Month: October 2016

Homely
Asia PacificInterviewsResidential

Homely: the Australian property portal setting new standards in UX design

Homely is one of our favourite Australian PropTech platforms. It combines property search with neighbourhood guides and agent ratings wrapped up in a beautifully designed, easy to navigate site. Jason Spencer, Co-Founder and CEO, explains why Homely’s success is no accident.

Two brothers in the real estate tech business?

We come from a very entrepreneurial family with a strong history in the Australian mortgage industry. Our family business, called Interstar, was a pioneer that helped introduce the concept of non-bank home loans in the 1990’s. While companies like Aussie, Wizard and RAMS were the retail brands, we were the wholesalers behind the scenes funding the mortgages for thousands of businesses. It was a very successful business, ultimately sold to the Challenger Group. Later we launched several other B2B technology businesses in the financial services space but this all changed for us in 2007 when we had the idea for StreetAdvisor.

What started StreetAdvisor and is still operating?

So StreetAdvisor is a business that actually started with a poor experience that I had with real estate. It dates back to 2007. I had been quite disappointed with our home or more in fact the street, it was noisy, lots of traffic and we really didn’t get along with the neighbours. I’m sure many can relate to disliking their street in some form. So we decided to build a website called StreetAdvisor.com.au that would be like Tripadvisor, but for streets and suburbs.

This quickly took off here in Australia and also in the USA and became the biggest community of its kind where people could talk about what its like to live somewhere. Eventually the community started to ask us to add homes for sale and we built homely.com.au on top of the original StreetAdvisor community launching in early 2014.

Give us a sense of your growth since launch?

We have seen fantastic growth over the first three years, traffic doubling every year and over 90% of all listings submitted nationally. We are on track to have at least 10 million people visit our site in the next 12 months and we have over 90% of all agents signed up to our service. It’s been a lot of hard work to get the business where it is today. We believe no other portal has grown at the rate we have in the first three years.

Why the emphasis on design?

Our design team will tell you it’s not just about design, its also about the user experience. With the maturing of the internet consumers are used to seeing beautiful things often so it often comes down to a sub-conscious level whether something is designed well or not. We want consumers not only to look at homely to see a beautiful real estate search, we also want them to have a well designed experience. When consumers line our search experience up alongside the competition it’s important they can tell and feel the difference. And we think our recent international multiple Webby nominations validate our work.

Why did you move into agent reviews when the main function of the site is property search? Was it monetization and was that always your plan?

We think reviews are a great way for agents to highlight their success, but more importantly consumers want to know as much as they can about who is representing their most important asset. It’s so important to be able to get more than just performance statistics and so late last year we launched our own agent review platform where vendors, buyers and landlords can review their experience.

We also worked with agents to ensure some level of validation of the person who is reviewing the agent. We see the problem with reviews on sites like Google is that anyone can write a review – competitors, trolls, the agent’s mum, you just don’t know and the agent often doesn’t know. So we don’t have anonymous reviews, we ask for the property address and we have a team of people doing moderation.  Reviews for us were never about monetisation, they are about transparency.

How do you think the industry is changing for agents with the growth of homely, openagent and ratemyagent?

Sites like ours and other ratings sites give agents so many ways to better promote themselves online backed up by qualitative content instead of just typical sales data. I know the industry is cautious about agent reviews but we believe with our 10 year experience in the reviews space we can protect the agent while still giving transparency to the consumer.

How ready are agents for the digital age and how prepared are they to pay to enhance their online reputation?

I think the majority are ready for the digital age, they really have no choice if they want to stay competitive. Of course we see some agents who really are too flat out selling homes to bother with online but most acknowledge that with vendors and home buyers doing the research online you need to be there. Providing they can see ongoing value, agents will be happy to continue to pay to promote themselves online.

How do you think homely has impacted the industry – eg. domain.com.au and realestate.com.au?

Homely has definitely pushed the mark in terms of building a beautiful product and we have shown agents that a free-to-list portal can work in Australia, that there there is an alternative to promote your home online. We tend not to think about the competition or what they think, our team is focused on creating something special and unique in the industry.

Have you received external funding or plan to raise it?

No external funding, all privately held.

Finally, any other exciting Australian real estate tech platforms you like? 

No response from me on this one, don’t wish to leave out any number of our current or future partners!

Realla
CommercialEurope

Realla Interview: Commercial Property Search Engine

Residential property portals such as Zoopla, realestate.com.au and Zillow have pioneered the global shift towards the consumption of residential property online. Features we now take for granted, such as map search, professional photos and floor plans, and automated agent contacts are now being supplemented with more sophisticated options like virtual reality tours and automated valuations. This has made buying and renting property online as easy as lying on the sofa with one eye on the TV and another on the tablet.

Commercial real estate, traditionally dominated by the large brokerages, has lagged behind – characterised by individual project marketing (brochures) and an overall lack of transparency. This is starting to change with platforms such as Realla in the UK, taking the best features from residential sites and applying them to commercial real estate. Co-founder, Ian Parry, discusses Europe’s leading commercial property search engine.

What made you focus on commercial property given the background in residential search?

During 2008-2012, I was the CTO and co-founder of Globrix, which was a property search engine 100% focused on the residential sector (it was sold into Zoopla in 2012). During this time it became clear that commercial property was an under served market and there was a great opportunity there. I then met my future business partner Andrew Miles through a UK venture capitalist and we decided to start Realla. Andrew previously worked with British Land on the investment team and had become frustrated with receiving endless, huge marketing brochures for deals. The focus at this time was to create both the search engine portal and marketing tools for agents (since then we have added more powerful features for agents, landlords and investors).

How has your Globrix experienced shaped your approach to Realla?

The approach with Realla has been similar in a sense to the approach with Globrix – both have focused on crawling to create and build a stock of properties in the index. Realla now has over 96,000 commercial properties to search in the UK which is pretty much the entire market. Taking that into account, the technology approach has moved on however the concept is very similar – our most sophisticated tech is using machine learning to extract properties from PDF brochures. We see the opportunity in generating traffic and up-selling paid for placements.

How do you obtain your data?

  • Crawling from public websites
  • Publishing direct through our marketing tools
  • Machine learning for extraction of key meta details such as price, address, building types on both HTML and PDFs

Realla is a great site in terms of managing a lot of data / fields while keeping the UX clean and easy – how as the design process been in order to achieve this?

We have a small product and design team – our head of design previously worked for major brands like Burberry and Nike. We also have a lot of experience with the search components within the site having built a number of “guided search” experiences and learned various lessons via:

  • regular user feedback sessions
  • specific customer sponsors for part of the tools
  • data monitoring to track KPIs and engagement and feed them back into the design

Does the nature of UK commercial property support the need for this type of platform? Ie. so many types of commercial spaces, such a deep and diverse market.

Yes, but it takes investment in the verticals. We think our industrial and office offering will diverge significantly over time. Essentially the base need exists in the market where tenants and investors want to discover deals online and to date this isn’t particularly well served with a single resource to view the entire stock.

Was it an easy process to bring on the commercial agents?

There is no friction in agents using the portal, however it is a slower process for getting agents to use the marketing and CRM tools. We compete against incumbent in-house IT systems and a few other CRM businesses who focus on commercial property. PropTech is forcing agents and landlords to adapt a more digital approach to everything they do now and we are also aware progress takes time, but we have secured flagship clients in the last year.

Clients include Colliers, JLL, Richard Susskind and The Office Group.

What is the most similar platform in the US?

Real Massive is the most similar in the US to Realla, they also provide a powerful and yet easy way to help commercial real estate agents collaborate and streamline their marketing efforts.

How were you funded before this raise in June 2016?

Our first Angel raise was in March 2015.  A list of some of our investors can be found here. Realla is invested in and advised by leading real estate agents, investors and technology angels.

What is the long term vision? Say 5-10 years from now?

We aim to become the industry standard marketing medium for commercial property, and with it, the major specialised portal providing traffic.

Do you have international plans?

Yes, we do have international plans, once we see real growth in the UK we will start to implement them. We already have a foothold in Dubai.

realla