Built on lines of dense computer code, tech startups can seem ethereal and inscrutable. Real estate, on the other hand, is a more concrete business.
Joining these two seemingly disparate fields was the focus of a demo session this week at the Williamsburg Hotel, where five financial-tech startups pitched potential customers and investors on how their platforms streamline, open up, or otherwise improve the process of building, buying, and selling commercial and residential real estate. Hosts of the event were Totem, a Brooklyn-based real-estate strategy firm, and Heritage Equity Partners, which developed the hotel and other properties. Highlights:
For Betting Small on Real Estate
If your student loan debt is larger than your salary, investing in real estate might sound like a joke. But it’s doable, said Dave Conroy of the startup Meridio, a website in beta testing that lets users invest amounts of money that you might have in your wallet right now–even $20–into specific properties. Using blockchain technology keeps each transaction cost low, said Conroy, whose company is an offshoot of Bushwick-based ConsenSys, which is building myriad applications based on the Ethereum platform.
For investors, the service would reduce transactions costs and make a real-estate portfolio more liquid. For owners, it would unlock more capital and streamline transactions. While Meridio won’t provide market intelligence about properties to invest in, prospective investors can call on their own experience, says Conroy, who previously worked for the National Association of Realtors.
Having lived in three cities in the last five years, he said, “you can almost feel which neighborhoods are about to blow up.” With Meridio, small-dollar investors can bet on that hunch. You could even invest in the building you’re currently renting in, Conroy said.
For Betting Bigger
In the same vein as Meridio, Cadre is a website that allows people to conveniently buy and sell shares of real-estate properties. But it’s designed for institutional investors and wealthy individual investors; in the demonstration, head of product Andrew Borovsky’s demo user invested $200,000. Cadre vets the properties listed on its site and allows investors to buy portions of a property within minutes, he said.
For real-estate investing, “It’s as close to Amazon as you can get,” said Borovsky. After putting your money in the Cadre portfolio, your information is saved and then automatically integrated in your buy and sell orders, making investment a matter of a few clicks. As a startup, Cadre is growing briskly. Launched in 2014 and co-founded by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, it has raised a reported $133 million in venture capital and earlier this year Goldman Sachs said it will commit $250 million in customer funds to be invested in properties via the service.
For Simplifying Construction Contracts
Like a contractor with a handful of estimates, Will Mitchell, CEO of the construction-payment company Contract Simply, came with statistics. Slow payments costs the construction industry $40 billion each year, he said, and make up more than 3% of total project costs.
Paperwork can overwhelm lenders as well. “I’ve heard of a 10,000-page PDF package” sent to a lender, he said. Contract Simply’s software can pull information from the documents to speed up the process, he said. It can also automate sending checks. “Manual steps are automated and information is centralized to contain all project exposure,” says the company’s website.
For Finding out the Quality of Rental Buildings
There are 1.1 million multi-family buildings in New York City. With so many to sift through, how do you tell which are good and which are the ones to avoid? Rentlogic combines New York City’s 311-system complaint data with reports from in-person inspections it subcontracts to a third party. The result, said CEO Yale Fox, is a letter grade of A, B, C, or F that makes it easy for would-be renters to judge an apartment before applying.
The grade also helps lenders evaluate buildings, he said, and is a benefit to good landlords. “We found that buildings that certify with us are getting an extra 45 bucks per month in rent,” Fox said.
For Avoiding the Burden of a Security Deposit
When you rent a car for the weekend, said Paraag Sarva, the company doesn’t ask you for a $5,000 deposit on the vehicle. If they did, “People would just lose their mind, right?” Instead, people pay for insurance on the car.
Sarva’s company, Rhino, aims to do away with security deposits for renters using the same principle. Instead of placing a deposit in escrow, renters pay a monthly premium, he said. For insurance on a $2,000-per-month apartment, he said, a renter could expect to pay Rhino $15 to $20 monthly for insurance.
Today, serial renters effectively never get to recoup the deposit money they transfer from old landlord to new landlord, Sarva said, presenting with colleague Will Berkowitz. Sarva also pitched Rhino as a benefit to landlords. Those who sign up with Rhino will be able to advertise deposit-free rentals to prospective tenants, he said.