sellers cut those costs. Think of Dwellevate (as the company is called) as the real-estate equivalent of “E-Trade for stock trading, LegalZoom for the law business, and Orbitz for travel,” says Chris Sears, Dwellevate’s CEO. Sears founded the company with his wife, Christy Sears, its COO, after a decade as a real-estate agent. They launched two months ago, and as of this week have three homes listed.

The Searses describe their company as a hybrid somewhere between the traditional real-estate agency and the FSBO (for sale by owner) route. Dwellevate helps sellers create a listing sheet, a website, and even the yard signs for the home; it will also assist in fielding and responding to offers from potential buyers. “You’re not selling the house completely on your own,” Christy Sears says. “You’re taking on about 30 percent of the process.” Dwellevate’s staff—and more important to the cost-saving plan, its automation of the details—handles the rest.

A seller using Dwellevate inputs all the usual property features, such as the number of bedrooms and the lot size. This information goes onto formatted screens that generate yard signs, syndicate the listing to and other home-selling websites, and create a brochure and address-specific website. It’s up to the seller to host showings and open houses.

Dwellevate’s staff, which currently consists of the Searses and one other employee, is available via e-mail and phone for consultations on pricing and other parts of the process that aren’t so easily automated. “We’re here for you,” Christy Sears says. “We’ll talk you through the negotiations.” But unless a seller pays for an in-home consultation on staging, Dwellevate’s people don’t come to the home. Users pay a flat fee, starting at $449, for a set of standard services, with individually priced add-ons. Some of those add-ons are folded into the highest-priced flat-fee package, the $1,249 “penthouse” offering.

A seller using a traditional agent would pay about $3,000 in commission on a $100,000 sale, so the potential savings via Dwellevate are considerable. (Note that Dwellevate sellers save only on the seller’s agency side; on the buyer’s agency side, they still pay full commission.) Dwellevate sellers pay upfront, while in a more conventional sale, they pay at closing. If a home hasn’t sold in six months, the seller can renew with Dwellevate at half the initial cost. If the Dwellevate model doesn’t work for a seller, Chris Sears says that the company will refer the seller to an affiliated agent. When the house sells, all fees paid to Dwellevate are reimbursed at closing (but only if the seller works with a Dwellevate affiliate).